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Are you overlooking your best candidates?

Written by  Jennifer Oxley
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In our work we often have to help clients in recruiting for either project or operational resources. One thing that a consulting background has instilled in us is the need to recruit the person rather than recruit the skill.  But surely, a ‘good’ CV helps to identify a good candidate for a particular role? In fact our experience from helping to recruit many permanent and contract staff is quite the opposite. CVs that demonstrate a large list of very relevant skills often are not what they seem.

This goes against much of the advice from agencies. Most of them have introduced parsing software that scans through CVs and identifies skills and experiences and matches those against the job requirements. The software does this very efficiently. It allows a job to be carefully specified and a number of candidates shortlisted from the hundreds of CVs sent in to an agency via the various electronic job boards.


It all sounds very sensible this objective assessment of a CV to match a specific role. Perhaps creating a shortlist of four or five candidates who have a great match to the job being requested.

However it completely goes against the most sensible rule of recruitment – hire the person not the skills. To understand further let’s see how a great CV is constructed in the temporary IT market.  We all know that there are a large number of mediocre IT contractors along with a smaller number of stars and a small number of really poor performers.

If we take a mediocre performing person they will have typically moved from role to role, maybe extending a 3 month contract to 6 months or a year but generally moving on fairly quickly. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, most contracts are fairly short term. The typical mediocre performer has been around for long enough to perform well enough not to get fired or terminated early but certainly won’t be shooting the lights out on the role and, crucially, will not be giving the client the real added value that a ‘star’ can.
However, the CV for that person looks great. Each 6 – 12 month contract has enabled them to amass a whole list of relevant skills on each assignment. The CV doesn’t show how well they applied those skills it just shows that they have been exposed to them. The longer they remain in the contract business the better and better their CVs look and the more likely the CV will score higher on one of those parsing pieces of software.

What makes the recruitment process even harder for clients is that mediocre performers are also quite likely to have picked up good interviewing skills. Interviewing, like any other skill, gets better with practice. We have seen some amazing contrasts between contractors CVs and their role performances.

Yet look at the CVs from the really high performers. Even in the contract market, top performers tend to be ‘sticky’. They often get their work via their network and word of mouth. Initial 3 month contracts get extended. Their clients like what they see and even at the end of the original piece of work they get extended and work on different projects with 1, 2 or 3 year tenures being common. Their CVs unfortunately don’t contain that long list of skills that parsing software loves and their interviewing skills are often rusty. It is so easy to miss recruiting these people when they become available.

When specialist firms supply resources it usually takes a long time to establish the trust and maturity of client relationship to move away from the tick list method of providing resource. People start the process often by saying “we just want someone who works like your Joe”. By the time Procurement get involved things invariably get a bit more skills based. “We want someone like Joe but they also need 2.75 years of PL/1 experience and exposure to SNODfactor 1.23.” Over time though mature buyers of specialist and consulting resource can, and do, buy into the idea of going for the person rather than the skills.
So how can organisations recruit the person rather than the skills list?

Here are 5 tips...

  • and we would say with organisations who value long term relationships with clients and resources and specifically focus on the resource and process rather than the skill.
  • Recruit through network and referral if possible. Certainly, Linkedin is your friend.
  • Use CVs as a guide only and take more account of the ‘story’ and the role rather than the skills listed.
  • Interview with capability based interviewing. Use selection criteria on how people would handle situations rather than specific existing skills.
  • Use psychometric testing. It works. Most, or possibly all, of the major consultancies and specialists use it. They use it in conjunction with the overall story and capability based interviewing to recruit the person.

One last thought. The right person can tackle and make a success of anything thrown at them. Someone who made a hash at their last SNODfactor 1.23 role, where their manager popped the Champagne corks when they left, is just as likely to make a hash of your SNODfactor 1.23 implementation.

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