Skill shortages, candidate supply and qualifications pose significant recruitment challenges, to be sure. But they’re not the biggest difficulty most HR departments report — that distinction goes to HR’s internal partners, the hiring managers.
They’re among the biggest recruitment challenges HR professionals face, according to the 2014 McQuaig Global Talent Recruitment Survey of 600 HR professionals. Fifty-three per cent identified issues with hiring managers as one of their top three recruitment challenges.
It has a lot to do with a couple different factors, according to Ian Cameron, managing director at the McQuaig Institute in Toronto.
"One is all hiring managers are super busy, doing a-million-and-one different things. So to get involved in the hiring process to the level that they need to be requires a fair amount of time."
It’s understandable that hiring managers have many other responsibilities and demands on their schedules, but snagging the best candidates is often a matter of timing, said Ken Graham, director of training and professional services at Adecco in Toronto.
"Hiring managers are busy but the best candidates don’t stay on the market long. And often the best candidate is lost in the process if the hiring manager takes too long to make a decision or if there’s too much back-and-forth between the hiring manager and HR," he said.
"Hiring managers don’t hire often so they’re not used to the process — they don’t know what the current labour market is like, they don’t know whether they’ve got the time to sit back, relax and view the candidates, because there’s a copious amount of candidates on the market, versus if it’s a very tight labour market and they’ve got to work very quickly."
Another challenge is potential skill gaps around interviewing, said Kelly Allder, vice-president of HR programs at Ceridian in Toronto.
"They’re not professional interviewers so they might not ask the right questions — they might ask questions that might not be legal and they might be focusing on maybe one particular skill set, or their questions might take them down one path," she said, adding that there’s an opportunity for HR to help them learn those skills.
Hiring managers can make a number of common mistakes in the interview process, from failing to prepare properly to not developing a rapport with the candidate, said Cameron.
"In conducting the interview itself… they’ll make a few mistakes. They’ll start with a behavioural-based interview question but they won’t keep the candidate... on task, if you will, as they start to answer the question. They’ll let the candidate kind of wander," he said.
"Or, on the other hand, sometimes what they’ll do is they’ll ask a question and then they’ll answer the question for the candidate."
Another factor that’s tied to interview skills is hiring managers often don’t assess candidates against the same criteria, said Graham.
"(There could be) three candidates and each of those three candidates would have a very different interview experience and very different questions.
"So hiring managers lack a standard set of questions that they are always using, and if you’re not doing that then you can’t really compare apples to apples — you’ve got different information on each candidate and you haven’t necessarily assessed the same areas with each candidate," he said.
There’s also the risk that hiring managers may oversell the role, which could lead to disillusionment once the candidate is hired, said Allder.
"Sometimes, hiring managers might market the opportunity, as it were, and they might oversell the role. So there’s a nuance around training where they can describe the role and the culture in a practical, honest way — without trying to oversell. I think there’s an opportunity for training there," she said.
The major obstacles are time, training, practice and skills, said Cameron — and tied to that is the manager’s comfort level with the hiring process.
"We’ve got this situation where we’ve got people who are super busy, they’ve got this task in front of them that they haven’t had a lot of training in, they haven’t had a lot of practice because they’re not hiring people all the time," he said.
"So it’s kind of foreign to them and it’s not comfortable so — human nature — you sort of try to avoid what you don’t feel comfortable with."
Importance of cultural fit
Another key piece of the recruitment process that challenges HR and hiring managers alike is the difficulty of finding the right cultural fit, found the survey.
Almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of respondents said a lack of skills is not to blame when a new hire doesn’t work out — which highlights the importance of cultural fit, said Cameron.
"From the HR professional’s point of view, they’re seeing that it’s not that they don’t have the skills, it’s that they don’t have some other things.
"One is cultural fit with the organization — we hear that quite a lot: ‘We thought they were going to fit in but, six months down the road, they’re just not fitting with our culture.’ And that can cause all kinds of challenges for various people in the organization," he said.
The problems and conflicts that can arise from that often result in the employee exiting the organization — sometimes by choice, sometimes not, said Cameron.
"Over time, you’ve got a bunch of people trying to work in a certain way based on the culture of the organization, and then someone who’s working in a different way," he said.
"If there isn’t effective coaching around that — communication and seeing if the person can adapt effectively to the culture — then the culture’s going to spit them out… or they’re going to run out — one or the other."
Survey respondents reported they expect a full 10 per cent of new hires to be gone before the end of their first year of employment. So are some organizations still underestimating the importance of fit?
"This is underestimated and I think the reason why it’s underestimated is sometimes we’re rushed to hire because of an immediate need, so we opt for skill instead of potential and fit," said Graham, adding there are many different factors and pressures at play.
"Organizations unknowingly miss the cultural fit piece for many other reasons — not because they don’t want to make a strong cultural fit but because there’s too many outside reasons that are really pressuring them."
There’s also the issue that hiring managers often tend to hire in their own image — hiring someone like themselves, even if it’s not the best fit for the role or the team, he said.
"Oftentimes when I ask a manager to define fit, they look at you like a deer in headlights. They don’t know themselves and I think that this uncovers a bigger underlying challenge when the manager can’t speak to fit."
At times, the cultural fit piece can get lost in the cracks when there is a high volume of candidates or openings, and a lot of pressure to fill the spots, said Allder.
"When they’re in a bind and they want to fill the position, or sometimes even if it’s a timing perspective — I want to get a body (in the position), because of my budgeting timing within the calendar year… there’s so many other considerations with hiring that lend themselves to poor fit. It’s not always a bad job on the hiring manager’s part, it’s not always a bad job on the recruiter’s part," she said.
"People think recruiting is easy — they look at is as the happy side of HR. You get to go out and talk about how great your company is, how great the job is, and you get to talk to people who are really excited because they want a new job, for whatever reason. But there is an art to it, there is a skill to it."