Why technical recruitment is hard

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My theory is that A players hire people even better than themselves. It’s clear, though, that B players hire C players so they can feel superior to them, and C players hire D players. If you start hiring B players, expect what Steve called ‘the bozo explosion’ to happen in your organization. — Guy Kawasaki

The hiring process doesn’t successfully identify talent because we measure things that don’t predict if candidates will be successful in a new role.

The common methods, measurements and processes used in hiring don’t always help identify outstanding candidates from the poor candidates. Most companies use similar processes but do these help identifying talent?

Over the past 5 years I assessed hundreds of candidates with CV reviews, assessment days, digital interviews, phone interviews and face to face interviews.

The goal of the recruitment process is to create tools that help you identify good candidates and filter out the unsuitable candidates. Many processes to assess candidates add noise, ineffective and can waste time for everyone involved.

No one has created a foolproof system, so this article will look at the common tools and assess how they work and if they help.

Academic qualifications

Capgemini have an excellent apprentice scheme that offers the opportunity for candidates to work and study for the their degree (the degree is paid for). I interviewed apprentices and graduates, there was little difference between the different sets of candidates. When the apprentices had finished their degree whilst working, the 4 years work experience they had acquired were much more valuable than the degree.

Degrees are not indicator of success at work e.g. I don’t expect candidates with 1st degree to significantly out perform fellow candidates with lower degrees.

The reason I believe for this is the skills needed to work on IT projects are not taught on degrees e.g.

  • Problem solving
  • Team collaboration (communication, idea sharing)
  • Working with unknowns (no past papers)
  • Working under pressure
  • Self starter — push your own career, learning
  • Presenting
  • Being humble
  • Listening

Degree’s show the ability to learn and manage work with distractions at university. In my experience they act as a filter but are not a good indicator if the candidate is going to be good or bad.

Technical tests

I taken technical tests and given candidates technical test. The results of the technical test didn’t influence the decision to hire or not hire.

A technical test assesses if someone can answer questions without using the internet, which isn’t a good guide to if they will be a good hire. Having technical knowledge, doesn’t mean the person is good at using it and working with other people.

A technical tests provide a way to filter out candidates who don’t the prerequisite knowledge for a role. The best way to use them is to do them online and filter out people who have terrible technical knowledge. The tests need to be simple that the majority of good candidates will pass.

Interview questions

Not all interview questions are equal, the clever questions don’t help you identify good candidates or poor candidates.

  • how many petrol stations in a city?
  • Why are man hole covers round?

Would you really hire someone if they answered the above questions correctly?

Do these or similar questions help you identify good candidates or if the candidate has the right skills/character to thrive in the role?

Assess your interview question, if you don’t care about the answer or candidates give the same answer then stop asking that question and think of a better one. Every question should give you useful feedback.

Assessment days

Assessment days in theory provide an opportunity to assess how people work in a group, their presentation skills and analytical skills. The downsides of assessment days is individuals can dominate a group and don’t allow insight into the others. Introverts can take longer to work well with groups and can be over shadowed.

The other activities didn’t help identify good or poor candidates.


CV’s could be full of made up nonsense, the only way to tell is by questioning them in the interview.

Experience is not equal, you could have 2 different candidates who worked on separate but similar projects. The structure and fellow team members effect an individuals performance, consider

  • Project leadership
  • The role and responsibility of the individual
  • The skills, knowledge and experience of the other members on the project
  • The standards applied to the project
  • The customer/requirements

Look for comments where the individual says we, to try to find what others did on the project and what the individual did. If someone solved a problem they are able to describe how they did it.

CV’s can filter unsuitable candidates but won’t tell you if a candidate will be a good hire.

The Mismatch problem

“We want to cling to these incredibly outdated and simplistic measures of ability.” — Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell identifies this problem as mixmatch problem. When the criteria we use to evaulate job candidates is not related to the skills needed for the job.

The NFL run a combine, the players lift weights, jump, sprint, intelligence tests are all recorded and scored by evaulators.

Do these results predict how well players will do in the NFL? Not really.

Tom Brady the most decorated quarter back in NFL history was drafted at 199 in the six round. There were 6 Quarter Backs taken before Brady. The NFL gives Quarter Backs an intelligent test, Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw both scored some of the worst ever scores but made it into the hall of fame.

Why test people in a way that doesn’t identify good or bad candidates?

Malcolm Gladwell on the Challenge of Hiring in the Modern World

Malcolm Gladwell covers this topic in The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

My experience

Spend time understanding what are the key technical skills and experience you want in candidates but remember good candidates can learn new skills. The value of technical skills is limited because the environment is changing and the skills needed in the future could be different. The ability to learn is important.

I have created and got recruitment consultants to use CV scoring matrices. Like most things they worked well with identifying bad and good candidates. I would run the scoring on a CV. The CV scorer was a good guide and helped give an unbiased assessment of a CV and done by anyone.

I helped create digital interviews, these are weird for people but offer the ability for the candidate and interviewer the possibility of doing the process whenever you want. A benefit is every candidate gets asked the same question, removing bias from the process.

You can create key elements you are looking for in the answers. Digital interviews allow multiple people to review one interview and give second opinions. The digital interview replaced the phone interview and was used to filter out unsuitable candidates but if in doubt put them forward to a face to face interview.

Below are some of the key areas I looked for in candidates

  • The experiences and knowledge of a candidate, their role and responsibilities in previous roles.
  • Do they learn in and outside of work.
  • Do they have drive, are they pushing their career forward. Motivation is internal and if a candidate has drive and ambitious they will want to achieve.
  • Would I like to work with this person, would I want them on my team.
  • Humble, team first attitude. Projects and development is a team sport, you need to work with your team and customers.
  • Passion — if you aren’t passionate or interested in your job, you will be average
  • What’s the potential of the candidate?
  • Are they good communicators, do they ask questions, contribute ideas.
  • Is their personality disruptive to others?

With the face to face interview have two or more people so you can get a consensus and reduce the bias of one person.

Only hire strong yes’s, if in doubt don’t hire them

Listen to your gut if you aren’t sure, it can work faster than your brain.

The good or unsuitable candidates are easy to spot, the candidates you aren’t sure about are harder to make a decision on.

Unsuitable candidates can be disruptive and slow down effective people. The candidates you aren’t sure on or a are a weak yes do not make great hires. They are usually average or poor, so why hire them.


Review the results of your hiring and identity the key skills and people you want to join your team.

Look for character, technical skills can be learnt, experienced can be gained but character cannot be taught.

Hiring is vital part of creating and growing a successful team. Individuals can be trained, hiring good talent makes a big difference. The process needs to be scalable, repeatable and help you identify good candidates rather than rely on the intuition of good recruiters. Recruitment is a key area for a business and your process should be evaluated and improved regularly.

Poor hiring can gradually lower standards and in many consultant roles the quality of the team and the output is correlated with the quality of the individuals on the team.

Further reading

Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition

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Have been working with Dynamics 365 since version 4 and enjoy reading and delivering enterprise projects

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