Unlocking Occupational DNA

Google “finding good employees” and more than 300-million entries appear. The Internet universe is full of lists and ideas and hints for finding wonderful, supremely talented people, and almost all of them tell you what you already know. This one is worth reading because it is among the few that deviate from the usual parameters: you’re hiring for experience rather than ability, you are hiring mirror images of yourself, you won’t let go of the bad apples, etc. etc. etc.

Finding good people takes time and it involves more than a resume that strikes the right notes and an interview where the prospect is charming and enthusiastic. The search is for three things: can the person do the job, how will the person do the job, and does the person want to do the job. The first speaks to basic competence and if that is all you hire for, you will always be able to find people. You will always have a large turnover rate, too, but that’s another matter. The second pertains to cultural fit and, for the most part, people are able to adapt to their surroundings. The last component is the key, as it is the one that speaks to an individual candidate’s hard-wiring, their occupational DNA.

From the hiring perspective, occupational DNA means hiring for job fit, matching a person’s skills, behavioral traits, and interests with the position. Do that and it is a process you will want to replicate each time a person is hired or even when one is promoted. People tend to perform well when doing things they like, they tend to be willing to improve their skills in those things, and they are, buzzword alert!!,engaged in the workplace. There are tools out there (full disclosure: my company sells them) that will give you a nice overview of who the people you are considering are at a deep level – what motivates them to succeed, the sort of environments in which they thrive, the things at which they are top performers, and other information that leads to better-informed hiring decisions.

The best way to lose bright and talented people is to not let them be bright and talented. I’ve seen this first-hand at a company that experienced the type growth that CEO’s dream about, and it also experienced a steady erosion of very good people. When people leave, they are not leaving behind money or workloads, they are leaving behind other people. And the reasons for that are usually ones that the rank-and-file cannot change.

However, most of the chatter about “fit” is with regard to organizational culture. While this sounds interesting on paper, it becomes another buzzy buzzword – like synergy or balance – in practice. How can you tell if a person will fit the company culture on the basis of an interview, or several interviews? Yes, interviews are part of the process but they are also like dating. Mr. or Ms. Right looks wonderful with his/her date face on, but if you want to know what someone is really like, you have to live with him/her. In the work place, you learn too late that it won’t work. And as I wrote earlier, most adults can modify their behavior to the extent necessary to fit into their environment.

A bad hire is often worse than no hire, which may be why the cycle is taking longer than it has in years. Companies are deploying additional steps – criminal histories or drug screenings or more/fewer interviews – all of which miss the broader point. These processes are great at ruling applicants out and if your hiring calculus is based on “the least worst” candidate, then that is what you will get. Good decisions require good information and good information in hiring hinges on knowing about an applicant’s willingness to do the job, the factor with the greatest predictive value for success on the job.


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