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Featured Guest Speaker
Posted: June, 1999

John Sullivan, Ph.D.
Head and Professor of Human Resource Management
College of Business, San Francisco State University

Hiring the Best and the Rightest
Copyright 1999 John Sullivan

Editor's Note: I ran across an interview with Dr. John Sullivan in the December '98 issue of FastCompany, and found his thoughts and ideas quite innovative - and obviously sensitive to the issues of agile enterprise. I am especially interested in the problems emerging with finding talented knowledge workers, and liked very much his concept of relationship development and learning from targeted recruits even if they don't come on board. In this article he offers innovative techniques and tools for hiring not only the best people out there, but also the ones who are right for your upcoming needs. He takes to serious task the common approaches we all use when recruiting and interviewing, and shows us why we don't get the people we want and the people we need.

I am constantly amazed at the number of hires that are lost due to dinosaur hiring practices. Increasing your speed of hire will get you higher quality hires. Most great candidates are on the market for days not weeks. If you can't make a speed hire you are destined to get candidates that no one else wants!

"Want to achieve extraordinary results? Set unreasonable timetables! "
John Patrick, IBM Strategist

Gaining Competitive Advantage by Increasing the Speed of Hire

A deliberate strategy for improving the quality of hires by decreasing the cycle time for making a hiring decision. It is not the same as trying to cut a few days off of "time to fill", where quality of the hire is not part of the equation. Our goal is to hire the very best and brightest but the competitors have the same goals. How is one to gain a competitive advantage if we use the same tools and strategies as our competitors? Consider using flash or speed hiring, which is where the candidate is hired before the competitor even responds to their resume with the standard acknowledgment postcard!

Normally the quality of people hired is the key metric for measuring the effectiveness of the employment function, but in certain circumstances, the speed of hire may actually be the most significant contributor to a quality hire.

Let's start with an illustration. A star player (e.g., Michael Jordan) begins to look for a job. How long would a star be on the market? A month, a week, a day? What are your chances of snagging this star if your selection decision takes 60 days?

A major computer firm found this out when it examined the number of superstar candidates it was hiring. When they found the number of star hires to be unacceptably low they identified an astonishing fact. Superstars are only on the market for a brief time (usually less than two weeks and sometimes as little as a day). The firms hiring process was so slow that by the time a decision could be made the star candidates were lost to the faster moving competitors and only above average candidates were left to choose from. The premise of speed hiring is that if you can build a decision process that responds to a hire opportunity in a day or a week you will capture these superstars before the competitor can even schedule an interview!

Possible Advantages of Speeding Up the Time-to-Hire
  • The very best and brightest are in great demand. If you make rapid decisions for certain jobs you will get a better quality of hire.
  • Applicants may judge your firm by the speed of your hiring decision making. Wasting peoples time (due to interviewing scheduling delays etc.) irritates them and shows you don't respect them.
  • There is no evidence that slow hiring produces better hires. There is evidence that the most desirable candidates are on the job market for "as little as a day".
  • To gain respect in your own company, HR must learn to mirror the speed of change of your product. HR must move at the same speed as the rest of the company - Internet speed.
  • Delays can cause managers (and candidates) to lose interest because they see no immediate rewards of making hiring a priority.
  • Once employment learns to use speed as a competitive advantage the rest of HR may follow the template and model the actions. You have to reduce the bureaucratic image of HR.
  • Targeted speed hiring sends the massage to HR and to managers that it is OK to prioritize customers and stop treating all of them equally.
  • The time to return to productivity is shortened.
  • Team and product development disruption is reduced, as departing members are replaced rapidly.
Steps that tend to delay a hiring decision the most include:
  1. time to issue the requisition/job descriptions,
  2. advertising delays,
  3. approvals (head count approval, salary range decisions),
  4. resumes sitting on desks prior waiting for review,
  5. resumes that can't be sent electronically to managers,
  6. getting hiring managers to make hiring (and scheduling interviews) a high priority,
  7. travel time and delays in scheduling multiple interviews,
  8. management indecision on hiring criteria and who is the best "fit".
Tools and Techniques to Reduce Time-to-Hire Cycle Times
  • Eliminate/reduce approvals or conduct post-hire analysis to see if approvals were necessary.
  • Eliminate screening steps for speed hire positions (or make them optional for "good" managers).
  • Limit candidate rejection reasons.
  • Set predetermined hiring criteria (with metrics) so side by side comparisons are no longer necessary.
  • Identify key jobs (and managers) where speed of hire can make a difference. Set quotas and metrics to monitor the effectiveness of the program.
  • Pre-qualify certain candidates for "instant" hire capabilities.
  • Get all head count approvals before the hire process. Have "corporate resource" positions to hire superstars even when there are no open positions.
  • Set a fixed time limit for each step of the hiring process.
  • Monitor and reward managers for fast, quality decisions.
  • Eliminate consensus hiring decisions (and occasionally drop team approvals). Make it an "approved if you don't veto by a certain time" process.
  • Make certain hiring steps optional for key positions or key managers.
  • Conduct simultaneous approvals/internal-postings/reference-checks/etc. while other processes are still going on.
  • In high turnover jobs, do continuous hiring even if there isn't currently an open requisition
  • Do remote hiring using video/telephone/remote-interviews so scheduling problems are minimized. Tape the interviews so those that are absent can view them.
  • Reduce the number of everything by x% (approvals, reference checks, interview questions, etc.) to force a focus on the ones that really make a difference.
  • Do simultaneous internal and external posts. Eliminate any internal post waiting period.
  • Put your best (fastest) recruiters (or a special hire team) on the targeted speed hire jobs.
  • Do a process map of your recruiting/selection-process. Look for "dead time" and use metrics to measure which steps add little value.
  • Train recruiters on how to cut cycle time.
  • If multiple interviews are undertaken, share the interview questions and responses to minimize duplications. For panel interviews assign targeted questions to those with the appropriate expertise to minimize duplication.
  • Increase referral bonuses for speed hire jobs.
  • Do instant hires with candidates recommended by key employees/managers.
  • Pre-write your job ads and web page announcements.
  • Assign some one to track the progress of the hiring process (like fed X tracks it's packages) and to expedite the decision process.
  • Drop any requirements for completing Job-Descriptions/Requisitions prior to the beginning of the search.
Companies who have, in some cases, increased their speed to hire include: HP, Schwab, Microsoft, Chase Bank, C-Cube, EDS, and Cisco.

Possible non-HR models to follow include: Jiffy Lube, Fed X, and McDonald's reengineered manufacturing processes (agile manufacturing).

How to Hire Great People That Don't Need a Job - Like Michael Jordan

In the increasingly difficult recruiting market you must learn how to "think outside the box" if you are to get the best (or even the average) in fields like IT and Hi-tech. This is how I recommend you do it. Stop putting butts in chairs and hire better people. The one with the best people wins!

Ten Action Steps to Hiring Great People
  1. You must find the names of the best without any help from them. It should be the managers job to know the names of the best and what makes them better than the rest.
  2. Assume you need to build a long term relationship with the best in order to get them to say yes. Most of the relationship will be electronic.
  3. You have to WOW them continually to get them to even consider you.
  4. Assessment of candidates will be done over time and in non-traditional ways (at conferences, through e-mail etc.).
  5. The best need a triggering event to get them to leave a job. You need to be have a long term relationship (be in constant touch) with the candidate to ensure that you are aware of their job search triggers and when they occur.
  1. You need to do a "candidate profile" of what they need in a job offer in order to accept it. This will be done mostly without their help.
  2. You will need help from others to get them to work for you. Their friends or mentors will need to encourage or OK the move to your firm before it will occur.
  3. Both the assessment and the offer process must be fast and easy if you expect to get a Yes. Expect them to be on the job market one day or less! If you are not available and prepared that day, you will lose them. Assume you will not have an opening that day, so you will hire them even though you have no current position!
  4. You must have an offer that is such a WOW that they will not even consider the inevitable counteroffer they will get from their current boss.
  5. Once they accept they will expect you to keep every promise made during this lengthily process or they will leave you also.
The best are not in the job search mode often and especially the day we happen to have an opening. We need to stop recruiting Unhappy/ Unemployed people and focus on people that can really make a difference.

The Fut R View: Hiring the Right People for Your Future

Most interview strategies were developed long before the Internet age when the speed of change in business was rather slow. However, if your business is in a rapidly-changing environment, you will need new tools that can tell you more about the future possibilities of a candidate than what they did years ago. Does your business require "outside-the-box" solutions that didn't exist 3-5 years ago? Are you looking to excite applicants and send them a message that your firm is different? If so, you might consider a new approach to hiring called a Fut R View.

What is a Fut R View?

A Fut R View is an advanced interview technique for IT, product development, and other forward-looking jobs. In a Fut R View the focus is on assessing applicants' new ideas and their competencies in planning, forecasting, and solving future problems your firm will face under the unique constraints of your culture and your business environment. Fut R Views work best for cutting edge jobs and for selecting innovators and the "very best" in their fields. They are not for every job. They can, however, be a supplement to existing interviews or used as a stand-alone tool. Fut R Views emphasize the forward-thinking whereas behavioral, as well as most other interviews focus on the past.

You can't beat the competition in hiring the best candidates if you use the same tools as the competitors to screen your candidates. If you want to continually improve your selection process, you must try new tools to change your results. A Fut R View is another approach that will give significantly different answers and information than traditional interviews.

Fut R Views excite and challenge "fast change" workers who need to be excited in order to accept a job. These fast-change types (as well as GenXer's) judge a company by the WOW's they see in their company's recruiting and selection process. They are often bored with resumes and standard interviews. Fut R Views send a clear message that our firm is different and future-focused. You can't get the best unless you stand out from the competitors. Fut R Views excite those that live for the future and conversely it can also unsettle those who live in the past.

A further advantage of Fut R Views is that after the interviews are over you have multiple, diverse, and "fresh eyes" forecasts and answers (sometimes you even get answers from your competitors) to your problems. The answers alone could be priceless, even if no one is hired. Few ever bother to document the answers to behavioral interviews, no less use the results as valuable data. Fut R Views give you usable answers and new approaches to consider.

Screening tools that give us new and different useful information allow us to improve the quality of hire! Quality hires might include agile, future thinkers, envelope pushers, problem solvers, speed learners, etc.

Possible problems with traditional approaches to interviewing

Most screening devices (behavioral interviews, resumes, references, etc.) are past focused. They dwell on experiences that may be years old and reflect how a candidate acted under a set of circumstances that are almost certainly different than your organization will face in the future.

Behavioral interviews ask you how you acted in the past, but they fail to ask you how you would have acted if you had the freedom to use your own approach. Applicants are not asked if the approach they followed was their own or if it might have been under someone else's orders. In a Fut R View, applicants are asked to develop their own approach. They are given the freedom to make bad decisions as well as good ones. Behavioral interviews ask questions about how you acted in the culture of your old firm rather than how would you do it in our culture (and business environment). Behavioral interviewing questions (and answer outlines) are widely available, making preparation and "practicing" relatively easy.

In behavioral interviewing you would ask a veteran general how he/she fought their last war, while Fut R Viewing would ask them both, how they would do it today, and ask for their plan for forecasting and winning a future war. If competencies are measured in a behavioral interview they are probably dated and based on what competencies resulted in success in the past. You may be able to avoid this past bias by identifying the competencies a firm will need in the future and assessing these new competencies in a Fut R View.

The two different types of interviews would get different answers because the past is not always a predictor of the future, and the way we did it then might not be the way we would do it tomorrow. If you assume a rapid rate of change (like in high tech firms) what you did as little as one year ago may already be ancient history!

Preparation for the Fut R View

Interview/survey your top performers in the targeted jobs to identify what your best employees see as the most difficult current and future issues, problems and opportunities facing the job/firm. They would also be asked to contribute an outline of the best, average, and unacceptable answers that would be used as guidelines for assessing the candidates. For a Fut R View to be most successful, you must make sure the problems given to the applicants are ones that the best applicants can solve and the average can not. You should also pre-test your problems and solutions with your best technical performers to make sure you know for sure that the best will ace it and the worst will fail it.

Prior to a Fut R View you have two options:

  • Under the first option you notify the candidates in advance of the Fut R View that they are expected to research the company (and it's environment) and to be prepared to outline how they would forecast/solve their problems (or take advantage of the opportunities).
  • Under the second option (for positions where research and forecasting skills are less important) you supply all candidates with a brief 1-page summary describing the culture and the problems/opportunities.

Be prepared to video/audio tape (with permission) the session or to take good notes in order to capture their answers.

Steps in a Fut R View

At the beginning of the Fut R View, you welcome the candidate and outline the goals and steps of the process. Answer any questions they have. Next the candidate is generally asked to identify the potential problems they would anticipate during their first month on the job (if they get them wrong you can identify the actual problems for them). You then ask them to walk you through the steps (and the why's) for solving these first month problems.

The next step (optional) involves giving them an outline/process map for some of the key processes/systems they would be responsible for managing or using. They would then be asked questions on: How they would improve/modify the systems, what are the critical success factors for a world class system, and what are the common problems/errors with these systems.

The final step of a Fut R View involves asking the candidate to forecast the next 1-2 years for the job, the needs of the business, and the critical success factors for your industry. Other possible options include: Asking them to outline their self-development and learning plan for the first year; asking them for their ideas on how, through their job, they can help us gain a competitive advantage over our competitors; asking them to critique the firms latest solution/ideas, asking them to forecast functional and industry essential competencies for the next 2 years and show which ones they have.

Rate the applicants on the ability to accurately forecast, solve short- and long-term problems, and on their overall view of the future as it relates to your vision and needs. Compare them to other candidates. Also compare Fut R View scores with the scores on their traditional interviews to see the superiority of the tool. Allow others who couldn't make the Fut R View session to view the tape and evaluate the candidate.

Remember with Fut R Views you get the ideas/plans of all of the interviewees. This intelligence has a value of it's own, regardless of who you hire.

Dr. John Sullivan, Head and Professor of Human Resource Management,
College of Business, San Francisco State University, email:

More articles by Dr Sullivan can be found at: and

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