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Who Gets Hired – Best Qualified or Most Liked
by Jeff Garton

My entire career has been devoted to gaining a deeper understanding of employment, and having worked for and with some of the best corporations in the world, I've benefited from all types of state-of-the-art training related to interviewing, selection and assessment practices that have reinforced the principle of weeding out all but the best qualified.

I was initially trained to recruit as a headhunter while working part time through graduate school. We worked to the standards of our client's and obviously all they wanted were people whose backgrounds closely matched their job requirements. It was the same thing when I took my first recruiter job working for an employer. You didn't waste the hiring manager's time with anyone who didn't meet the requirements of the job. It was simple as that, and so after doing this four a couple of years I assumed I was an expert.

Then I got my first taste of corporate recruiting in the high profile consumer products industry, and I was amazed at how much I didn't know. First of all, we had the luxury of an over-abundance of people wanting to work for us, so we were trained to look for reasons not to hire someone where before, I was oriented to discover why we should hire someone. As a result, my training involved undoing everything I'd learned and starting over as if I knew nothing.

Before a decision was made to extend an offer, we were required to develop an extensive spreadsheet of candidate qualifications that distinguished one person from another. We painstakingly detailed such things as academics, certifications, specialized training, years of related versus unrelated experience, pay history, job and career stability, quality of employers, results of phone screens and interviews, testing and assessment results, psychological interviews, professional and personal references, employment verifications, academic verifications, drivers license checks, copies of pay stubs and tax returns, prior performance appraisal ratings, and at one time we even tracked such things as number of misspelled words in cover letters and resumes, blanks left on the job applications, and whether they made mathematical errors on their expense reports. From this material we rank ordered whom we believed were the least through best qualified, and it gave us the documentation we needed if our decisions were ever challenged.

Overall, when making our decisions we considered things factual rather than what we suspected was their potential, and without reference to factors made off limits by statute, including age, race, gender, disability, country of origin, religious or political affiliations, etc. Our standards were so stringent that if we couldn't find a problem, the implication was we weren't doing our job because it was presumed that no one was perfect. We were required to go back and find something wrong, and if we couldn't, it raised suspicions that the candidate was hiding something. This may sound completely ridiculous, but I have former colleagues who can attest to our not hiring people simply because they were too good to be true. Our approach to the process of employment was so labor intensive we had to streamline it after we started losing recruiter headcount due to declining sales trends. In fact, we eliminated our employment department and shifted recruiting responsibilities to other HR staff that were not specialized in recruiting. We also outsourced the reference checking and verifications of employment, education and driving records. Two years later, when additional headcount cuts became necessary due to further declining sales, an interesting question was raised. If over the past several years all we hired were the best-qualified people, why were we having such difficulties as a company?

This made no sense and led to a review of performance appraisal results for people hired over the last several years. Were they still on board and was their performance as good as we thought it would be? Fortunately, many of our hires remained with us a long time, and their performance turned out to be very good, but no better than the people who were hired after elimination of the staffing department, and discontinuation of all the stringent hiring standards. Any performance issues that were discovered had been completely unpredictable. Had all our best-qualified hiring efforts been for nothing? Not really.

* We learned that despite our intensive efforts to hire the best-qualified there was never better than a 50% chance that our hires would turn out good. Their performance was vulnerable to the effects of changes that were not predictable at the time of hire. It might be the effects of a new or bad boss, a marriage, birth, death, divorce, ill health, new love, or anything.

* Secondly, we learned that after narrowing the list of candidates to just the best qualified, it was still a matter of deciding among them who was most liked. All things being apparently equal among finalists, hiring managers preferred the people they liked most and fit best with their department. At this point it didn't matter whether someone had a better degree from a better school, or better experience from a better employer. What mattered is whether they were liked most and this was related more to their perceived personality, sense of humor and ability to think on their feet, communicate and get along with others.

* Finally, and despite our best efforts, staffing is an imperfect process that is managed by humans and subject to human error and inclinations. This includes inflations or puffery and unreasonable projections. The latter involves endowing the other with characteristics they don't actually possess, and later complaining they weren't what you expected. Employers and candidates are both guilty of causing these problems.

Staffing processes have improved significantly over the last several years and it's essential that we continue to do all we can to insure decisions are objective, fair and accurate to the highest degree possible. However, after being involved in literally thousands of hiring decisions, I can't think of one manager who ever hired someone they did not like. As to whether they were the best qualified was always a matter of speculation that could not be proved until months or years later, and even then you lacked similar data on the people you did not hire.

The answer: Hires are typically the most liked among the best qualified, and the latter can never be proven to 100%. It's a matter of so-called chemistry which means you like them, and for the record, that makes them best qualified.

We pride ourselves on explaining employment and career like never before. To learn more, please visit our website, and while there, join the campaign to retire job dissatisfaction.

© 2007 by Jeff Garton All Rights Reserved

Jeff Garton may be contacted at
Jeff Garton is a career coach, author and radio host for VoiceAmerica's "Career Contentment Radio." His background includes a career in Human Resources where he led the staffing for Kraft Foods and the Miller Brewing Company. He now leads the worldwide Campaign To Retire Job Dissatisfaction. For more information, and to join the campaign, please visit:


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