Recruitment - what do employers really want to know?

Rediscovering old viral internet threads is a little like reliving your youth. Akin to watching an early episode of Friends, the warm, fuzzy and familiar feeling as the six cast members roll out their now clichéd lines and physical overreactions. However, when I rediscovered David Thorne, admittedly most had me in stitches with laughter. For those of you who didn’t get this the first time round you will find the link at the bottom of this blog. The link comes with a warning, if you can’t spare hours to read every single one, just don’t open it. Like an episode of 24, you can’t help but move onto the next email thread as David Thorne’s wordsmith skills and satire will make the tears run down your cheeks.

When I got to the email thread '10 stupid questions' despite giggling most of the way through, it struck a chord. Raising the question of what we, as businesses, really want to know when interviewing potential candidates. Remembering the oft quoted cliché that a business is only as good as the expertise and integrity that resides within, perhaps we need to be less prescriptive and apply less 'business' and more 'personal' techniques.

Before we even get to the interview let’s think about what organisations stipulate to potential employees. Job descriptions typically have some dated and cringe worthy verbiage. As an industry we tend to make blanket statements such as 'must have good people skills and the ability to network at all levels' or 'must display aggressive drive for sales and market growth'. The other side of which are dreary statements, 20 years outdated 'must have excellent computer skills'. I don’t need to detail them all, we all know exactly what we are talking about. How many of you have looked at a job description over the years and been totally baffled about what it entails? Or worse, turned off to the job and the organisation. Demotivated before you have even started the professional relationship.

The frequency in which candidates encounter these corporate literary works serves as a catalyst for something far more sinister. Desensitisation. In the words of Blackadder 'a fate worse, than a fate worse than death'. It has become so prevalent that candidates switch off to the tone of the JD and its statements, some of which swing from the ludicrous to the banal. Thus, arriving at the interview confused, misguided and demotivated. Not the best start is it?

I don’t know if sales positions are the worst for this, but I have lost count of the interviews I have smiled my way through despite being utterly incredulous about the line of questioning. When I was a single man in my late 20’s I had been told during numerous interviews that was a good thing. I wouldn’t have a wife and kids keeping me from working. The expectation was to spend 12-14 hours in the office and travel for months on end globally. Ok, I may not have had a wife and kids, but I did have my sanity.

As recently as last week, a good friend attended an interview. The job description was 2 paragraphs, one of which merely stated what the company’s business entailed. A barely concealed red flag in paragraph two manifested itself 'must have the ability to thrive in a sales focused environment'. Read that as 'must have the ability not to have a mental breakdown in a sales pressure cooker'. Time and time again industry seems to have the desire to burn out sales people. It doesn’t happen in other areas of the business. A couple of years ago, when recruiting for a QHSE manager and a mechanical technician, I can’t begin to comprehend how absurd I would have sounded if I suggested that despite a 40-hour contract, they would never see their family and be expected to be in the office for 70 hours a week.

Anyway, let’s bring this back on track, I have enough real-life examples to wax lyrical on this for days. So, what do we really want to know? Given that interviews would not take place if the person wasn’t technically competent on paper (assuming they have been open and honest in their application, so let’s not even pull at that thread) then we have already decided on their employability. The remainder of the decision is based on feel. I believe that it comes down to one word: Fit. Will that person fit your organisations culture and its quirks? Would they fit with your client’s culture and ethos?

Do we allow a set of clunky predetermined questions to determine feel? No, we don’t. As a species we never have. In terms of our DNA we are still primates that communicate, touch and smell. I am not for one moment suggesting we invite candidates for an interview only to smell them, prod them and grunt occasionally. I am suggesting once we have established mutual professional credibility, possession of the necessary skills and knowledge to be employable, all that remains are attributes.

Attributes are defined as: 'a quality or feature regarded as a characteristic or inherent part of someone or something'.

Perhaps we should tap into our emotional intelligence, use our instinct and powers of perception to assess the attributes of our fellow human beings. Let’s open a dialogue, engage in meaningful conversation so both the employer and employee will expose their natural attributes. It’s those inherent qualities of integrity, work ethic and conscientiousness that we all need in our organisations.

So, let’s ditch the prescriptive, formal questions and have a nice cuppa tea and get to know each other, surely the starting point for what we hope will be a mutual working relationship. I mean, we are British after all…