Our au pair planned to leave us at Christmas. We were able to talk her into staying longer but not before I had begun searching for a replacement. My search involved browsing an au pair website assessing prospective candidates by trustworthy appearance, personal grooming and facial expression.
I was growing discouraged after rejecting nearly everyone when I found a pleasant faced young woman who was willing to live in Germany. Looking at her picture, I felt she would fit in well with our family. I called my husband over to look and he gave me an odd stare as if he suspected me of making a joke at his expense.
‘That’s Rachel,’ he said, speaking slowly so I could keep up. I looked again and sure enough, it was our current au pair Rachel.
In my defense, it was an old picture and my instincts about her fitting in were bang on.
They aren’t supposed to but looks do influence hiring decisions. Clothing and grooming habits may be an indication of professionalism but personal standards of style and attractiveness also creep in. The average hiring team member may also - at least in the back of their minds - prefer someone who won’t outshine them, shares some interests, laughs at their jokes, etc.
This mix of attributes may be referred to as ‘cultural fit’ in order to justify a decision not to hire someone. And certainly cultural fit is important. My colleague Jim Brennan wrote an excellent post yesterday ‘Baseball, Football and Compensation Valuation' about how a team that collectively possesses winning skills and works well together can outperform a group of individual top achievers.
The problem is that typical hiring teams are people with their own agendas and therefore more likely to ask themselves, ‘Will I work well with this person?’ than, ‘What can this person contribute to the team?’
Added to this, most applicants will try to represent themselves in the best possible light and showcase what a great team player they are. With all that subtext going on, the odds of actually choosing the best candidate is fairly low if you hire the person everyone liked best.
Do you need to like your colleagues to work well with them? An interesting TED talk by Yves Morieux argues that not only is it unnecessary, it may even be counterproductive because you will make more compromises for someone you like.
According to the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, if you are selecting from a pool of candidates that all share a basic level of competence it doesn’t really matter who you hire because after ten thousand hours on the job the original predictors of success no longer apply. Of course, that assumes they get to spend ten thousand hours specializing in a certain area, which may not be realistic in a dynamic organization.
According to recent article Moneyball at Work, what actually matters most to today’s employers is adaptability, or the ability to learn new things quickly.
Other desirable traits include resilience, social competence, intelligence, professionalism a diverse background and - for jobs that involve serving customers - a friendly disposition combined with a desire to serve (I know, amazing!)
Big data is helping companies scout out passive candidates by assessing core competencies through a variety of sources such as online profiles. The implications for compensation planning are significant when you consider how expensive it is to keep someone in the wrong job who was hired because people ‘liked’ them.
Computers don't have personal agendas - not yet, anyway - and we will probably see more data-driven hiring decisions.
So, hire people you like before it’s too late!
Laura Schroeder is EMEA product marketing director at Workday, headquartered in Pleasanton, CA. She has nearly fifteen years of experience envisioning, designing, developing, implementing and evangelizing global Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions and holds a certificate in Strategic Human Resources Practices from Cornell University. Her articles and interviews on HCM topics have been published in the US, Europe and Asia. She lives in Munich, Germany and enjoys cooking, reading, writing, kick boxing (well, kicking things) and spending time with friends and family. If you want to read more from Laura, check out her talent management blog Working Girl or follow her on Twitter @WorkGal.
Picture courtesy of Film.com.