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Dr John Sullivan
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How to hire like Google

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Dr John Sullivan, an international author specialising in bold and high-impact strategic HR solutions, enumerates the one thing that recruiting functions should be doing (but aren’t) – projecting the career trajectory of their candidates.

I frequently get asked the question: “What is the one thing recruiting functions should be doing, but for some unexplained reason, don’t do it?”

One quick answer to that is to project the career trajectory of potential hires.

Which simply means to assess whether a candidate, after they are hired, are likely to progress at top speed, average speed, or below average speed in critical areas like learning, promotion, leadership, and innovation.

I define a career trajectory as a forecast of three primary career growth factors: their speed of promotion, their length of stay at the firm, and their likely career direction (will they stay in or leave the function that they were hired into).

Knowing the potential career trajectory of applicants allows you to focus on recruiting the few candidates who are likely to have an accelerated career development rate.

Agents regularly plot the career trajectory of musicians and actors before they sign them. Major league baseball teams also do an exceptional job of projecting the career trajectory of draftees, rookies, and seasoned veterans.

Read the book “How Google Works” (p. 110), because its authors not only recommend hiring based on career trajectory but they also give examples of how it has been used successfully in the past at Google.

If you’re going to sink a lot of training and development dollars into an individual, it makes sense to at least estimate how long they are likely to stay with your firm.

What to base your estimations on

Some of the career trajectory factors that you should consider projecting include:

1. What is their retention trajectory? If you’re going to sink a lot of training and development dollars into an individual, it makes sense to at least estimate how long they are likely to stay with your firm.

Look at their average stay at previous firms in order to estimate how long this candidate is likely to stay at your firm. Incidentally, simply because a superstar may not stay long is not a sufficient reason to reject them, because having LeBron for one season will likely create much more economic value than having an average player for three seasons.

If your organisation is slow to promote, you need to assume that someone with a steep promotion trajectory will likely leave your firm in order to get the promotion that they feel that they deserve.

2. What is their learning curve trajectory? Plot the learning curve of prospects to see how rapidly they learn new knowledge and whether their rate of learning is increasing or decreasing.

Start by reviewing their resume for indications that they are continually learning in advanced areas. During the interview ask them to outline their personal process for continually staying ‘on the bleeding edge of knowledge.’

3. How many job levels will they achieve? Look at recent promotion rates in their resume and how quick they learn and pick up the new “next-level skills” that are required before one can be promoted.

You can also calculate the average number of years before a person in the position will move up to the next level and the probability that any one employee will actually make that transition successfully.

4. Project whether they will become leaders. Estimate how quickly any individual is likely to develop team and business unit leadership skills.

If you promote your first-level supervisors quickly, you will need to ensure that 10-30% of your new hires will have the capability of becoming a manager within three to five years.

Having a history of being selected as a leader, being put into leadership development programmes in the past, or whether they currently qualify for your own leader development programme may be an indication of their future leadership trajectory at your firm.

5. Project whether their drive, ambition, and initiative will wane. Find out if their current work ethic and level of initiative is likely to continue or likely to taper off as their tenure at the firm increases.

It’s inaccurate to assume that drive, excitement, work ethic, ambition, and initiative are somehow correlated with age.

If the individual has a history of successfully and quickly adapting to new environments, you might be able to project that they will be able to rapidly adjust to your culture, even though it is different from their last firm.

6. Estimate whether they will continue to innovate. Their previous rate of idea generation, their publication record and even the number of patents they apply for may be one of the indicators that their current rate of innovation is likely to continue.

7. Will they develop a big-picture strategic view? Project whether they will become fast and accurate decision makers. Project whether they are likely to stay in the same function or business unit – in some cases a key new hire may be an essential part of your plan for building up a particular function.

Their interest in exploring may help the firm overall but it can create a problem if you need them to stay within your unit and become an essential part of the team for an extended period of time.

8. Project their future compensation costs. In addition to their current salary expectations, project whether the new hire will have a continuing pattern of expecting above-average compensation and a more than average frequency of raises.

This makes the hire more expensive over time and it becomes problematic if your organisation is slow to increase compensation.

9. Project their Wins Above Replacement. Using a concept proven in major league baseball, project the average performance decrease if the employee is replaced by an average performing hire after 1, 3, 5, and 10 years.

If the replacement produces at a significantly lower level, retaining the employee is more important.

10. Project whether they will adapt to your culture. If the individual has a history of successfully and quickly adapting to new environments, you might be able to project that they will be able to rapidly adjust to your culture, even though it is different from their last firm.

11. Project the career trajectory of your current employees. You should project their likelihood of growth, promotion, movement into leadership, and retention, so that their managers can encourage their movement and remove roadblocks that might unnecessarily slow the current employee’s growth.

The way forward

Most recruiting leaders encounter hiring managers who regularly complain about the quality of their hires and how often they don’t fit, stay longer, or how they don’t progress as rapidly as the manager expected.

Assessing the career trajectory before hiring can reduce many of those problems. At the very least, get the hiring team to look at these trajectory factors in order to see if there is a potential problem (a decelerating or plateauing career factor).

If you rely heavily on intuition, you need to develop a process that allows you to at least roughly project the future.

Even if you hire an individual who has a weak career trajectory in a few areas, that projection should serve as a reminder to watch or monitor that individual after they are hired

Even if you hire an individual who has a weak career trajectory in a few areas, that projection should serve as a reminder to watch or monitor that individual after they are hired (so that they can be released or counseled on how they can improve in the important career trajectory areas).

The bottom line is that recruiting those with a trajectory that is about to explode has a high ROI for you. Because they will stay longer, get promoted faster, innovate more, and will soon develop into superior leaders.

Incidentally, periodically assess your own personal career trajectory in order to identify if it is slowing because you haven’t put enough time into your development or to realise that you may be working for a manager or a firm that doesn’t expect much growth in your career future.

Called “the Michael Jordan of hiring” by Fast Company, Dr John Sullivan is an international author specialising in bold and high-impact strategic HR solutions for the world’s biggest organisations.

He has written over 10 books, and had a distinguished career in HR management culminating as the chief talent officer of Agilent Technologies. Sullivan is a one of the headline speakers at Talent Management Asia 2015.

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To be held in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong in mid-April, Talent Management Asia is Asia’s biggest conference on talent management and human capital strategy. 

To review the event’s topics & agenda, check out the stellar speaker list and reserve your seat visit www.talentmanagement.asia before it’s sold out.

For more information please contact Carlo Reston on +65 6423 0329 or carlor@humanresourcesonline.net.

HR Webinar Series is a comprehensive portal of online learning solutions catered for you.
4 main themes - Thought Leadership, Personal Growth, Case Studies and COVID-19 Management. Find out more about the webinars »

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