Identifying failure points in the 19 steps of the recruiting process

May 2010 Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is a well-known thought leader in HR. He is a frequent speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley firms. Formerly the chief talent officer for Agilent Technologies (the 43,000-employee HP spin-off), he is now a professor of management at San Francisco State University.

It might surprise you to know that the average recruiter cannot name the distinct steps in the recruiting process, nor the goals or common failure points for each step. Even among recruiting leaders, it s common for them to realize that their hiring process is failing but be unaware of which steps in the process are causing the problem.

Having advised a number of organizations seeking to improve their function, I have developed a process for identifying the weak elements of a recruiting process, which I call Recruiting Failure Point Identification or Recruiting FPI. There are three different FPI approaches that organizations can use to identify the key failure points in any hiring process. They include.

  • Auditing each of the distinct steps in the recruiting process to identify failure points
  • Using a yield model to identify failure points
  • Using surveys to identify what s working and what s not working in the process

In this article I ll focus on the first approach, covering the other two in subsequent articles.

It may seem surprising, but many organizations realize significant benefit just from mapping out what they currently do and do not do, often realizing things they thought were being done were not. The mapping also allows participants to realize the big picture and the interrelationships between each of the individual steps. Having a mapped process also enables construction of a yield model that enables organizations to predict what volume of applicants would be needed to successfully close a projected volume of requisitions.

The 19 Steps in an Effective Recruiting Process

In this section I ll list each of the 19 distinct steps in the recruiting process, as well as the primary goal and the common cause of failure for each.

Step #1 Determine your ideal recruiting target

The goal of this step is to determine precisely who recruiting efforts should target, including performance level, experience level, and whether or not they are actively looking for a job. If you re targeting top performers or poaching from competitors, the remaining steps of the recruiting process must be designed to fit the needs in the job search process of your targeted candidate if you expect to even gain their attention. At this step many firms prioritize their jobs, so that they focus resources on jobs with the highest business impact. Common reason for failure: defining your target but failing to design the approaches used in a way capable of recruiting and hiring that type of target.

Step #2 Understanding your target s decision criteria

A significant part of any recruiting process is attracting desired talent, which you cannot do effectively without understanding what your targets consider important. This step focuses on identifying the key factors, known as job acceptance criteria, that are necessary in order to convince a qualified prospect to apply for and eventually accept a job at your firm. Common reason for failure: omitting this step altogether and producing messages based on what the recruiting team finds compelling versus what the target talent needs to hear about.

Step #3 Knowing where your target hangs out

Having defined your target and their decision criteria, the next step aims at identifying where you are most likely to find the target talent, including what communication channels would be effective for recruitment messages. If you don t accurately identify where they spend their time, there will be a low probability of you placing compelling information about the company and the opportunity in a place they will find or pay attention to. Common reason for failure: omitting this step altogether and deploying employment branding and recruitment marketing to channels that are easiest to deploy to.

Step #4 Employment branding

Driving a pipeline of talent is the role of employment branding, a science-driven discipline that produces a consistent flow of qualified talent interested in some day working for your organization. The goal of this step is proactively developing and deploying content about what makes your organization a desirable place to work in the minds of your target talent populations. Obviously, if qualified individuals haven t ever heard of your firm or they don t really think that your firm offers any positive or compelling features, you won t get many direct applicants. Common reason for failure: firms present their employer brand message in a perfect corporate format that is not judged to be authentic or believable by the target audience.

Step #5 Learning your target s job search process

At this step you implement a process designed to identify the typical process that your target audience uses once they begin a job search. The goal is to better understand precisely how they look for jobs, so that you can engineer your approach to advertising opportunities to make your jobs visible to them. If for example you learned that top talent often start job searches using Boolean search strings entered into a major search engine versus visiting a major job board, you may focus your attention on making your jobs listing search-engine acceptable and optimized, versus broadcasting to macro and micro job boards. Common reason for failure: again, many recruiting processes omit this step and as result, rely on luck or coincidence in order to be at the right place at the right time.

Step #6 Posting jobs for active candidates

Because active candidates are proactively seeking out job openings, it doesn t take a lot to make your job postings visible. During this step, the goal is to write position postings and place them where active candidates can easily find them. Obviously if the descriptions are written so that they are unappealing or they are placed where your active candidates wouldn t likely see them, you would have a low percentage of active candidates applying. Common reason for failure: many firms refuse to gather data, so they are forced to guess where active candidates look for job openings.

Step #7 Directly sourcing non-active prospects

Because non-active prospects are not in job search mode, they are unlikely to read any job postings or to visit your corporate career site. Instead, recruiters (or your employees through the referral program) will have to identify them, contact them, build a relationship, and eventually convince them to apply through direct sourcing. Common reason for failure: many recruiting functions do little direct sourcing and as a result, they are forced (often without realizing it) to select from a pool of primarily active candidates.

Step #8 Providing prospects with additional information

At this step potential candidates have decided to consider your firm but want additional information before they decide to actually apply. The goal of this step is to make it easy for potential candidates to find positive information about your firm and its jobs. Many will visit your corporate website for additional information, opting not to apply if what they find isn t immediately compelling. Smart prospects will also look for information about your firm and what it s like to work there in places you can t control, including blogs, ratings sites, and via social media. The best firms identify trusted information sources and work proactively to influence information on them. Common reason for failure: lack of interest in identifying what information candidates are most interested in and delivering a candid set of information.

Step #9 The job application process

By this step, potential candidates have been convinced to apply for a position, so the goal is for a large percentage of the qualified individuals who visit the site to complete the application process. Common reason for failure: most application processes are tedious or frustrating and there is no feedback mechanism to find out why applicants drop before they complete the process.

Step #10 Sorting applications by job

Once applications are received, the goal is to ensure that the highest quality applications are sorted relevant to the most appropriate jobs (manually or via software). Common reason for failure: no metric or feedback mechanism to measure the percentage of applications that were routed to the wrong job.

Step #11 The initial screening of applications and resumes

At this step applications are screened to see if they meet minimum qualifications for the job. The goal is to successfully qualify the applicants so that qualified applicants are not sorted out and that only a small percentage of unqualified candidates make it to the next step. Common reason for failure: the absence of a metric or feedback mechanism to measure the percentage of applications that were misclassified or that advanced without meeting minimum standards.

Step #12 The initial phone screen

Having screened resumes, the next step involves screening the individual behind the application. The goal of this step is to gather additional information on the candidate s qualifications and fit, which should help you more accurately determine which candidates advance to an interview. Common reason for failure: no metric or periodic testing to determine the accuracy of the screening process.

Step #13 Interviewing and selling qualified applicants

In in this step the most qualified candidates advance to formal interviews and other assessment activities.

Ed Note: This is where the BIR Solutions Profiles tools come in handy. They give you specific information as to whether the person can do the job (verbal and numerical skill levels required for the job); how they will do the job (making sure they are a good fit for their manager and the role required of them; and whether they want to do the job – critical for their longevity in the job.

The primary goal is to rank order the candidates by level of desirability, with a secondary goal of providing a positive candidate experience that effectively sells the best candidates on this job. Common reason for failure: the absence of a feedback mechanism to identify problems and candidate dissatisfaction with the process that leads to top talent opting out before the process is completed.

Step #14 The final interview

The goal of this step is to confirm your initial desirability ranking and set expectations among those most likely to receive an offer. Common reason for failure: the very best candidates have been previously screened out by mistake or voluntarily dropped out of the process, so remaining choices are mediocre.

Step #15 The reference checking process

With your short list vetted and expectations for an offer set, the next step validates the perception of your assessment team using references. The goal is to gather additional information on the finalist(s) and ensure information provided is not erroneous. Common reason for failure: the reference checking process is underfunded and no one is accountable for demonstrating effectiveness.

Step #16 The offer process

The goal of this step is to put together an offer that is within the company s boundaries and that meets as many of the candidates job acceptance criteria as possible. The process should have the sales and influence component that work to improve the likelihood of top candidates accepting. Common reason for failure: no one is held accountable for this step and there is seldom an effective mechanism to analyze failures and to provide feedback on how the offer process can be improved.

Step #17 The post-offer acceptance process

Once an offer is accepted, it doesn t ensure the candidate will actually show up for work! The goal of this step is to ensure those that accept our offers don t back out (as a result of a counteroffer or second thoughts). That often means continuous communications with the new hire and providing more ties that closely link the individual to the firm prior to their start date. Common reason for failure: this step is often left to chance or is omitted.

Step #18 The onboarding process

Contrary to popular belief, the primary goal of onboarding is not to get employees enrolled in benefits, but rather to provide resources and information that enable new hires to become productive as fast as possible. Common reason for failure: failures often occur because of the week handoff between the recruiting and onboarding functions and no defined budget for onboarding.

Step #19 Feedback and new hire monitoring

If the ultimate goal is continuous improvement of the recruiting process, then this step is the most important of all. The goal of this step is to assess the performance of new hires and to use that performance information to validate or prove that the overall recruiting process is producing quality hires. If a high percentage new hires fail, quit, or are poor performers, you will know that the hiring process needs significant improvement. A secondary goal is using new hires to determine what elements of the recruiting process were and were not effective. Some organizations also consider it a goal for recruiters to work individually with new hires to improve retention. Common reason for failure: this step is skipped altogether.

Criteria for Assessing a Recruiting Failure Point

After mapping each of the steps of the recruiting process, the next thing to do is to determine if there are any indicators that point to an activity as a possible failure point. An individual step becomes an automatic candidate for closer examination as a key failure point if it meets one or more of the following six characteristics:

  1. The step is absent if a step is nonexistent, it can t make its contribution to the overall hiring process!
  2. The step has no defined goals without published clear and measurable goals, it is unlikely that any activity will purposely produce desirable results.
  3. Performance measures do not exist without feedback mechanisms to provide data or metrics to monitor the output of the step, the probability of failure increases dramatically.
  4. Handoffs are not aligned the handoff between preceding and subsequent activities is not aligned. If they are not aligned, the outputs of one step will not easily mesh with the inputs of the next step.
  5. No individual is accountable if no individual owns the step, there is less likelihood that errors will be caught.
  6. The step has no defined funding without a defined budget, there is no need to justify the existence and the performance of the step.

Final Thoughts

One of the quickest and cheapest ways to identify potential failure points is to make a simple list of the steps in the hiring process. For each step, list the primary goals, how you measure performance of the activities in the step, and who is accountable. If you find missing steps, unclear goals, missing metrics or lack of accountability, you know what weaknesses may be leading to poor performance.

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