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Hiring from unlikely sources as the talent pool shrinks

Intrinsic traits can account for 5-20 percent of variance in performance. How can companies best assess these traits to tap into unexpected talent sources?
Emily Field

Shapes organizational strategies to establish talent management as a distinctive advantage, preparing leaders to manage the workforce of tomorrow and create business value

Dinora Fitzgerald Dobru

Partners with clients to enable business strategies and drive sustainable change through talent management, organizational design, and operating-model transformations

In today’s tight labor market, organizations are vying to fill open positions as the U.S. unemployment rate is at record lows. Increasingly, companies are turning to unexpected sources, such as ex-convicts, many never considered before for hard-to-fill jobs.

Those with a prior criminal record, for instance, are being hired by some companies, such as Midwest manufacturers and 175-plus companies that have signed up at jobsforfelonshub.com. Others are lessening drug history requirements or removing minimum experience requirements to ease what were once considered automatic disqualifiers.

As a result, assessing candidates becomes increasingly important. Evaluating based on prior experience isn’t enough. Who someone innately is can even matter more than what’s on a resume.

Our research indicates that intrinsic traits – characteristics coming from within the person, such as personality or motivations – can account for 5-20 percent of variance in performance. This is especially critical in roles with historically high attrition rates to save employers from refilling the job in a few months’ time.

How can companies best assess intrinsic traits? We start by pinpointing what characteristics matter most for high performers by role within the organization. For example, at a fast food chain, we found that extroverted sales associates actually decreased customer satisfaction scores as customers favor speedy and accurate service instead.

Working with a staffing agency with difficulties retaining sales associates, we discovered they were overly focused on experience rather than potential, prioritizing applicants who had previous sales experience – something that we found was not a predictor of job success. We worked with the agency to determine what fundamentally set their high performers apart – traits such as resilience and comfort working in unstructured environments – and then developed a program on the trainable aspects of sale.

Armed with these insights, we build tools to assess candidates to understand the extent to which they possess the right traits indicative of success in the role, and then focus on making sure they have adequate training to fill in any gaps in experience. This strategy can help applicants who may have been previously overlooked due to a lack of job experience or gap in their job history.

The pre-employment assessment can take a variety of forms.

  • In the staffing agency example, we developed a quantitative, science-backed assessment to evaluate candidates on the intrinsic traits that mattered in interviews. Then, we trained the interviewers on how to calibrate the responses and make objective, fact-based decisions.
  • At another staffing firm, we developed a matching algorithm, feeding the skills, intrinsic and biodata most predictive of success into the tool so staffers could select the temp best suited for the role. This included their responses on integrity tests and distance to job site. After applying the new algorithm, the agency had a 50 percent reduction in the time that it took to fill roles, while increasing satisfaction with matches.
  • Startups are innovating how organizations assess candidates using gamification. For example, a startup has created assessments to grasp how people think instead of what they know. The company is building a simulation-based recruitment assessment tool using artificial intelligence technology that measures a candidate’s cognitive skills and abilities using an evidence-centered and theoretically data-driven approach. This focus on process rather than pure knowledge can reduce the bias against underserved populations that is common in more traditional cognitive assessments.

An organization considering assessments to tap into unexpected talent sources must first look inward at its mission and values to ensure that new hiring processes are in alignment with both. The company should pinpoint what a good employee looks like to better assess applicants for ideal traits, use pilot assessments, track impact and refine over time to continuously improve the candidate evaluation process.

Lastly, creating an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity and varied experiences is key to success. Without such an environment and emphasis on celebrating the distinct contributions of applicants with diverse backgrounds, new employees might not feel fully accepted or integrated into the organization. This is even more crucial when focusing on hiring applicants with a history that is often stigmatized in the workforce.

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