Taking care with recruitment

Employers should be digging deeper into job applicants’ psyches to make sure they are right for the role

Working in a harmonious atmosphere with supportive colleagues can make the difference between success and failure in a small business. Yet too many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) risk making hiring decisions on little more than “gut instinct” without considering their impact on the team. That’s the view of the HR consultancy TalentDrain, which claims that independent firms can rely too heavily on a candidate’s interview skills, or their CV, while failing to delve deeply enough into their psychological make-up and attitudes to work.

“At a time when smaller employers are forced to sift through hundreds of unsuitable job applications in search of a single nugget of gold, it may be tempting to give the job to the first interviewee you strike up a rapport with,” says director Ron Eldridge. “But a hire made primarily on gut instinct can cause mayhem in a small organisation, particularly if a bad manager is let loose among a previously effective and motivated team.”

TalentDrain’s answer is a series of online assessments aimed at challenging what Eldridge calls “the hit and miss approach to recruitment among many small businesses”. All are being provided free of charge. Engage is a 10-minute online questionnaire that assesses the relative importance to a candidate of issues such as job satisfaction, independence, co-operation with colleagues, career progression, loyalty and trust. It is designed to back up a second test, Finding Potential, which rates potential hires on such traits as their emotional resilience and “agreeableness”.

Each of the assessments – which will be followed later in the year with free verbal and numerical reasoning tests – triggers a detailed report that requires no training to interpret. TalentDrain believes the tools will also be useful to job-seekers looking to understand their own motivations and career drivers.

“These questionnaires can pave the way for an open and honest conversation about what is important to a candidate and whether or not the role, the work environment and the organisation will meet their expectations,” says Eldridge. “If they can help SMEs avoid the problem of hiring someone because their face fits on interview day, only to make them redundant a year later, they will have been a success.”

Last year, the workplace psychologists OPP found that as many as 71 per cent of line managers would change their people decisions if given a second chance. About 39 per cent of managers say they rely on gut instinct when making key decisions around recruitment, training and development or redundancy. About a quarter agree that liking someone is a major factor.

Robert McHenry, chief executive of OPP, says: “Organisations have to ask themselves why they demand objectivity and transparency in most areas of their business, yet ‘fly blind’ when it comes to people decisions. Many live to regret being led by snap judgements.”

OPP believes that key people mistakes range from overestimating the potential of a person to belatedly discovering something significant about their personality or career history. With psychological profiling now routine in large multinationals but virtually unknown in many independent businesses, McHenry fears that many decisions about employees are made “either covertly or in the absence of hard facts”.

While most SME managers take pride in their astute business sense, and tend to believe they know their people well, OPP believes that this confidence isn’t shared further down the organisation.

Although 97 per cent of managers claim to know a lot about their staff, fewer than 75 per cent of employees agree. Worse still, 45 per cent of employees in the OPP survey say they do not trust their manager’s instinct when it comes to key decisions, such as promotion, bonuses or redundancy relating to themselves or their colleagues.

While employee engagement and co-operation taking centre stage in many boardrooms, some people believe personality conflict in the workforce can, like sand in an oyster, produce pearls. “Gut instinct can be extremely important in a smaller organisation’s recruitment process and, as long as it’s the instinct of a successful recruiter, it can be deployed alongside psychometric testing,” says HR consultant Janet Flint. “Appointing someone who challenges a team that’s become set in its ways, rather than choosing someone who totally meshes, can sometimes be a smaller organisation’s best bet.”