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Is Your Hiring Process Adding Rigor, or Developing Rigor Mortis?

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 15, 2015

People often try to regale me with their wily methods for catching lying job seekers. But as the brag escapes their lips, what they are actually revealing is not cleverness, but a broken recruiting process. Merely by focusing on the wrong goal, they are spiraling toward a self-fulfilling prophesy.


Cynicism is the corrosive result of spending too much time with the wrong candidates. And yielding to it will bring a tragic death to your recruiting results. Like any great tragedy, it starts small. You interview a string of mediocre candidates. You hire a few, and they don’t work out. You begin to grow suspicious. You start reflexively distrusting every candidate you meet. Incrementally, you add more steps to your candidate evaluation process. You fail to notice that as you make candidates jump through more hoops, you are also repelling the best people. “Recruiting rigor mortis” is what happens when you repeatedly end up with only candidates who justify your skepticism. All your cleverness achieves nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of adding rigor to the hiring process; the key is adding it in the right places.

Many organizations have a challenging application process, either by accident or by design. When it’s by accident, HR is usually just too busy to improve it. But when the application process is challenging by design, it is usually out of the mistaken belief that adding more hurdles will help weed out the uncommitted slackers. (That assumes that “commitment” is binary, and people either have it or they don’t.) But studies have shown that only 4% of job seekers start a search with a specific company in mind. So how does starting the hiring process with a test of commitment strengthen the candidate pool? Top candidates usually have plenty of options and are heavily committed elsewhere. Unless your organization has massive brand recognition, most people won’t seek you out or endure your hiring obstacle course.

You will build a stronger candidate pool when you spend less time developing silly tests and barriers, and more time cultivating commitment from high performing people who are not yet familiar with you. In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini recounts a psychological study done in the mid-1960s. A researcher went door-to-door, posing as a volunteer, asking homeowners whether they would post a large unsightly billboard that read “Drive Carefully” on their front lawn. Only 17% agreed (which I still think is a crazy high number). Another group of researchers approached a different group of homeowners with a much smaller request – they only asked people to display a 3-inch window sticker that read “Be a Safe Driver.” Two weeks later, the researchers returned to the homeowners who posted a sticker and a whopping 76% of them now agreed to also post the billboard.

Commitment is not binary, it grows over time. Rigor belongs at the end of your recruiting process, not at the beginning.

Keep beginnings simple. As the comedian John Mulaney observed, “It is so much easier not to do things than to do them. That you would do anything is totally remarkable. Percentage wise, it is 100% easier not to do things than to do them.” Sirius satellite radio understands this. My last car arrived with a free trial subscription to Sirius, something I never cared much about. Until the free subscription ended – then I couldn’t pay for it fast enough. I eagerly paid money to prevent the loss of something that once held no value to me, whatsoever.

We recently experimented with a commitment building recruiting approach. We rigorously identified an elite group of high achievers. But rather than directly asking if they wanted to interview, we only asked if they would be willing to have a 15-minute conversation with the founder of our client’s organization. Nothing to prepare for, just a conversation between two accomplished people. This small request doubled the recruiting response rate. Following the short call, most candidates were eager to move forward to a traditional interview. In taking the short call, their psychology shifted. The job opportunity became something they did not want to lose, just like Sirius radio. And because so many great candidates were interested, the interview sequence became even more intensely rigorous and competitive.

Catching liars should not be your goal. Resist using cynical tactics to weed out potentially fraudulent or uncommitted candidates; these approaches often exclude the busy and overcommitted people you actually want to reach. To increase rigor, focus your attention and energy on recruiting. Spending more time with high achieving people elevates your standards – your definition of “what good looks like” improves. And in a virtuous cycle, you’ll find that it’s exhilarating to spend time with people who are at the top of their game.


This post originally appeared in HRExaminer

Topics: Hiring Process