Recruiting is hard. All people involved in just about any recruiting process for any company would agree with that. For some it is fun. For others it is exciting. Still others find it terrifying, but all agree it is challenging. While the emotional complications tend to be more acute for candidates, the complexity is often far greater for employers. Whether a company is large or small and whether it is seeking to add somebody at a junior or senior level, one of the first steps in the process should be to describe the person they want to hire. Sadly, this effort has been trivialized by many companies. Little time gets devoted to thorough, explicit articulation of the profile being sought for job openings. Still, the company somehow needs to find the right people, and this is where narcissism enters the picture.

You believe you will know the right people when you meet them

Forget investing in profiling and screening activities. These can get rid of good people as easily as they avoid people who aren’t a fit. Besides, how can somebody from HR really assess candidates for positions they’ve never worked in themselves. Just get me qualified people and I will interview them because I know what I need, and I’ll recognize it immediately when I see it. This is the sentiment of many hiring managers and while there are no doubt elements of truth in the statement, the slope is slippery and aimed in a dangerous direction. Determining the level of fit of another human for a role in your organization is an inherently complex calculation. Every role has a complex set of skills and capabilities that, when available, leads to successful delivery in the role and when absent leaves gaps that lead to poor performance or additional strain on the organization. Each role has unique and often fluid needs across industry specific topics and functional skills often enabled through soft skills. Hiring managers should understand the specific skills from each of these groups that are relevant to the role. However, these skills have varying importance to success in the role ranging non-negotiable to nice-to-have. Sometimes spikes in one skill can make up for deficiencies in another. Other times they cannot. Rarely are skills binary in terms of a candidate either having them or not having them. Most skills exist on a continuum that ranges from complete lack of the skill to depth in the skill that exceeds the level possibly required in the role. Within this continuum, there’s a range of acceptable skill level for the job and within that, there is a target range of skill level. Exceeding those ranges is generally fine but could become expensive if a person exceeded many of the ranges. In the rare cases where a candidate “checks all the boxes”, they are obviously qualified for the job. More frequently there will be some subjectivity to deciding if the sum of all qualifications meets the proverbial bar for hiring. When there is an established rubric for assessing and comparing candidate performance in the recruiting process, this decision of qualification is a mechanical process. However, the narcissistic hiring manager who will “know the right person when they see him/her” has no such tool to lean on. This leads to decisions that are heavily influenced by emotion and often biased towards the first or last candidate based on the lack of reference point in the first interview or the prominence of the most recent memory of the last candidate. While not necessarily leading to a different answer than a more objective approach, the hiring manager who must weigh the complexities of:

  • Many different desired skills and capabilities
  • Of varying importance and impact to the business
  • Possessed at different levels of depth of the candidate
  • Being presented by the candidate as favorably (not necessarily as accurately) as possible
  • And subject to error in judgement by the interviewer(s)

Has a nearly impossible task of mentally organizing, arranging and evaluating all those variables in an objective way to make the right hiring decision. Not only that, they then must sell that decision to others without having the benefit of a predefined framework for doing so.

You expect your team to help you, but you tie their hands behind their backs

Most hiring managers would not expect an interior decorator to populate their house with furniture and artwork well-suited to their aesthetic styles without giving some specific guidance on what those aesthetic styles are, but many hiring managers do expect their human resource partners to provide well styled candidates with little or no specific guidance on what those hiring managers want from the candidates.

While there is definite variation in process between employers, the most common, generic process for hiring new employers is a seven-step process. Even in small companies, this process is typically led by a human resources organization but requires input from business leaders to be successful. While there is a natural role for hiring managers and business leaders to be involved every step, it is common for narcissistic hiring managers to delegate steps 1-3, 6, and 7 entirely to HR, only involving themselves only in steps 4 and 5. Their assumption is that their time is better utilized on business activities that cannot be supported by HR. In their minds, HR is not doing their job effectively if they are not able to run the process autonomously. The problem with this mentality is that HR is meant to be a support organization partnering with the business to bring additional specialized knowledge. It is not meant to be an outsourcing agency removing all responsibility from the business. Like any process, small errors early in the process are likely to compound, not disappear, over time repeatedly adding ever larger challenges as the process advances. Moving away from the mindset at the beginning that you will know who you want when you see them and taking the time in step 1 to clearly define the profile to be sought and the way in which candidates will be evaluated will make every following step much easier and effective.

You expect things to get better without being able to change things

It is difficult to know if your most recent hire was “successful” until they have had ample time acclimate and then demonstrate their skills in the role. Usually this takes a minimum of 6-12 months at which time nearly all has been forgotten about the interview process. When you have a “failed” hire, you typically end up seeking a replacement for this person because either they failed to perform, and you had to manage an exit, or they failed to integrate, and you lost them as unplanned attrition. Either way, you’re back to seeking candidates and you would prefer not to make the same mistake again. However, what was the mistake? All the following could have been at issue:

  • Sub-optimal skill profile sought
  • Wrong prioritization of qualifications
  • Inaccurate evaluation of candidate
  • Deception by the candidate
  • Biased decision making

The self-focused hiring manager will assume the candidate misled him/her in the process, not willing to take responsibility for any other root cause. Even if this was the case, there is potential to improve the process to reduce the ability to be deceived through optimization of the evaluation process, but only if there is clarity on where the business was deceived. However, by not having invested time early in the process to define clear explicit criteria for the job and the process for evaluating, the ability to run a post-mortem review of the hiring mistake to improve the process disappears. Had the company been able to review the scoring rubrics for the employee from when he or she was a candidate and compare against actual performance, it would likely become quickly clear where the weakness was in the process and the potential to improve in the future would become equally clear and actionable. Ultimately, as seemingly time-consuming and even painful as it may be, taking the time to rigorously define and execute a well-designed recruiting approach manages risks better and captures value more thoroughly than even the most capable hiring manager could do alone.

Recommended Reading

Blog: How Narcissistic Hiring Can Cripple a Business

White Paper: Chasing the Perfect Candidate Assessment