Is Your Hiring System Broke?

It's often the case that the weaknesses of a system are not obvious until that system is catastrophically overloaded. That's when most breakdowns or failures occur. Overloaded electrical systems start fires, overloaded computer systems crash, and overloaded human beings suffer nervous breakdowns.

In the same vein, today we find that the economic upheaval of the past 30-plus months has exposed the weaknesses and faults in most management-level employee hiring systems--especially in the franchise world.

The dearth of job openings and the flood of applicants for each one, combined with the drawbacks of poorly managed "promote from within" policies, have exposed a number of system flaws that inevitably lead to faulty decisions that have a negative impact on the operation's bottom line.

In the case of recruiting and hiring from the outside, the faults of both human and computerized management-level applicant screening and hiring systems include the following:

1) Screening in the unqualified or ill-suited, based on a professionally written resume or a falsified employment application.

What's the use of requiring a resume if some applicants are going to pay a professional for creative writing skills that gloss over weaknesses and overstate strengths? If an employment application looks perfect (no gaps in employment history, increasing levels of responsibility, the right education), take a second look. Regardless of which expert you talk to, they all agree anywhere from one-third to one-half of job applications and resumes contain factual errors and even outright lies. Case in point: the Notre Dame coach who was fired after only five days on the job for falsely claiming to have a master's degree in education.

If you're taking resumes and applications at face value and screening in only the "perfect" ones, what happens to the applicants who write their own resumes, or who are completely honest on the application? Too many systems screen out honesty and integrity by putting too much weight on doctored and/or misleading documents.

If you want a more accurate snapshot of your applicants' abilities, forget the resumes and applications completely; you can get application blanks later in the selection process (but make sure to get them before a formal interview).

Rather, ask all applicants to send a one-page letter of no more than 500 words stating why they are interested in the position, their qualifications for the job, why they think they'd be successful, and to list three professional references. Then you'll be able to compare "apples to apples" and, with only a quick once-over, be able to tell if each applicant:

  1. can understand and follow instructions, i.e., provide no more nor less information than requested;
  2. demonstrates a satisfactory level of written communication skills;
  3. thinks logically;
  4. brings some personality or creativity to bear; and
  5. seems to have the requisite skills, talents, and/or experience, and has provided credible references.

2) Screening out talent by screening for educational credentials.

What do these well-known people all have in common: Frank Lloyd Wright, Steve Jobs, Rachael Ray, Bill Gates, Debbi Fields, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, and Mary Kay Ash? They all attained astounding career success without having earned a college degree.

Now, can you guess what Jeffrey Skilling, the former head of Enron, Rick Wagoner, Jr., the former head of General Motors, and Kerry Killinger, the former head of Washington Mutual, have in common besides having been paid millions of dollars a year? They all had MBAs, two of them from Harvard.

In spite of these examples to the contrary, most people believe the applicant with a degree will be a better manager than one without a credential. All computerized hiring systems and most hiring managers quickly eliminate applicants without degrees, many times in spite of the fact that the applicant's experience and work history are stellar.

3) Recruiting people who are unemployed and looking for jobs instead of recruiting people who are working and may be interested in something better.

After the widespread layoffs of the past two years, it's a pretty safe bet that these employers hung on to only their best people. However, these hardworking folks don't have time to search job boards or put out feelers, and many won't look for something better until the economy restabilizes. What, if anything, are you doing to reach them?

4) Not recruiting people who are unemployed.

Believe it or not, some employers' recruiting ads now read: "Do not apply if you are currently unemployed." Contrary to what this practice assumes, not everyone who lost a job recently lost it because they were under-performers. Many were skilled, proven professionals caught in the undertow created by the shortcomings of the U.S. auto industry, housing market policies, and the worldwide financial system.

Admittedly, all the foregoing dubious criteria are easy ways to File 13 many of the unmanageable number of applications that land on your desk--but at what cost?

When looking to fill management positions from within existing ranks, things don't look any better. It's been estimated that more than 50 percent of those promoted to management slots fail within 18 months. The reasons for these particular hiring system failures include the following:

  1. Not identifying the specific skills, talents, and abilities required to be successful on the job. According to the FranklinCovey report, Getting to Great: Mapping Management Practices that Drive Great Store Performance, the most successful managers "generate intense customer loyalty and strong employee commitment." In other words, the most successful managers have great communications skills (both speaking and listening), a "can-do" enthusiasm, and outstanding people skills, as well as the ability to make tough decisions. (For a complimentary copy of the report, email with "MUF--Getting to Great" in the subject line.)
    Does your hiring system test for these attributes to screen in the best, or does it focus on ruling out people without degrees or industry experience?
  2. Awarding promotions based on job performance. Employers of every ilk make this mistake. The thinking is along these lines: "This sales person is sure to be a great manager because he or she has been our top producer for the last two years."
    Sales skills and management skills seldom come in the same package. A top producer excels at self-management and achieving lofty goals. Managing others, however, is only a short-term ego boost that soon turns into a highly frustrating experience when the rest of the sales staff does not meet this person's high, personal sales standards.
  3. Awarding promotions based on length of service. Trying to retain or reward a great performer with a promotion brings us to the Peter Principle, formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book, The Peter Principle. The "principle" is that in hierarchically structured organizations competent employees tend to be promoted until they attain a position in which they are no longer competent--their "level of incompetence"--and remain in that job for the remainder of their career. Unfortunately, this practice continues unabated in most business organizations today.


If your hiring system includes any of these questionable practices, it's time to review which applicants your system kicks out as well as your organization's unwritten "rules" about who gets promoted. Then, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But, if it is and you do, you'll assure yourself a strong, competitive edge that will help your organization survive and even thrive in the months and years to come.

Mel Kleiman is a consultant, author, and Certified Speaking Professional on strategies for hiring and retaining the best hourly employees. He is president of Humetrics, which develops systems, processes, and for recruiting, selecting, and retaining the best employees. His books include The 5 Firsts: A Simple System to On-board, Engage & Retain Top Talent, and 100 + 1 Top Tips, Tools, & Techniques to Recruit Top Talent. Visit and, or contact him directly at 713-771-4401 or

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