HR Begins at home
Unless you are working for one of the growing number of companies that no longer offers any entry-level positions, there will be times when you have to select candidates who have no meaningful work experience. It may be for full-time positions, or a graduate programme or internships; makes no real difference. These people are your future.
So here's the question:
would you rather hire the person with the stellar exam grades (and possibly a well rounded personal statement and record of extra-curricular activities);
the person who will be a stellar performer in the role you are hiring for (and who will grow into bigger and more responsible roles in your company over time)?
Presented with the question in this form, it is likely (very) that you go for option two; which doesn't explain why the vast majority of us are still running selection as if option one was the way to go.
Now, work with me here. Yes, indeed: you do interviews and aptitude testing and screen for personal presentation and run group selection days and do your darndest to get the best; but only AFTER you have applied a filter - educational attainment - which bears little or no relationship to job performance and which therefore may well have removed all the potential stars from your pool before you even started. Not following?
Let's say you have 100 people apply for 3 places on a programme. Let's further suggest that in that pool of 100, there are actually 5 candidates who have it in them to become truly stellar performers for your business. Your job is to make sure that the 3 open places go to 3 of those 5 hi-po candidates, as far as possible.
Now, we can all agree that 100 is a typical but unwieldy number of candidates, so let's reduce that to 10 with some initial screening. CVs are the usual way to do this (well done if you have found an alternative), but for these new entrants to the marketplace, that means we can only really look at educational attainment, and possibly extra-curricular activity. Usually we focus on the first of these...
And we do this, even though if we had a rational moment, we would admit that passing exams demonstrates an ability to... learn in a classroom setting and then reproduce that learning in a classroom setting. For most of us, that isn't actually a requirement of the job we are selecting for. In fact, if you do have staff who treat customers as if they were an examination problem, you are almost certainly trying to mentor them. Or lose them.
Here's the outcome. Our initial screening removed 90 of the 100 candidates (success!) Unfortunately, the mathematical likelihood is that the 90 included all 5 of our true hipos (not so successful). So now we can embark on a brilliantly conceived selection process... with the wrong candidates.
Now, you may think I am begging all sorts of questions (and I am, quite deliberately, being provocative; but not untruthful...). Am I saying that there is a negative correlation between educational attainment and job performance? No, of course not. I am suggesting there is little or no correlation. So some great employees will have great exam grades. Most great employees won't. My point is simply that we should pretty much ignore anything that isn't a legitimate professional requirement (i.e. I'm hiring Doctors, yes, I probably need to find people who passed their Med School exams).
The bigger question I am begging is this: "if educational attainment doesn't predict job performance, what does?" Good question, and for another time. For now I would just like to highlight the danger of your pre-filtering and screening. Actually, better you simply choose the 10/100 by casting lots. (Better, but still not great).
All of which leads me to your real problem. Most of the people who would be totally BRILLIANT in your business, never applied in the first place. They would have loved to have a crack at a role with your business, but they have been taught at home and at school, exactly what you demonstrated with your CV-screening. You only get the job you want if you do well academically. So they never applied. Instead they will go and do the job their exam scores indicate, probably not very well.
So here's what we can do. (I do it already, every time I can). Whether you work for an MNC, or an SME, or something in between: you are an HR professional, so find an appropriate level of engagement which allows you to get in front of young people who are still in preparation for their entry to the marketplace, and talk to them about what really matters. Talk to their parents as well, even better. Tell them about your star performers in a number of different parts of the organisation. Tell them what actually makes those people stars*.
Who knows. You might even ignite a few new stars yourself.
*I am betting it won't be this: "Mrs Fong is our star events organiser, and its all because she worked so hard in Maths class 13 years ago..."
PS - funnily enough, when kids start to get a sense that who they are and what they really care about is going to be more important in building a career than simply their exam grades, they will often start to turn in much better results - precisely because they now have some vision and hope for the future. But you still shouldn't screen on grades.
This article was first published in hoozyu.com