While We’re Busy Fretting Over Generational Differences, We’re Making Bad Hiring Decisions

That's not a valid work email account. Please enter your work email (e.g. you@yourcompany.com)
Please enter your work email
(e.g. you@yourcompany.com)

traintracksSaaS company Assess Systems  recently released an excellent white paper, and the title alone should be proof enough that these folks are not messing around: “Generational Differences: The Newest Way to Justify a Bad Hire”.

Further expanding on this no-nonsense line in a press release, the vice president of talent solutions for Assess Systems, Carol Jenkins, said, “Stereotypes about millennials or older workers hinder a retailer’s ability to build a top-notch workforce.”

Essentially, here’s what Jenkins (and the white paper) means: Regrettably, many people in positions of authority let their generational biases guide their hiring decisions. Whether they think millennials are “lazy” or baby boomers are “out of touch,” some employers are allowing fairly baseless stereotypes to dictate the compositions of their workforces.

Problem is, employee success has very little to do with one’s age. What’s far more important, Jenkins says, are “natural styles, abilities, and personalities.”

“There are certain characteristics [that are tied to employee success], and they don’t only happen in certain generations,” Jenkins says. “It’s not that young people have some ability that old people don’t.”

What’s the Deal With Generational Biases?

Before going any further, it’s important to clarify Jenkins’s stance on generational biases.

First, she does not believe it’s a rampant problem. That being said, Jenkins has seen these biases at work in companies within various industries, both retail and otherwise.

Second, Jenkins stresses that biases don’t happen at the organizational level. Rather, biases are things that individuals within the organization hold. Still, these biases can be harmful to the organization: If a hiring manager is allowing stereotypes to dictate their hiring decisions, then that hiring manager won’t be making the best hires they could be.

Jenkins says that generational biases can arise for a number of reasons, but regardless of where a particular person’s particular biases come from, those biases can threaten a company’s hiring success.

“Any kind of stereotype based on small amounts of data can influence people’s decisions about who they hire,” Jenkins says. “And those impressions they hold – those are often false impressions.”

Rather than relying on generational biases to drive their hiring decisions, hiring managers need to focus on what really matters: the relevant skills and characteristics that make a person successful in a given role.

Box“There are certain drivers, regardless of age, that make certain people a fit for roles,” Jenkins says. “If you have a sales job [to fill], you want someone who has that natural comfort and tendency to be able to ask for the sale and create dialogue with people.”

How to Make More Objective Hiring Decisions

Of course, the tricky thing about biases is that we often have a hard time realizing we hold them. How, then, can hiring managers combat their biases if they aren’t always totally aware of them?

According to Jenkins, that will require some careful analysis and the adoption of the proper tools.

1. Perform a ‘Job Analysis’

The first step in ridding the hiring process of generational biases, Jenkins says, is to “evaluate what makes people successful in [a given] job.”

“Think about the things that differentiate success – not the things everyone does, but the things your top performers do differently,” Jenkins says.

These differentiators are, more often than not, very specific behaviors that you can define by talking to top performers, observing them in action, and sitting down with their managers. They are also usually linked to specific natural dispositions and tendencies, Jenkins says.

“For example, for a sales role, you probably want someone who is going to be competitive, who will pursue the sale,” Jenkins explains. “For a customer service role, you probably want someone who is very accommodating and willing to bend over backwards to help people.”

(To be perfectly clear, the differentiators of success will depend on the specific role. So, you can’t just observe high performers and draw general conclusions about what makes someone successful at the company; you need to observer high performers in every role and identify what “success” means for each role.)

2. Develop Guidelines for Success

Once you’ve carried out a job analysis, you need to create guidelines that outline the success differentiators for each role. Then, you need to put in place a process hiring managers can use to evaluate applicants in terms of these relevant differentiators.

“A consistent, objective process to evaluate candidates is a tool that can help somebody who might have a bias think about candidates more objectively,” Jenkins says.

3. Give Hiring Managers the Right Tools

deskWith guidelines in hand, hiring managers can start making better hiring decisions – but only if they have the tools they need to support them.

“Once you’ve defined what success looks like, you have to put in place some tools to help guide people to make the right decisions,” Jenkins says. “It’s important that the tools don’t make the decision for a hiring manager. They still need to do a really good behavioral-based interview. But they can utilize assessment data to really ask more specific questions about where somebody might have a weakness, for example.”

The specific tools hiring managers need will depend on the organization’s unique industry, but some examples include:

– Pre-employment assessment surveys that help weed out candidates who don’t show signs of having the proper success differentiators.

– Video-based interview tools that allow hiring managers to see candidates in action and get a feel for their personalities.

– Structured interview guides that are tailored toward what’s important for success on the job.

– Reference-checking tools that allow hiring managers to obtain useful information about how candidates have performed in past roles.

“It’s about guiding hiring managers, whose primary job is to run the store [or department], not necessarily be a great recruiter,” Jenkins says. “These tools are there to help them do a better job when they do have to be recruiters.”

4. Revise the Guidelines/Process When Necessary

Once you’ve developed your success guidelines and implemented a structured hiring process, you can’t let it all stagnate. “Success” may not mean the same thing next year as it means today.

“This is a key element,” Jenkins says. “You never know when the job might shift, so you have to recalibrate and look at the effectiveness of these tools [every so often].”

By Matthew Kosinski