To Get the Right Match, Start with the Right Batch

Innovative organizations cannot sustain their achievements without fresh ideas and new approaches that are often brought in by new hires.  Companies that foster innovation need not just highly skilled workforce; they need highly engaged employees – people who love to work there, who are motivated to be creative, and whose personal values fit well the organizational culture.  Dan Pink, in his talk about engagement and motivation in the work place, describes three main elements of motivation – autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy motivates us because we all want freedom and flexibility in our work, mastery gets us going because we naturally want to get better at what we do, and purpose is the most vital component in any of our creative projects – there is nothing more discouraging than working on something that has no meaning, lacks direction, or doesn’t have any real need.  Highly motivated and engaged people, who are driven by those elements, are best to spark creativity in organizations.  Creativity, in turn, serves as the most vital component for developing innovations.

Finding these “right” people for the organization is a challenge that goes through all stages of a recruitment process – from generating applicants for a vacant position to extending a job offer to a selected candidate.  Every stage has an important role in the process of hiring the best available candidate, however, this article focuses on generating a pool of qualified applicants as the initial stage of the hiring process.  After this pool is compiled, the number of available applicants can only deteriorate; hence, this initial stage creates the greatest possibility for the hiring managers and Human Resources professionals to make the most effective selection decisions (Carlson, Connerley, & Meacham, 2002).

Human Resources researchers have long argued that hiring a successful employee not only requires a combination of relevant experience, technical skills, and abilities of the candidate, but also depends on a match between a candidate’s personal values and the culture of an organization (a.k.a. person-organization fit or P-O fit).  Making a prediction of how the applicant would potentially fit with the working environment is an organic part of the traditional hiring process.  However, in most cases, these predictions are pretty unstructured and opened to personal biases (Grigoryev, 2006), paving the way to potential hiring mistakes.

A typical job application includes information about a candidate’s knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA), relevant experience, and education.  In their resumes or CVs, applicants may also include information about their so called “soft skills,” such as an ability to work independently or as part of the team, leadership aptitude, communications skills, etc.  This information is meant to demonstrate to the potential employer how this candidate will fit their organization, but rarely is taken into consideration until the later stages of the recruitment process when more face to face communication occurs.

Instead, current recruitment procedures initially use the computerized system of keyword parsing, matching a candidate’s experience, technical skills, and abilities (a.k.a. person-job fit or P-J fit) to the job requirements.  This system produces an initial cut of the candidates used by hiring managers and Human Resources professionals to invite applicants to an initial job interview.  The other important job fit “intangibles” will likely be assessed during the later stages of the recruitment process or, in some cases, not be evaluated at all.

Frequently, an applicant, perceived as the best match for the job during the selection process (based only on technical skills and experience), cannot, or would not want to, stay on the job due to other, non-technical factors.  For example, research shows that 46% of twenty thousand new hires in 312 companies left their respective organizations within the first 18 months.  Follow up interviews with more than five thousand of the hiring managers found that only 11% of employees who left their organizations did so due to a lack of technical or professional competence.  In fact, other “intangible” issues, such as motivational problems (15%), temperament issues (17%), lack of coachability (26%), and low levels of emotional intelligence (23%) accounted for the reason the new hire left the company (Grigoryev, 2006).  This high number of employees failing to stay on a job for more than 18 months due to culture-related reasons suggests that companies could benefit from improving the selection processes in order to minimize the impact of employee turnover.

Is there a better way to select candidates?  In my recent doctoral study, I argued that not applying the concept of matching a candidate’s personal values with organizational culture until late in the recruitment process may potentially eliminate a candidate who has a higher P-O fit but lesser match of KSAs or P-J fit, as his or her resume may not even be accounted for the selection for an initial interview.  In this study, I attempted to analyze if the information of the candidate’s person-organization fit provided to hiring managers would affect their decision to invite this candidate to an initial job interview.  The study was designed as a real-life-simulated experiment, where respondents were provided with hypothetical information about a hiring company, a job description for a vacant position, and a job applicant’s resume.

The research sample included 57 hiring managers or Human Resources professionals from various companies, who currently have, or have had in the past, responsibility for screening job applicants and inviting them to personal interviews.  All participants were randomly divided into four groups with approximately equal numbers of members in each of the groups.

The first, “control,” group was supposed to mimic the current selection process by reviewing only an applicant’s resume, and comparing it to the job description.  Other, or “treatment,” groups were also provided with additional information about the results of a Situational Judgment Test (SJT), demonstrating the level of person-organization fit to the hiring company.  In total, there were three versions of the level of P-O Fit (Low, Medium, and High) provided to the participants, one for each different treatment group.  After reviewing and comparing all provided documents, participants from each group were simply asked to decide if they were to invite the applicant to an initial job interview and, optionally, elaborate on their decision.

To minimize any potential biases, participants were not provided with any data about the scope, goals, or design of the study; they were also not given any information concerning any other treatment groups.

The results demonstrated that the pool of candidates invited to an initial job interview can be significantly altered if hiring managers have knowledge of a job applicant’s P-O fit in addition to the information about this applicant’s knowledge, skills, and abilities currently derived from resumes.

Specifically, 69 percent of hiring managers interviewed for this study indicated that the information about a job applicant’s P-O fit served as a main reasoning in their decision-making process of inviting the job applicant on an initial interview.  Additionally, 77 percent of the participants were not going to grant an interview to a job applicant who possessed a low P-O fit, even though this applicant had a strong resume.  This leads one to believe that if information about P-O fit was considered during the selection process, even a resume demonstrating a strong match of knowledge, skills, or experience to the job description, may not warrant an invitation to an initial interview without a strong match of the candidate’s personal values and organizational culture.

In summarizing the study results, a more integrative approach to selecting candidates is needed.  The evaluation of P-O fit can be conducted electronically as part of the application process, before the initial information about the candidate reaches the human eye of a decision maker.  As an example, innovative organizations may want to appraise a candidate’s creative problem solving skills, associative fluency, or ability to make decisions in atypical situations.  In addition, companies can assess a candidate’s openness to differences, his or her ability to work independently and within a team, or other intangible skills.  Overall, this approach adds yet another dimension to the applicant’s data, complementing the subjective take of the hiring managers during the interview process with the more objective, and structured information.

The investment into developing and implementing this approach would not only be rewarded by getting a more balanced pool of candidates who fit the organization better and stay with the company longer, but also improved objectivity in hiring processes, further defining the hiring requirements, and increased awareness of corporate cultural values among employees and hiring managers.

Making the initial selection of job candidates more comprehensive is just a first step to getting the “right” people on board.  However, if that first step fails to bring these “right” people into the mix, the whole hiring process may prove fruitless.

Carlson, K.D., Connerly, M.L., & Mecham, R.L. (2002).  Recruitment evaluation: The case for assessing the quality of applicants attracted.  Personnel Psychology,55, 461-490.
Grigoryev, P. (2006).  Hiring by competency models. The Journal for Quality and Participation, Winter, 16-18.