Why Does Recruitment Fail?

By on October 19, 2015 in

Talent Is A Competitive Advantage

In his 2004 HBR article on Making Decisions, Peter Drucker states that decisions around hiring and promoting people are amongst the most crucial and the most difficult of all decisions a leader will make. He cites studies that show only one third of such choices turn out to be truly successful, that one third are effective draws with the final third being a failure, pure and simple. Many years on, another HBR article, this time by academics and authors Claudio Fernández- Aráoz, Boris Groysberg and Nitin Nohria suggests that not much has improved in decision making around executive recruitment decisions. This, is despite the overwhelming evidence that hiring good talent is a clear source of competitive advantage. The authors report that in their decisions on whom to hire, almost half of firms consider the number of years of relevant work experience to be a top reason to recruit a particular candidate. Less than a quarter give similar weight to the ability of a candidate to collaborate in teams. They are stunned to discover that, despite today’s demand for organisation transformation and innovation, only 11% factored a candidate’s readiness to learn new things.


The authors report that assessment practices were equally variable, sometimes within the same organisation. The majority of firms currently base their hiring decisions on interview performance and pay relatively scant attention to reference checks. Implicit in this, is a high level “gut feel” being applied to what is already, an unreliable method of selection. We now notice however, a move with many of our own customers towards competency based interviewing and indeed build competency interview models for some firms. These at least support a less biased process and deliver better prediction values.

Best Practice Makes Perfect

Fernández-Aráoz, Groysberg and Nohria’s article, The Definitive Guide to Recruiting in Good Times and Bad, offers a seven step best practice guide for organisations who really want to deliver great talent into their organisation’s. We have borrowed and built on these, setting them out hereunder.

Step One

Make future recruitment today’s task. Don’t simply address talent acquisition when a vacancy arises. Drill the well before you’re thirsty.

Step Two

Complete a full Detailed Needs Analysis of every role including cultural context. Don’t rely on generic corporate job specifications which mean little to the outside world. If you want accurate results, have the hiring Line Manager deliver the briefing to your internal TA team or external hiring partner.

Step Three

Start each search with a blank sheet. Consider candidates from inside and outside your organisation, tapping your own networks and those of your colleagues. Whom have you previously interviewed that was not suited for that role but might be for this? Which companies do you generally hire well from?

Step Four

Conduct a full and decisive assessment event with the right interviewers using a structured behavioural interview process. Also conduct rigorous references, meeting referees face-to-face wherever possible.

Step Five

Bring the hiring manager into the process at the earliest stage and ensure that he or she owns the final part of it in particular. Be transparent throughout about the positive and challenge elements to the role. Engage around the candidates personal and career interests. Bring organisation leaders into the process as early as possible.

Step Six

Create a mentor based on-boarding programme and check in on the adequacy of early days support in particular. Plan for what happens after the on-boarding process.

Step Seven

Nothing is perfect, don’t look for perfection. Have clarity around which attributes and competencies are essential to performance and which can be developed on the job. Don’t hang on to bad hires. Use the experience to evaluate the recruiting process and sources. Remember to recognise good interviewers and assessors for their contributions.

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