The hiring system that focuses on quality rather than form

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Recently, I implemented our hiring/recruitment system to contract with a new writer/editor for a significant publishing project. I implemented my competence-over-form hiring/recruiting system, and it worked as intended.

The concept: Get away from resumes and interviews as the primary decision-making elements in the hiring decision, and focus on proven competence. And the way to do this is to bake in appropriate tests and working assignments, which could vary depending on the working responsibilities.

As an example, when I sought to hire a bookkeeper some years ago, we found a simple and free online “bookkeeper test” with appropriate technical/accounting questions. Everyone who applied for the work and met a quick qualification screen (we really weren’t going to hire someone based in Bangalore, India for this work) was invited to take the test, and only the top performing results were considered. The final shortlist interview involved representatives of our third-party accountants, who could ask relevant technical questions.

When we hire writers, the best approach is to ask them to complete a freelance assignment. Accordingly, when we posted the opportunity on relevant job boards and websites, I sent virtually all candidates an email outlining the work scope, and asking them to suggest three relevant story ideas for a test freelance assignment.

About 1/4 of the people invited submitted responses, for which I provided quick critiques and observations. The next stage would require more work — the candidates needed to complete the assignment.

From an initial 50 resumes, which I scanned only in the most cursory manner, I received eight writing assignments. Four were unusable, and these candidates obviously dropped off the list. I interviewed the remaining four, and asked them to clarify their expected compensation. One interviewed well, but asked for far more money than the others. One interviewed well, and was much less expensive than the other four, but when I reviewed his writing, I realized it was at the bottom end of the cut-off. For the remaining two, one interviewed excellently, and the other did okay in the interview, but submitted a weaker story. (It was okay, just not as good). Both of the finalists offered to work for the same compensation. So I knew who to hire.

As you can see, I still used some conventional selection techniques; I don’t think you can select anyone without some sort of interview; but it really was a secondary consideration to evidence of competence.

These principles apply for other tasks. For salespeople, the model is to ask the person we are thinking of hiring to work on a short-term assignment to see if he or she can bring in some orders.

No recruiting/hiring system can solve other issues, such as budget/resources, working environment, and company culture/quality. But I think our approach addresses the problem of individuals putting on a good show in the hiring process, but failing to deliver. You really need to show you can do the job, before you start working with us.

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