Attitude and interest are the most consistent predictors of future success in a role. Even if you lack the right experience, you can make up for it quickly with interest and focus. Yet, most job descriptions, interviews and assessments are largely abstracted from the role and company.

  • We wright long lists of requirements to make sure we don't have to justify a change in work scope.
  • We send job seekers for personality, cognative and competency assessments to justify the decisions we have already made.
  • We design complex interview questions and problems to justify how we think things should be done.

The challenge is how to write JDs, advertise, interview and screen for attitude and interest. How do you assess and test someone’s attitude and interest before they join the company? How do you attract those people who fit best into the company environment?

Self-induced performance bias is common in any kind of interviewing or assessment situation. We want to be offered, recognised, hired. We often only consider if the role is right for us after we “win”.

If we can design skill assessments as a way to screen people which are well aligned to the working environment of the role or company, we can assess attitude and interest together with basic necessary-skills.

It is possible to design better skills assesssments

This kind of assessment design is possible and effective with two steps: 1) Role evaluation and job description design; 2) Role simulation and sample work.

1) Role evaluation and design - I’m often asked ‘why don’t recruiters write about the actual job in the job description?'

This is an interesting question and, believe it or not, a topic of debate within the global recruitment and hiring community.

The most common job description is much like what you described:

  • A short description of the role / position.
  • 3 to 10 bullets on the "responsibilities" of the role which are often generic to the point that they lack meaning.
  • 3 to 10 bullets on the requirements of the role which may be combined with the responsibilities.

This format is easy to generate, doesn't require a lot of thought and can be easily kept confidential through its brevity.

One major advantage of this format is it allows recruiters to easily disqualify candidates. Having a narrowly focused JD helps the recruiter reduce conflicts on suitability for the role. For these reasons and because these JDs can help recruiters tap larger pools of talent, this is likely to remain the standard format for years to come. This format is horrible at giving a picture of what the job will actually involve.

Write about what the job is

There is a much better approach. Rather than listing requirements and responsibilities, you can actually describe what the company is doing, what role this person plays in the larger vision and what the culture and attitudes of the company are - good and bad.

These are job descriptions that explain the environment, company culture, challenges and targets. The idea of these job descriptions is to attract the widest possible range of possible applicants who are interested in the company, team and nature of work.

Often companies fail to implement this approach because they are unable (or unwilling) to accurately describe the situation inside the company and ‘over sell’ the company making the process ineffective. Or the company will fail to setup a blind and well-aligned simulation and assessment process so people who express interest don’t progress or lose interest.

2) Role simulation and assessment - The typical role assessment that takes place is a formal interview, in a meeting room separate and abstracted from the actual work that we want the person to do.

Imagine if you were hiring a welder, would you put them in a room and ask them about how many fingernails could fit in a glass of water? Yet this is how we hire the vast majority of people in the world today.

Instead of performance-biased formal interviews, we should be setting up simulated environments to give the professional an idea of the working environment, tools and challenges of the job.

The easiest way to do this is to assign the prospective job seekers a task. Similar to the dynamics of Bug Bounties and Kaggle, if you are hiring a salesperson - have them do something related to the work you expect them to do with the constraints that you plan to put them under. If you are hiring an engineer, give them a project to work on that is a sample of the work you will expect them to do.

Give them instructions, support and details based on what the environment provides. If you work in a highly unstructured environment without clear guidelines, don’t give the job seekers clear instructions.

Ideally, you want the assignment briefing, process and review to be completely blind without involvement of anyone who might bias the review. Based on how they perform on the assessment, job seekers should be automatically selected for a job simulation or trial where they will actually come in (and be paid if necessary) to work a few hours/days/weeks with the same team they will be expected to work with.

The success of any hire is subject to multiple factors including the individual attitude, interests, the support structure of the company and the dynamics of the team. Simply interviewing them based on how they perform on an abstract written assessment, closed-door performance-interview and gut-feel produces no measurable long-term impact.

Hiring processes should be designed from the bottom up to include the maximum number of possible people who could do well at the job rather than excluding people based on arbitrary, abstract keywords in their profiles and a list of job details.

The assessment and simulation designed right, does the rest.
Designed well such an assessment and screening process automatically filters out people who lack the right attitude and interests for the role. They simply won’t complete the assessments or will find that they aren’t suitable for the needs of the job.

If we setup the skills-assessment, simulation properly to evaluate the right skills needed for the environment and needs of each role, the very process of going through the assessment identifies the best people for the role.

Why doesn’t it happen?

This kind of assessment design requires thinking about hiring in a way that most managers and organisations have not considered before. Companies have become automated factories and incentivize people to hire in a robotic and streamlined manner. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and Human Resource Information & Management Systems (HRIMS) are designed to be structured, inflexible and compliant. Yet, the nature of work is now more similar to the skilled crafts of the past.

Organisations and managers today are more concerned about discipline, creativity, team-dynamics and commitment. These are qualities more common in a skilled apprentice than a factory-line worker.

We would all benefit from rethinking how we can design assessment environments to attract and hire the right people; not the best people.

What comes next?

Once the role and environment has been setup, you are able to start testing results and tweaking the process of attracting, finding and screening people through the process.

Separately, you will want to consider how are you selecting people to go through what kind of assessment and how will each person situation predict a response to that. A 20 years experienced executive from your direct competitor, likely won’t respond well to going through a google search skills assessment.

Many companies setup their recruiting process once as a static system and then forget about it. Hiring for skills requires rebuilding the hiring process for every role, every time and constantly tweaking to get better results. It is a strangely human process.