I'm a new HR person in a small business of 60 people. I'm posting a job description, and my boss wants me to use the same job posting template and application process the company has used in the past. I reviewed this template, only to find out that it requires applicants to submit their college GPAs and information about where they went to high school. These aren't entry-level roles. How can I convince my boss that this approach will cause us to lose out on qualified candidates?
Dear Wrongful Recruiting,
You might be eager to change the current system in place so you can interview and hire candidates your way. But first, I’d urge you to ask some preliminary questions.
Before you explain to your boss why asking applicants for their GPAs and high schools is an ineffective way to attract qualified candidates, take a step back. The first question you should ask your boss is what he is hoping to learn from this information. He may respond with some of the following problematic reasoning:
1) We want to know that candidates are hardworking and intelligent.
2) We want to hire people who graduated from a good school.
3) We want to make sure our employees aren’t slackers.
4) We want to hire people with ties to their community, and seeing where they graduated from high school helps us do that.
5) We give preference to people who graduated from our alma maters. (Note that this reasoning is particularly problematic!)
6) We've always asked for this information, and it hasn't failed us yet.
But let's tackle some of the other explanations.
School Smart vs. Work Smart
Reasons one through five are what we call proxies. Instead of evaluating, for ourselves, if the candidate is hardworking and intelligent, we assume that because they graduated from a reputable university with good grades, they are hardworking and intelligent.
And this is probably true to some extent. A student who gets straight As and has the SAT scores required to attend a top university is generally thought to be smart. But there’s a difference between someone who is school smart and someone who is good at their job. It’s entirely possible to have a high school diploma and higher education degree, and still be a terrible employee. Meanwhile, another employee who went to a lower-ranked school and got a D in physics—or didn’t go to college at all—could be a great worker. Unless you’re hiring them for a role that requires deep knowledge in physics, for example, that grade is pretty meaningless.
Plus, hiring someone just because they went to the same school as you is a blatant display of bias—you should be making hires based on an individual’s unique capabilities and traits, not an existing stereotype of belief.
Grades From High School and College Become Less Important WIth Age
When someone is 18 and has minimal to no work experience, a high school diploma is an indicator that they are a reliable worker. You know that they got out of bed every day, went to school and got good enough grades to graduate. Someone who has a college diploma shows that they did that for four more years.
Do you know what also shows commitment and reliability? A solid work history.
GPAs and diplomas only tell you what someone did in the past—and every day school (and even college) become more distant, and therefore less relevant. People change, become more mature and focused. Instead of focusing on what someone did 10 or 20 years ago, focus on what they have accomplished over the last five years.
So What Do You Want to Know?
You want to know a candidate’s work history. You want to understand her accomplishments. And while you will get some of this insight on a regular resume, you will often need to dig deeper. Prepare questions for a phone screen such as "Tell me about your biggest accomplishment in your current/last position," or "What's the hardest thing you've done since finishing school?" Answers to these questions will provide a better indication of the skills they have, and how they communicate their experiences will give you more insight on their qualifications than any resume ever could.
Who you were as a teenager determined which college you got into, but we shouldn't be using those same metrics to judge mid-career professionals. Instead, focus on recent accomplishments, and you'll get better—and more qualified—candidates.
Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady
Header image: Creative Commons
Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.
A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down
Organizations make significant investments in efforts to hire the right candidates – the people who have the right experience and cultural fit. By carefully managing the performance and potential of these people over time, the organization can grow its leadership pipeline, keep a steady inventory of needed skills and competencies and remain nimble in the face of change (which we have plenty of all around us these day) – all of which can have serious impact on the bottom line. However, much of this pie-in-the-sky stuff relies on being able to locate and cultivate high-potential and high-performing talent across the board. Without an integrated succession management solution, recognizing and developing talent can be an ever-elusive process. The questions we are seeing asked today include: does the traditional top-down approach to succession management still make enough of a difference? Does managing succession for a slim strata of senior executives take full advantage of the kinds of talent data we now have at our fingertips? It doesn’t have to be so. Succession management can be an interactive process between senior leadership, managers and employees at all levels of the organization. And, if we trust them, we can actually let employees become active participants in their own career development. (Shudder.) Career Management (Succession Planning Flipped Upside Down) This "bottom-up" approach is gaining momentum because who better to tell us about employee career path preferences than employees themselves. Organizations actually have talent management and other HR systems in place that allow for collecting and analyzing a whole slew of data around: Career history Career preferences Mobility preferences Professional and special skills Education achieved Competency ratings Performance scores Goal achievement Training and certifications Etc. In short, pretty much everything we’d want to know to make well-informed succession planning and talent pooling decisions. For some, the leap is simply putting some power into the employee’s hands. The talent management system of 2011 is capable of displaying a clear internal career path for employees and then, on the basis of all that data bulleted out above, showing a "Readiness Gap" – what do you need to do to make the step to the next level? And if your talent management environment comes armed with a real Learning Management System, you can take it to the next level with a dynamically generated development plan that gets the employee on the right path to actually closing those gaps. Faster development, faster mobility. Organizations that seriously favor internal mobility don’t just make employees stick on pre-defined career paths – they can search for ANY job in the company and check their Readiness levels. I might be in accounting today, but what I really want to do is move to marketing. Giving employees the chance to explore various career avenues within the organization helps assure that "water finds its level" – that is, that the right people with the right skills and the right levels of motivation and engagement find the right job roles internally. Employee participation is key, but make no mistake – managers play an important role in this interactive process. They must be prepared to provide career coaching, identify development opportunities and recommend employees for job openings. The candid discussions require that employees have open access to information so they can best understand the criteria necessary to move to the next level. A Two-Way Street Employee-driven career management is just one tool. The more traditional top-down approach to succession management remains indispensable. But organizations that value talent mobility and the ability to be able to shift and mobilize talent resources quickly will find that attention to career pathing can be vital. For employees, of course, the impacts are immediate and include boosted levels of engagement, higher retention, increased productivity and more.
The Hidden Costs of Ignoring Your Talent Management Strategy
Building and maintaining a successful company hinges on having the right people to execute projects and drive results. People, we hear time and again, are your company's most valuable asset. But their success — and HR's ability to recruit, engage and retain them — depends on HR pros who are strategic decision-makers, armed with the proper tools to let them excel at their jobs. Modern HR professionals manage much more than payroll and benefits. But their technology tools, in many cases, haven't evolved past basic productivity software like email or Microsoft Word. HR simply can't be strategic with old-school tools that reduce people to statistics and give little insight into what the numbers mean. Emails and spreadsheets were not designed to deliver meaningful insights into people's performance, suggest when employees should be promoted or highlight skills gaps in a company. For that, HR needs a broader, more strategic set of talent management tools, which lets professionals manage every aspect of the workforce, from training and performance reviews to collaboration and succession planning. Yet, research shows that less than 25% of companies use a unified, holistic approach to their talent management. The Real Costs of "Doing Nothing" As a Talent Management Strategy The critical relationship between business strategy and HR strategy too often gets overlooked by senior leadership. While it may seem like the company is saving money by managing recruiting, training, performance and succession via manual and paper-based processes, in reality it’s costing your business more than you know. For example: Without a talent management strategy, a company with 2,000 employees is losing almost $2 million every year in preventable turnover alone. Businesses that don’t invest in learning suffer from decreased employee performance and engagement to such a degree that they can expect to realize less than half the median revenue per employee. That’s a direct impact on the business. In employee performance management, organizations without a focused strategy waste up to 34 days each year managing underperformers and realize lower net income. To learn more about the business impact of talent management and how to start building out your strategy, check out the eBook Why Your Nonexistent Talent Management Strategy is Costing You Money (And How to Fix It) and register for the March 19th webinar, Building the Business Case for Talent Management.
The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance
With the economy now on steadier ground, most organizations have returned to administering a merit budget to the pre-recession levels of 3 to 3.5%. In the years immediately following the economic downturn, many merit budgets were eliminated entirely or were reduced significantly and reserved for a select segment of the employee population. Pay for performance has become a necessity for many organizations that are expected to accomplish more with fewer resources. I often get asked: "How can I truly award my top performers with such a limited budget? Should I do so at the expense of my ’Meets Expectations’ performers? What if I need to retain my ’Meets Expectations’ performers and giving them 0% to 2% increase puts me at great risk for turnover? But if I don’t recognize my top performers, don’t I risk losing them...?" These are difficult questions to answer, however you can determine the best solution for your organization by considering the following: Are your employees paid at market pay levels? Is your organization’s performance management process mature? Does your organization have other compensation programs in place to reward top performers (e.g. variable pay)? Market Pay If turnover is a concern, and your organization needs to maintain ’bench strength’ in order to achieve its strategic objectives, your biggest priority should be to ensure that you are paying your employees at market pay levels. Why? Historically, as the labor market strengthens, organizations become vulnerable in terms of losing people. Hiring and onboarding replacement talent is not only costly to the organization, but can also cause dissension among existing employees since new hires may be getting paid more. Be sure to stay abreast of market pay levels and trends, and use the merit budget to correct disparities. Performance Management Process Organizations vary significantly in terms of the maturity of their performance management process. Closely examine your organization’s process and look for ways to improve it. If there is a perception that one management team is an ’easier grader’ than the others, the process is inherently flawed and any pay for performance program will not be viewed as credible and fair by employees. A good place to start is to get a calibration process in place and communicate broad guidelines on expected distribution ratings. Variable Pay Programs Variable pay programs (e.g. bonuses) have become increasingly more popular across all industries and career levels. These programs provide the opportunity for employees to share in the organization’s success while not adding to fixed payroll costs. Some plans have an individual performance component which can be a very effective means to recognize top performers. However, in order for this type of program to be successful, individual goals and targets must be well documented and communicated. Again, this is largely based on the maturity of the organization’s performance management process which takes time to evolve. What are the best steps to avoid wreaking havoc on your pay for performance process? First ensure your pay levels are keeping pace with the market Continue to evolve your performance programs with calibration among managers and a rigorous goal setting process Promote variable pay plans to reward high performers without adding to fixed pay roll costs It’s not always an easy journey but, in the end, it’s best to use a measured approach that is based on business needs and a realistic assessment of your current programs and processes.