Talent Fit: An Art or a Science?

This post was written by exaqueo consultant Rajiv Bawa.

Google and Facebook, two of the hottest employers today are not only popular for their technologies, which bring people together, but also for their unique business models.  Candidates globally are vying for the opportunity to work at either firm.  Google alone can receive up to 75,000 applications in one week.  Given no shortage of qualified candidates, these two firms put applicants through a gauntlet of interviews and tests; to not only decipher technical prowess, but more importantly fit.  The way a potential employer compares candidates for fit, needs to ensure fairness and uniformity.  It's a science. But it's also an art.What is fit?  Some would say it’s how the candidate “meshes” with current employees.  Others would argue that it’s the evaluation of how the candidate would handle the organization’s environment.  From working within teams to whether current employees would want to travel with the applicant, fit is a huge aspect of the recruitment process.

In fact, evaluating a candidate for fit is more important, to the vast majority of organizations, than technical knowledge.  At the end of the day, who wants to work with a brilliant Analyst when he/she is not able to work well with peers or rubs clients the wrong way?  Industry experts may believe both organizational fit and technical knowledge are equally important.  But without appropriate organizational fit, the technical knowledge a candidate possesses is worthless. They simply won't adapt to the firm’s environment, policies and procedures.

Many interviewers jokingly discuss the candidates they can't get answers out from. To the interviewer, these candidates lacked the communication skills and personal confidence needed for a successful interview.  But looking at it more closely, was it something off of their “list” of requirements that the candidate didn't measure up to?  Or, was it that innate feeling that one has, similar to dating, that this person wasn't the “one?”

From a scientific perspective, organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, hiring consultants to help them develop their visions, values and organizational culture.  From these, the Talent Acquisition function clearly establishes a set of metrics that helps guide interviewers around the key attributes they should be probing for.

When I was in Campus Recruiting, at Lehman Brothers, there were established key areas, which we measured each candidate on.   From leadership to analytic skills, the key components of our undergraduate program were very black and white.  Or, were they?  With a pre-defined set of metrics, we were able to ensure that each and every candidate (Summer Intern to Full-Time) hire was uniformly evaluated.  Because of this, decision meetings were very clear cut, and it was very evident who was a hire and who was a decline….yeah right. If only!

Merging the black and white (technical knowledge) metrics, with the grey area of cultural fit, you get hues from midnight black to heather grey, and every possible shade in between.  The art behind successful decision meetings becomes apparent when it is no longer a question of candidate skill.  As one Managing Director put it, “no way am I putting this guy in front of my client!”  So, what’s the deal?  Did the candidate make a major gaffe during the interview?  No, it was not as easy as that.  It started to become a question of fit.

Lehman Brothers, in its heyday, prided itself around the motto “Where Vision Gets Built.”  So, what was it that didn't fit per se?  This is where decision meetings came to a fork in the road.  Every interviewer may agree on the established technical knowledge a candidate possesses.  However, there could be a split regarding fit.  What is important to know, is that HR can be key to ensuring fair discussions around these “grey” areas.  Talent Acquisition ensures that discussions around diversity to the difficulty level, of each interviewer are looked at, when solidifying final decisions.  Moreover, questions regarding candidate honesty, approachability, attitude and entrepreneurial abilities are further discussed within the decision meetings.  Interviewers are further evaluating the “soft skills” a candidate possesses.

On the flip side, candidates should also care about fit. For example, take LGBT job-seeking professionals. They worry about "coming out" during their interviews.  Would you really want to work somewhere that had an issue with who you are?  Of course not! At the same time, you don't have to "come out" to an interviewer. You can evaluate fit but doing research on the company--talking to current employees, evaluating affinity programs, looking for domestic partner benefits, etc. It's a balance of being yourself and doing your research.  Art and science, head and heart.

When it comes to decision meetings, organizations and candidates need to own their individual pieces of the puzzle.  When each party knows there is a “match” it's just like dating. You use your head and your heart to find "the one."

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