Is a Prospective Employee’s Fit More Important Than His Or Her Resume?

Talentsorter StaffHiring for Fit

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With hiring managers across the country projecting uncomfortable retention rates this year, the HR community in general is ripe with discussions on hiring practices and techniques. One common theme that emerges time and again is the concept of hiring based on the “fit” of the candidate with the culture and goals of the company.

As the founder of a company that provides an array of programs that hire for fit, Jan van der Hoop sat down with Mason Stevenson, Editor at HR Exchange Network to discuss these very same issues.

We hired great people, and they left before we could get a return on their investment.

Over the course of the 30 minute podcast, the two HR veterans discuss everything from hiring employees based on their fit, merging traditional hiring methods with “hiring for fit” to management issues that may arise while doing so.

Listen to the whole podcast below:

Statistically speaking, almost 9 times out of 10, when someone fails at their job, it has nothing to do with their resumes.

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Mason

Hello everyone, Mason Stevenson here, editor of the HR Exchange NetWork. We’re bringing another podcast to you today. The topic discussion, is a prospective employee’s fit more important than his or her resume? To help figure that out, Fit First Technologies’ President Jan van der Hoop is joining us. Mr van der Hoop, always good to chat with you.

Jan

Likewise, Mason, thanks for having me.

Mason

You are most welcome. All right, let’s kick this thing off. Basic question first. Can you explain to me the science behind successful hiring?

Jan

Absolutely. And by the way, the science isn’t everything. The science really should never be more than about a third or a half of the total equation. But, the science itself is very well documented and it has its roots in I-O behavioral psychology, which has been around for the last 25 or so years. The initial theory was around the big five personality traits. And lots of work has been done over the years to validate the predictive value of those traits in terms of evaluating somebody’s likelihood of success in a specific role.

Mason

So, let’s draw in a little bit more here. Why is fit more important than the resume? I know we’ve spoken about that before in offline discussions. So let’s let the masses know about it.

Jan

Well, so, we started up this path, I would say, accidentally. Almost in spite of ourselves, about a dozen years ago. And the reason we ended up where we are is … In the consulting work that my business partner and I have been doing for a while with a variety of organizations, what we found was, there was an awful lot of hiring going on in those companies, but they were all having really bad pain points in their business. Partly because, in spite of all the hiring, there was often an awful lot of turnover, so I would say there were probably two or three common refrains that we would hear among the organizations that we spoke to.

It wasn’t unusual for us to hear a hiring manager tell us, “I don’t know what I missed. The person who came to work on day 1 or on day 91, was absolutely not at all the same person I interviewed through that process.” The other common theme would be that they hired great people and they left before they could get a return on the investment the organization had made in their training and development. Another common symptom was just a really tough time finding internal development candidates. So they might have had people who were good performers at a specific layer in the organization, but, particularly in organizations like retail or hospitality where the life blood is really on their ability to be able to identify talent at the lower levels and grow it in and stretch it and develop it up through the organization, many of those organizations we spoke to just weren’t able to prime the pump with that raw talent to move up through the system.

So, it got us scratching at the issue. What became really clear to us in the early days was, in many respects, we were matching talent with opportunities in a backward sort of way. The research is really clear. The information that’s in the resume, so, where someone went to school, what skills they have, what their interests are, and the kinds of jobs that they’ve held in the past, statistically speaking, are really weak predictors of how well somebody’s going to perform in this open position in my organization. And yet, that’s where we generally start the conversation.

I mean, the admission ticket. When we put the ad up, the admission ticket for anybody who wants to apply for the job is, send me your resume and I’ll go through a stack of resumes and identify the ones that I want to stick in the A stack, because I want to reach out to them first, and then the B and the C stack. And the problem is, without realizing it, we’ve established a system that has had us start the selection process from the very weakest predictor of success. Statistically speaking, almost nine times out of ten, when somebody fails in their job, it has nothing to do with anything that’s in the resume. It has nothing to do with what they know. Nine times out of ten, failure is directly attributable to their fit in the organization. Either fit in the job, or fit with their manager, or fit with their coworkers or customers, or fit with the organization’s culture and values.

And so, our initial experiment a dozen years ago was, what if we could turn this on its head? And instead of starting the sorting process with a thing that is the weakest predictor of success. What if we could gear a system that would actually screen people into conversation with organizations on the basis of their likely fit first, trusting that only if the fit was strong, would the information in the resume become relevant. And so, that’s essentially what we’ve been doing.

The technology has changed an awful lot in the last dozen years, and we’re able to do things today that we could only dream about when we started up this path. But, what we’re finding pretty much across the board is, our clients are enjoying the results in their business.

Mason

So, we now understand why the fit is important, but, in order to get that fit, you have to get some data about these individuals or some information. How do you go about collecting that potential employee information for employers?

Jan

Yeah, great question. And there’s lots of different ways to go about it. There are some organizations that will administer assessments to the shortlisted candidates. We’ve chosen to actually embed it into the application process itself. So at the same time as candidates submitting their resume, they would be brought through an assessment that is specific to the position they’re applying to. So it would serve up the most critical traits in that job so that, as the candidate completes their application and submits their resume, the system would generate a fit score that would show up in a client dashboard.

So, literally, all the hiring manager needs to do or all the recruiter needs to do is click the button on the dashboard for that position, and the system would sort their candidates for them on the basis of their fit score. They simply start with the highest score and look at the resume to make sure the education and experience are in the right ballpark. And then they might do a phone screen and keep working their way down the list. So, bottom line is, in most cases, I don’t think most recruiters or hiring managers are going more than half a dozen people deep in the stack, because they’re finding the right people to start with. There’s a whole lot less guesswork in the process.

Mason

You’ve mentioned the fit score, I want to ask about that in a minute. But first, once you have the data in place, how do you measure the best fit?

Jan

That’s a great question. The system itself is geared to measure up to 25 traits. Which makes it a very broad instrument. But it does refine it down. So, it’s geared to serve up the traits for, as I said, just the most critical in any given position. So, in a retail environment, for example, if someone’s applying to an hourly associate position, they’d be served up the eight or ten traits that are most critical to that job. And it would … If there have been traits related to customer service in that stack, there would be traits related to reliability and integrity and work ethic in that stack.

But if they’re applying for a retail manager, there’d probably be a subset of those traits from the hourly associate, because there’s going to be some similarities. But there would also be an overlay of traits more related for front line or second line managers. So, either way, the system is geared to measure specifically what matters most in that job. And essentially, what it does is it takes a snapshot of the individual’s traits, compares them to the ideal profile for the position, and, based on how the individual has scored in relation to the ideal in each of those critical traits, it calculates the fit score. So the higher the fit score, the closer they are to the sweet spot in the traits that are required for success on the job.

Mason

You kind of addressed the fit score there, so I won’t pester you too much on top of that. But, I do have kind of a curious question.

Jan

Yeah.

Mason

So, you’ve got a fit score, say I’ve applied for a job and I have a high fit score. And then the recruiter or the hiring manager essentially flips the digital page to look at my resume and maybe my resume doesn’t meet muster. Does that happen often? Or do you see a situation where someone might say, “This person has a great fit score, but the resume isn’t right where we need it to be.” Do you think … And I’m asking you from your perspective, do you think that’s a turn-off for a hiring manager or a recruiter?

Jan

There’s no question that it happens, Mason. And I would say that there’s been a learning curve for us as much as there’s been a learning curve for a lot of the people that are using the system. So, as I think about the comments that we’ve heard from clients as they start to adopt this approach … The first epiphany, if you like, is, “Wow, this is just saving me so much time, because I’m honing in on the people that I really want to talk to much more quickly.” Second epiphany often is, “You know, I find myself in conversation with people who are a great fit for the business, but I would have never looked at their resume in a million years.” And that takes them to sort of a fork in the road.

In some cases, what they’ll find themselves doing is maybe repurposing that applicant for a position that, based on their experience, they might be better suited for. And other times, clients have told us that they’ve taken a chance on somebody who didn’t look qualified on the basis of the resume, but, by golly, there were such just a great person for the company. And I would say the answer … Which fork they’re going to take is going to depend a little bit on how critical the prerequisites are for the job.

So there’s going to be some jobs that have non-negotiable prerequisites around qualifications or certifications. And it wouldn’t be feasible for the organization to consider hiring them and sponsoring their training or their education for the job. It’d just be insurmountable, too much for them to overcome. In which case they might try to find them another spot. But, I would say, as often as not, what we hear from folks is, “You know, this has really forced us to rethink the matrix that we have made up, quite frankly, around the things that we’re looking for in the resume.” When they’ve got the right people, generally speaking, the right person coming to the majority of jobs would onboard faster. They would get the full productivity faster. They would learn what they need to learn quickly, because they’re naturally geared to pick things up the way the organization teaches them.

And so, all of these … And I did it myself for 25 years in HR. We make up rules about how many years of experience the person needs in that job, and the kinds of schools that they need to have been at, and the kinds of competitors of ours that we’d like to either avoid or attract. And by and large, we made up those rules because we had to in order to decide what resumes were going to go into the A pile.

But when you start with looking for the right person, one who’s going to fit well in their environment, click with their coworkers and your customers and with their manager, that allows you to relax some of the other rules that we had to make up.

Mason

So I guess this maybe more of another question that kind of focuses on your perception of it, but, do you feel like, at least from an employer standpoint, if you were to put yourself in that seat … Bringing somebody into the mix, that’s where the human element side of it comes in. You can have data that tells you one thing, and you can have a resume that tells you one thing, but at some point you almost have to sit back and think to yourself, “Okay, this person has a high fit score, would certainly fit with us, but … ” Maybe their resume isn’t there, so then it kind of falls back to, where do we want to go with the company? Are these the types of people that we want to employ, because we may be in a particular position or a particular opportunity this person really fits and we can foster that individual and really get them up to snuff? Or is it … I would venture to say you probably wouldn’t suggest someone to stay really hard line on numbers and use that solely as a predictor. It has to-

Jan

Absolutely, yeah.

Listen, whether it’s our science or any other science that somebody might be using, I would never advocate that it be more than a third of the total decision. The challenge is, the science or some kind of objective measure of how well somebody’s going to work out is often what’s left to last as an afterthought.

Mason

Right.

Jan

And the real power comes when you reposition it from just your shortlist of candidates and use it at the wide end of the funnel so that you can screen everybody.

That’s where you find the nuggets. That’s where you find the gold that would otherwise go out the back door [inaudible 00:15:03]. But the fit score is nothing more than a representation of how much they look like they have the right attributes for the job. It’s not a substitute for somebody’s knowledge and experience. It’s a measure of how well that person’s going to be able to apply that knowledge and experience that they bring in the door with them. Because I’ve seen lots of people who were hired based on their resume and have had a great couple of interviews, whose wealth of knowledge the organization paid a huge premium to recruit and bring in the door was lost, because they couldn’t communicate. Because they couldn’t gel with the rest of the team.

So, what they know is absolutely important. And it needs to be in a package that allows it to bring its full value, if that makes sense.

Mason

No, it does.

Jan

And the third aspect, the other third, if you like, if you want to slice it up that way, is the gut feeling. It is the chemistry. It is the subjective experience of the conversations that the hiring manager’s going to have. That the recruiter’s going to have. That maybe coworkers would have if they’re invited into the screening process.

There is still an art to recruitment, and people need to feel comfortable in their gut that this is going to be a healthy and productive relationship. And you can’t fake gut. But I think the values of having the science at the front end, again, is it can guide the gut in the sense that the system will generate an interview guide that is unique to the individual in that relationship with the ideal candidate. So, the ideal profile for the position. And it’ll generation questions that will support the interviewer to make sure that they’re asking the right person the right questions. So, it’s a bit of a shortcut to checking the subjective aspect of the relationship in the face-to-face interview. And in the getting to know you process.

Mason

We’ve definitely really hit on what’s gained by employers for pursuing this. But I’m interested to take that coin and just flip it over for a second and look at it from the potential employee’s side of it. Couple of questions here. The first one is, what do those employees get out of it, besides a potential job offer?

Jan

It depends a little bit on how much the employer is sharing with them. So we’ve got certain clients who I would say collect the information but don’t necessarily share it with the candidate through the interview process. In which case, the candidate really doesn’t get much value from it.

And we do have other employers who would share, for example, the individual report with the candidate. Particularly if they get to a certain stage in the process. So if they get to maybe the phone screen or past the phone screen to a face-to-face interview, then it’s not at all uncommon for employers to share the individual report with the candidate to say, “All right. So here’s some of the things that the system generated after you did the online assessment as part of the application. And there’s neat little exercise that they can take people through, which would be, with a highlighter, mark up the traits that you see as strengths and then we’ll have a conversation about how you’ve been able to apply those strengths in certain situations in the past, and mark up some of the things that you don’t see as strengths, that sometimes have gotten in your way, and let’s talk about that.

And, what it does, is it primes the candidate for a very different conversation in the interview. And typically, a much more real conversation, where they walk away with a much deeper level of self-awareness. And that individual report that they walk away with is a nice little dividend. Because there’s tools in there for them to apply that knowledge in subsequent interviews if this particular path leads to a dead end or a “No thank you”.

Mason

Right.

Jan

The other place where this is starting to show up is, we’ve been called upon to build an interesting platform, which is really a two-sided model, which would not only be one that employers can use to stream high volumes of candidates through their system, but also a place where individuals can go and build a profile. So it’s almost what you’d expect to see if LinkedIn and eHarmony got together and had a baby.

So, as part of setting up the process, the job seeker now can complete the assessment and get the individual report, get a career planning report back in their hands. And they can actually start to search open positions either … We’re plugged into Indeed, we’re also plugged in to a number of other job boards. So, the system in that configuration would naturally serve up openings to the individual that look like they’d be a strong fit for them.

And that configuration, that two-sided model is actually now starting to open some doors to us that we’d never have considered even a couple of years ago. So we’re being approached by agencies who work with people that I would call hidden pools of talent. They’re on the outside of the workforce looking in. So, agencies that would work with people on the autism spectrum. Agencies that would work with indigenous groups, with veterans who’ve got PTSD or brain trauma, with at-risk youth. There’s a variety of stakeholder groups that are now coming to us and actively beginning to use the two-sided model as a way to guide their stakeholders, their members, into the workforce in a much more productive way, where it’s a higher likelihood of positive outcome. So, there’s less fear of risk, less fear of failure for folks who are taking a tentative step to try and get into the workforce.

And we’re finding, at the same time, the very same tools can put information into the hands of the employers that make it a much less scary prospect. When they’ve got deep-level information about how an individual’s wired, so to speak, it really takes away some of the risk that might otherwise be involved in making an offer to somebody on the autism spectrum or with a disability, or somebody with brain trauma. You can see much more clearly what you might need to do in order to accommodate the person and the kinds of situations you need to help them avoid.

Mason

And that’s kind of where I was going to … That was going to be my second question, is to ask, you have an application for an employer, but what about for a potential employee, especially someone … And I didn’t want to put you too much on the spot … But, potentially, someone who you might consider a passive candidate, or, as you described them, one of those hidden pools of talent. That they can kind of put themselves in that situation and say, “This is the type of job I’m looking for. What are some of my strengths, what are some of my detriments? Do I need to do some more work to gain these types of experiences so I can increase my fit score and increase my potential for getting into that type of job?”

Jan

Right

Mason

And you nailed it before I could ask it.

Jan

Well, yeah. But I think, you made an important distinction in what you said. Because it really is the combination of who I am and what I know. And how can I apply those two things most productively? I would say that, in the agencies that we’ve been working with, who work with these folks on the outside looking in, they do a pretty decent job of helping them put together a resume and of skilling them up, if you like, so to speak. For specific jobs. The part that’s been absent, to my surprise … I really expected that there’d be all kinds of resources for these stakeholder groups, and we’re finding that there really isn’t much. Which is why I’m really motivated to step into the void and see what we can create to leverage the science, just to serve as that bridge that we were talking about early on.

But there’s such an absence in self-awareness for many of these folks. They themselves don’t know their own traits and attributes and how they’re maybe not the same as everybody else. And the slice of self-awareness that we can give them with what we’ve got baked into the system can be such a revelation to them.

I can remember the very first time we did one of these pilots, Mason, was with an agency that places people with physical and learning disabilities into the workforce. And I was doing a one on one debrief with a woman who had to be in her late 40s, had very limited work experience. I started taking her through her signature traits as they were described in the individual report. And I got part way in, and she burst into tears. And I thought, “Oh my goodness, what have I done?” So I asked her what that had triggered for her. And this is from a woman in her mid-40s. She said, “You know, for the first time in my life, I feel like somebody understands me. And not only understands me, but now can help me piece together how somebody like me is … the kinds of things that are likelier to lead to happy endings for me versus the kinds of things that are just likely to go as they’ve always gone in the past.”

So, I think there’s real potential and real power in making this type of information available in a B2C context, for want of a better term. Nobody that I know is doing that today, and we just have to figure out how to do it. Because, if the individual is going up the right path and applying for the right jobs, it increases the likelihood tremendously that employers are going to find the right applicants. I mean, just from a statistical standpoint, what we’ve discovered over the last year and a half, watching … Who’s applying for the jobs that our clients are posting? 53 percent are a really weak fit for the positions they’re applying to.

And I don’t think it’s necessarily because these candidates, these job seekers are deliberately spamming their resume out everywhere they find. There’s some of that. But I genuinely believe it’s because lots of us struggle with, what should I be doing and what should I not be doing.

Mason

Right

Jan

So, I’ll pick the stuff … I’ll shotgun it and see what I learn as I go. And that doesn’t serve the candidate well, and it doesn’t serve the employer well.

Mason

That’s exactly the case.

Well, that’s a great place to end it. It’s a great high note. So, Fit First Technologies, President Jan van der Hoop, thank you for joining us and sharing these insights today.

Jan

Absolute pleasure, Mason, thank you.

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