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Art of the matter



I wrote earlier this week about recruiters and as I mentioned then, recruitment is not one of my favourite subjects.  One of the things that really disturbs me about the scene is the seemed desire to try to make the whole selection process scientific.

Let me be clear.  Recruitment is an art, it is not a science.  It never has been a science and it never will…..  You can tell me that there are predictive tests for this and for that and that you can psychometric my balls to within an inch of their life and heave them begging to be permanently removed, but you are never going to be able to create any form of selection process that is scientific.

How many times have you sat in a process and you look at the test results and they say that you should be recruiting candidate A, but everything in your gut tells you candidate B?  Bad HR people recruit based on the tests, they tell managers to listen to the tests.  And in reality that is probably a good thing, because they are crap HR people and therefore their judgment is also probably skewed.  These are the guys that recruit the Normans….who sit in the corner shaking and eventually either blow up the Cafeteria or go off with long-term stress. “But their test results were so good…….”

Over thousands of years we as humans have learned to read people, to look at their gestures that non-verbal signals, their movements and twitches.  If we spent less of our time worrying about which “competency based” bollock question we were going to drop next and more time watching and listening to the candidate and assessing them based on our own human instincts then we’d succeed in

a) Recruiting better people

b) Saving a shed load of money

c) Improving the candidate’s experience

d) Not coming across like a bunch of aliens who’ve had a sense of humour transplant

The perpetuation of this myth is essentially to keep the myriad of consultants and experts in a job, the people who tell you that they have developed “new and more accurate ways of assessing potential”.  Think about it.  If you really could design a foolproof way of doing this, you wouldn’t be selling it for thousands.  You’d be selling it for millions.  You’d have the major businesses in the world lining up to sign exclusivity agreements, not a bunch of salespeople with over shiny shoes, over strong cologne and the ability to replace three words with thirty.

The answer is to stop thinking and start to rely on your intuition, “Feel, don’t think. Use your instincts.”  That, my friends is the path to being a true HR Jedi.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 05/13/2010 07:23

    Very good post! Bruce Lee also had wise words on following one’s instincts:

  2. 05/13/2010 07:54

    Completely agree HRD. That is a worry!

  3. Aussie HR Chick permalink
    05/13/2010 08:11

    These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

    I’ve found that the only HR people who use the tests (and rely on the tests) are those new to recruiting…by the time they’ve interviewed 100’s of candidates and see the difference in the test responses to actual on the job performance they then ditch the tests and leave those to the HR newbies.

  4. 05/13/2010 09:06

    Correct, you man of mystery, recruitment is not a science and it isn’t rocket science either!

    I am not an advocate of all the different tests you mention, but your “use your instincts – become a Jedi HR warrior” jibe is a little short sighted.

    You must have worked with/employed/fired (take your pick) many HR staff over the years that have recruitment responsibilities. Exactly how many knew anything about recruitment, understood what it is all about and could actually do it properly?
    A low figure I would guess?

    I know you have a total dislike of recruitment, and to be fair there are way too many over-rated, under-delivering and quite frankly crap ‘consultants’ out there in the industry, that leave everyone (both the HR and Recruitment industry) embarrassed

    Tests don’t substitute for recruiting skills and ability, but when there are little skills there in the first place, then sometimes the test are all they have got!

    Thanks for the inspiration for me to write a more detailed blog post about this!! (

    By the way, whoever you are, it is a great blog with a refreshing take on the industry!

  5. 05/13/2010 10:21

    Many, many years ago I was recruited to a junior HR post because I had excellent psychometric test scores. It soon became apparent that I was a square peg in a round role. Six months later and we were all glad that I found another job and moved on. This is my personal experience of when over-reliance on psychometric tests (by an HR team) didn’t work.

    A lot of managers and HR staff need support/ training in ensuring that they are deploying robust and safe recruitment techniques. I frequently get involved in cases where there have been poor recruitment decisions (even when psychometrics haven’t been used.) Sometimes people’s instincts aren’t enough…..

    Final note: I would love it if the CIPD did have a starfleet academy that could turn us into HR Jedis…but unfortunately I don’t think it’s part of their strategy at present.

  6. 05/13/2010 15:57

    When I was working, the company had us complete forms where we assessed ourselves on all these dimensions. We had to evaluate ourselves on these competencies. There was even a book with about 500 competencies – we could be either low, good, or high on the competency (organizational agility, humor, public speaking, analytical ability, etc). We had to do this every year as part of our performance evaluation/self-flagellation/confession. The idea was that in the end, we would all be reduced to a neat little page.

    I kept trying to get into the international division and was trying to network my way in, but was told that the way it worked was that when someone needed a candidate, he asked HR to look in The System for someone who met The Criteria. Which of course was Total Bullshit because nobody really trusts an anonymous system, they want to work with someone they know or who has been recommended.

    I wondered when the company was going to tattoo our SAP numbers on our wrists.

  7. 05/13/2010 18:54

    As yet, there is not one piece of evidence available worldwide that can demonstrate and correlate success in role with any form of testing. Not one study. Not one control group. Nothing.

    As an HR professional i am qualified in the use of psychometrics and other assessment tools. And throughout my career i have put people through rigerous testing and assessment processes but also hired totally on gut feel. Over the years, based on my past experience, i have moved more towards intuition and now no longer test candidates. During the times that i did, no matter what evidence i had in front of me, no matter how comprehensive the report, i always felt the need to immerse myself in the person and make my judgement on that.

    One of the unfortunate observations that i have made over the years is the rather over zelous sense of importance and inflated level of psychological skill that members of my team would demonstrate once they had been trained. 2 weeks at SHL and they came back thinking they were psychologists. And yes, so did i im ashamed to say.

    And its the same thing that worries me with using social media to make recruitment judgements. Armchair psychology all over again.

  8. Karen (Sayya26) permalink
    05/13/2010 19:54

    I agree. Several times a person may look good on paper and then when you interview face to face, that’s the only way you know for sure if they’re going to be a good fit for your organization. And even if they do appear to be a good fit, sometimes there’s something in your gut or somewhere in you that’s telling you to still not take them on.

    I’m still pretty young and still developing that sense of intuition (my mom is a Jedi Master at it since she’s been in HR for like 20+ years and spent several of those years in recruiting- the woman can read you from a mile away), but so far it’s led me to make better hiring decisions as I ‘read’ the whole package instead of just the piece of paper.

  9. 05/14/2010 07:51

    @Michael Carty – Bruce Lee and HR….a combination like no other. A bit like driving a high performace sports car in a pair of Crocs…..

    @Henry – Bloody hell…….watch out for flying porkers…..

    @Aussie HR Chick – I kind of Tommee Tippee for recruiters?

    @Andy Headworth – Andy thanks for your comments and the debate. As I wrote over at your place, I think we actually agree. I believe we should stop looking for props and start to develop capability and confidence in our capability.

    @karencwise – “Sometimes people’s insticts aren’t enough” – I agree, but more too often people don’t use any of their God given skills and rely on mumbo jumbo.

    @The gold digger – Can I steal that tattooing idea? I think it’s got legs. There could be a big bar code scanner by the front door….

    @Gareth Jones – Hi Gareth and thanks for commenting. “2 weeks at SHL and they came back thinking they were psychologists” – what is it that happens at SHL! Have you ever noticed that when people come back they have that sort of vacant, faraway, slightly scientologist look about them……!

    @Karen – Reading the whole package is what it’s all about. Too true.

  10. vt306 permalink
    05/14/2010 13:51

    Now I’m not an HR professional and will confess to getting frustrated with the b@ll*^ks that comes from some (usually freshly qualified) HR colleagues. I’ve recruited for teams for over 15 years and can be satisfied that I’ve almost always recruited good people. I still remember as a new manager all those years ago, agonising over recruitment decisions – especially when the tests are saying one thing and your instincts something else.

    I think the main thing I’ve learnt is that the point is not to find someone who’s good at doing interviews or good at doing tests – we’re trying to find the person who would be best at doing that job in that team. I wonder whether relying on instinct alone risks appointing the person with the best interview skills…?

    I like competency-based selection because it makes you breakdown what skills and abilities you need and then assess candidates based on how their experience make them able to do the job. It makes sure you cover all the areas that you thought were important and gives a framework to compare. Having said that I have seen this process done very badly and I have seen people get to the end and appoint someone they’re not sure of because they scored well. Often the best appointments are where you appoint for attitude and ability to learn over experience.

    So my thesis is that: Art alone is risky and Science alone is foolish. As a balanced person I think you need a bit of both.

  11. 05/24/2010 09:10

    @vt306 – Wise words….there is of course a balance to be struck. I guess my fear is that people prefer “numbers” as they seem more concrete.

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