Hiring solutions: Competence is overrated

Hiring Solutions

I don’t think many companies really think through their hiring solutions, aside from “Let’s buy a piece of technology, throw money at it, and hope it makes things better.” By and large, technology killed recruiting — turning it into a process that alienates your best possible candidates, as opposed to attracting them. It’s not good. In short, the hiring process? It’s broken. It can be fixed, and there are legitimate hiring solutions out there, but they are more about methodology and approach than going and spending cheddar on an ATS.

Let’s walk through a couple of steps quickly and see if you understand what I am saying:

  • There’s a prevailing idea in business that “If you’re not growing, you are dying.”
  • As a result of this, investors tend to value growth — even in situations where profit isn’t present.
  • The term “growth” inherently implies shifting, moving, responding to challenges, etc. Some in biz love to call this “agility.”
  • Now think for a second about how companies hire.
  • Rather than looking for people who have a certain set of skills and could grow into others, they come up with a 15-point checklist.
  • If you only have 12 of those 15 items, you probably will get screened out of the process.

In short, then: executives yelp, screech, and bellow about “the war for talent” and “the value of our people,” but the hiring solutions that are devised involve an over-focus on preexisting competence and an under-focus on ability to grow. Now what?

Hiring Solutions Issue 1: The value of competence

Look, it’s not surprising that we hire so much based on competence. Per research, the No. 1 fear of most high-ranking people in companies is “being seen as incompetent.” I think if you look at recent time-to-hire stats and see that they’ve doubled, you could infer “analysis paralysis.” Why is that happening? People are afraid of getting someone in the door who can’t “hit the ground running,” even though that’s a farce of a concept overall.

So people value competence. And that makes sense — but only to a point.

We know from research that experience should NOT matter in job searches (or promotions to leadership), but of course it does — and always will. It’s impossible to remove subjectivity from any discussions around hiring solutions or approaches, and “I like the cut of his 20-years-in-this-industry jib” will always rise up in subjectivity measures.

Here’s a new article called “Why It’s Not All About Competence.” The article makes a lot of good points that can be applied to hiring process and hiring solutions, and notes this annual CEO survey done by PwC. Here’s a quote from that section:

One CEO even noted that business leaders who “are always expanding their perspective and what they know—and have that natural curiosity—are the people that are going to be successful” and make their companies last. Without curiosity, you’re not growing, you’re not bridging the gap between where you are and where you want to be to sustain relevance.

Growing. Dying. Remember what I said above? But that’s not how we approach hiring solutions right now.

Hiring Solutions Issue 2: So what should we focus on?

Here’s where we stand so far:

  • Competence is probably a bit overrated as a focal point in hiring.
  • It will never go away, however.

OK. So that’s a bit of a bummer but let’s move on.

What could we focus on when looking at our hiring solutions instead?

I’d nominate this two areas, partially mentioned above:

They don’t mean the same thing. (You can click each link for more on how to define them.) C-Factor is more about how teams work together, and I think you know what curiosity is.


The problem, of course, is that these things are hard to screen for. They can’t easily be measured. Businesses love what can be measured.

A lot of times, the hiring process is a giant exercise in taking something that’s obviously subjective and trying to convince a bunch of people that it was done objectively. Ultimately, I think that’s what frustrates most people throughout any hiring process. You spend six months talking to some employer and then get rejected at the 11th hour with no reason given. You know it was subjective or political, but if you ask, you’ll receive crickets as a response. It’s not ideal.

What’s one big takeaway on hiring solutions?

Because of that last paragraph I wrote, hiring processes and hiring solutions for companies will almost never be perfect. But they can be better. Like most things in business, it all begins with decision-makers caring about talent strategy.

At most companies, you’re already gone on Step 1.

If your senior team does care about people and talent, though, here’s something else relevant from that article linked above. The author discusses ways to build character, and one simple idea he gives is “Slow down.” Most middle managers would shriek “No time! So much on my plate!” That’s all well and good, as most middle managers are just trying to avoid getting put out to pasture.

In this section, the author discusses “reaction vs. response,” noting:

Oftentimes we react rather than respond. A reaction is what happens when you touch a hot burner on the stove with your hand accidentally and immediately pull away. A response is what you say to somebody who tells you something you don’t want to hear. The difference between the two is this: a reaction is instinctive, a response is learned.

Just as many managers don’t provide context on new projects, and many can inherently be hair-trigger, this is a major problem in management, hiring, and every other business function. We react — “Gotta fire off an e-mail reply!” — rather than stopping, thinking, and creating a calculated response.

Designing a talent strategy, understanding people, and focusing on hiring solutions can only come from “response.” It can’t come from hair-on-fire reaction. It has to be calculated and (at least semi) strategic.

What else would you add here about hiring solutions and competence?

Ted Bauer

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