Hiring Decisions – from Both Sides

by Borland, Ph.D., Jim Wednesday, June 13, 2007
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One reassuring thing about working with outplacement clients is they all have a history of having worked for an employer with which most potential hiring managers have some familiarity. This means that they have been seen as acceptable in the beginning of their previous position, and, in general, have gained in both experience and acceptability since then.

This was underscored for me in a recent assignment working with members of a NY office of an international specialty travel group that was centralizing U.S. operations in another location.

This assignment allowed me to look more closely at how each client had gotten to the firm and to explore with each what they had done to obtain a favorable hiring decision. A great opportunity presented itself when I met with Mike, the site manager when most were hired, who was willing to reminisce with me about their hiring decisions. Their stories, while similar, contained some differences that, I believe, are instructive.

There are, most career authorities agree, essentially three elements in a hiring decision: abilities or “can do,” motivation or “will do,” and fit. Most job seekers focus on “can do” first, “will do” second, and only then, if ever, do they consider the “fit” issue. Yet, research has shown consistently that 85% of hiring decisions are based on “fit,” only 5% on ability, and 10% on motivation.

Four examples brought home the difference in the employee’s and manager’s hiring decision stories:

  • Gladys, a marketing assistant with six years of service, said she was hired because of her good computer skills and, over ten years prior, customer service experience. Mike said he loved her energy and enthusiasm, and felt she could learn about the industry. He also commented that she would share a workspace, and that her to-be office mate liked her better than the other two applicants

  • Joe told me his twenty-plus years’ experience managing U.S. sales for a foreign airline made him the obvious choice, and he was recommended by two of the agency’s customers. Mike remembered immediately thinking Joe had more experience than he did, but felt his assertiveness would allow Mike to avoid some more aggressive sales situations in which he was uncomfortable.

  • Ed said his prior experience in operations with his recent experience in IT systems had been instrumental in landing his position. Mike remembered Ed as easy-going, having earlier had a “technie” who got “huffy” when others didn’t understand his instructions. Mike said, “I could tell he didn’t have deep technical knowledge, but we’re not that sophisticated.”

  • Jonah, a graphic artist with three years’ experience, had been hired from a firm to which the group outsourced marketing materials. He said, “They were impressed by both the quality and the creativity of my work.” Mike “liked the kid” (Jonah was, at 31, fifteen years junior to all others in the group) and said “I really don’t know that much about marketing materials – hiring Jonah was the easiest alternative to me.”
While I admit there may be some “selective” recollection on the part of both Mike and his employees, the fact remains that, over time, the issue of fit, the perception that a person is likable, pleasant to be around, or will be accepted by others, is the primary factor in hiring.

Finally, as we delved into the strengths and accomplishments preparatory to constructing resumes, I was impressed with how much all had grown as their jobs evolved. Donna, for example, who before had had no travel background or computer experience, had become an expert at marketing databases to other agencies, writing newsletters, and planning and running trade show booths and conferences.

To summarize, successful job hunters, while certainly needing to address personal abilities and motivation, should be prepared and thoughtful about how they will fit into a new organization.