It doesn't take much convincing to recognize that job descriptions which emphasize skills, experience and competencies put a lid on quality of hire and eliminate the chance to hire more high potential diverse talent.

If you answer yes to these four questions you'll agree with this ceiling premise:

  1. Have you ever met someone who has all of the skills and experiences listed on your job description who isn't a top performer?
  2. Have you ever met a top performer who doesn't have all of the skills and experiences listed?
  3. Do high potential candidates, people who have been promoted internally and diverse candidates have a different mix of skills and experiences than listed on the job description for the same role?
  4. Are top people, including the strongest diverse talent, more interested in career growth than lateral transfers?

Whenever a hiring manager hands me a job description emphasizing skills and experiences, I ask the above four questions. Even from the most cynical I always get four yesses. To overcome the problem I then suggest we define the job as a series of 5-6 performance objectives describing what the new hire needs to do over the course of the first year to be considered a top performer. I then tell the hiring manager I will find people who have done comparable work in similar situations. However, I ask for some relief on the skills and experiences list. I make the case that if it can be proven the person can do the work he/she has exactly the mix of skills and experiences required. I then invoke this principle:

The Principle of Success

It's what people DO with what they HAVE that drives their success, not what they HAVE.

To shift to a performance qualified assessment approach, I then ask these questions to define the work required.

  • What's the most important thing the person needs to achieve in the first 6-12 months in order to be a top tier performer (top third of their peer group)?
  • What do the best people in this role do differently than the average person?
  • What does the person need to do in the first 30-60-90 days to ensure the major goal will be achieved?
  • What's the biggest change or improvement the person needs to make?
  • What are some of the critical team issues the person needs to address?
  • What's the biggest problem the person needs to solve?

Each of these performance objectives need to describe the task, the action the person needs to take and some measurable result. For example, "Complete and validate the production test plan for the new Apple speaker electronics module by year-end." During the interview you'll ask candidates to describe accomplishments that best compare to these performance objectives. That's how you prove competency, motivation and fit.

With these performance objectives in hand it's important to ask the hiring manager to define the employee value proposition or EVP. Then answer the question, "Why would a top person want this job for something other than a big increase in salary?" Typically the reasons have to do with satisfying the person's intrinsic motivator. For someone in healthcare this could be helping patients in some way. For people in technology it usually relates to learning more and applying their skills to build something important. For those in management it could be related to team building or improving organizational performance.

Regardless of what the EVP is, it's important to capture it in specific terms that relate both to the job and the person doing the job. Generic boilerplate is not good enough to attract the attention of someone not looking for a job or someone who is being pursued by multiple companies.

As you begin meeting stronger candidates it's important to prevent people from accepting jobs for reasons other than what they'll be doing and becoming if successful. Too many candidates overvalue what they get on the day they start a job rather than what they'll be doing on the job. This leads to instant satisfaction but long-term disappointment. To prevent this problem, recruiters and hiring managers need to ensure candidates are intrinsically motivated to do the work described in the performance-based job descriptions. This means deferring the compensation discussion until the person fully appreciates the career opportunity inherent in the job.

Raising the talent level at your company starts by shifting to a performance qualified mindset. This opens the pool to anyone who is competent and motivated to do the work required and who fits within the company's culture and hiring manager's leadership style. As important, the person needs to see the job as the best long-term career opportunity among competing opportunities, not the one that offers the best compensation package on the start date. Pulling this off requires a fully-engaged hiring manager who is committed to raising the talent level of his/her department and a sophisticated recruiter who can execute at every step in the process. While a tall order, it's worth whatever effort it takes to achieve it.