Probing the Limits: Recruiting Quality

June 1, 2005
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Finding high-quality employees proves difficult.

I've wasted a good part of the past three months interviewing perspective candidates for several positions at my company. The interview process itself is horribly inefficient and the quality issues I've seen with candidates have been shocking at times. I've made several improvements in the way I recruit and interview, but it's still a process that I despise because of its low-quality nature.

In theory, the goal of the interview process is to find qualified people to do a good job and fit in the organization. What I've found is that the interview process really is a giant deception inspection process. Very few people come close to being the person they portray on their resume. Over time, I've built a process to try to filter out candidates that grossly misrepresent themselves. I think of it as trying to inspect quality into the candidates.

The first "inspection" during an interview is what I call the "empty-hands test." About a quarter of the people I interview for professional positions show up unprepared with empty hands-no extra resume, nothing to write on and no pen. It's like they came to the interview wanting to be entertained.

After the empty-hands test, I check knowledge claims. Many candidates are taken aback when I quiz them on fundamental topics in their core area of knowledge. For example, for quality manager candidates, I ask the following questions: According to ISO 9001, what must be done to consider a corrective action closed? What are a few of Deming's 14 points? On a statistical process control chart, how are the upper and lower control limits determined?

It's shocking to see that about 70% of the candidates with stellar resumes fail this test. What's even more shocking to me is the very common answer, "It has been two years since I studied that"-as if forgetting fundamental knowledge in their profession is acceptable if some time has passed since they learned it. This issue isn't unique to the quality profession; I see the same issues with engineers, material managers and business majors.

The interviewing problem goes beyond what I perceive as a pool of poor candidates who misrepresent themselves. The interview process itself is ineffective. In quality terms, it has a low Cpk.

I've been told that a thorough interview process has about a 50% correlation to the person doing a good job once they are onboard. My experience confirms this. Even after an extensive interview process, I've found that many people whom I've hired don't work out because of a bad fit or issues with abilities. It is a bad thing for everyone involved when a new person does not work out.

I have drawn a few conclusions from my trials with recruiting and interviewing. First, there are lots of people in the work force doing jobs who really don't know what they are doing. Evidently, few companies have effective interview and qualification processes. Companies that do have thorough interview and qualification processes clearly have a distinct advantage. Executing a thorough interview process can be exhausting, but I keep plowing through the task because of the incredible group of high-quality people I have the opportunity to work with as a result.

My second conclusion is that the United States has a competitiveness issue with its educated work force because many of our new college graduates can't seem to remember much of what they covered in school. If our educated work force performed at a level consistent with what they were taught, we would have a much slower migration of professional jobs overseas. It is my belief that a culture of cramming for tests leads to this knowledge-retention problem. Maybe American universities need a massive final test on basic knowledge before degrees are awarded-much like many European university systems require.

My third conclusion is that the recruiting and interview process is crying for research and process improvement. It is a critical business process that is time-consuming and ineffective. It is human nature for people to make themselves look as good as possible on a resume, but we need a better method to determine if a person is going to succeed on the job and be a good fit before they are hired.

If you have ideas or suggestions that have worked for you-or frustrations to share-send me an

e-mail. I would appreciate hearing from you.

Scott Dalgleish is

chief operating officer at Spectra Logic Corp.

(Boulder, CO) and an

ASQ certified quality manager. Let Scott know

what you think at

askquality@bnpmedia.com.

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