Arancha Ruiz Bachs

What nonsense it is to say that “people are our greatest asset” in companies. I always say, “Tell me who you select and I’ll tell you what you want.” And, after so many “I believe in people” or “we look for motivation, creativity, and teamwork above all,” what you often find is a “but why do you have to pay so much” or “I’m going to relocate internal talent to fix something broken with something ripped off.” It’s hard to believe so much statement of principles. If companies really believed that talent – employees – is their greatest asset, they would invest resources and time into improving and rigorously measuring their selection processes, to ensure that what they are doing is the best, that they are really looking for the best people for each position.

“I already told you that they do not do that.”

Recently, Professor Peter Capelli (2019) of Wharton conducted a survey of American companies’ managers and showed that only one-third of the companies surveyed checked on whether their selection processes chose “good employees”. Wow, only one-third of the companies measured the quality of their selection processes.

Why not monitor the efficiency of your selection processes? The most common answer is that it’s very difficult to measure an employee’s performance and outcome. Given that salary expenses are among the main costs of a company, it’s a somewhat surprising statement. It would be as easy as measuring the residence time, asking the supervisor if they think it was a good decision, etc.

Selecting people is much more expensive than promoting internal talent. You pay more when you “attract the market” and the risk of error is greater. Professor Capelli himself discovered that it takes 3 years for a company to find a new employee who is at the same level as an existing employee and that it takes the same equivalent time to reach such performance. Also, as Groucho Marx said, companies also don’t want to hire someone who is actively looking for a job. Companies like “the difficult ones”, the ones who are “interesting”. They seem to believe that there is something wrong with someone who is in transition or even who is not satisfied with their work. Companies should know that passive candidates, in love with the project, are much more expensive to attract and, in addition, cause “talent wars” within a sector, not to mention generate false expectations in some cases. Professor Capelli was not able to demonstrate that a new person in a company performs better than someone who is already employed, nor that a passive candidate is better than those who are looking for a change.

On the other hand, let’s talk about selection techniques. Today, the trend is to “look for more” and not to “look for better”. Headhunting companies flood candidate testing processes. They measure everything, including things like facial expression, the use of language, the ability to overcome interviews … although it’s not entirely clear that this is more effective than other traditional methods. And what’s worse, it turns out that although these tests were useful, Professor Capelli discovered that most managers ignore them and are increasing the amount of time dedicated to interviews, as a survey by Glassdoor showed that since 2009, the number of hours spent interviewing candidates has doubled.

Speaking of the best evaluation technique for an interview, it has been shown that this is to ask all applicants the same questions, because this way, you can check the results. However, managers tend to improvise, looking for employees who are a cultural fit by asking questions like “What would you take if you were on a desert island?” They leave everything in the hands of the interviewer’s perspective. Without any surprise, this technique usually leads to biases in interviewers, who tend to sign people who resemble or like them. And if you want to argue that this will end in automatic selections, you must remember that, in many cases, biases and negative effects are created, in case these algorithms are configured with the characteristics of the employers who are being replaced.

How can companies improve? Hire slow and fire fast

Professor Cappelli suggests measuring and also trying to capture a greater number of internal candidates for open positions. Observe how many positions are filled with internal staff and how many with external candidates; then strive to see the difference between them. Everyone should worry about the lack of rigor during the selection process, as they care about the quality of the raw material. Improving productivity often depends on improving raw materials, which, in this case, are people and their talent.

I know very few companies that follow the motto “hire slow and fire fast”. Very few. The vast majority hire fast and fire slow. In the processes, you always run. The client continually asks you to accelerate, skip stages of the process, resort to the closest, do a quick interview, get carried away by your feelings. How many times have we seen the false negatives, rejecting valid candidates because they did not enter the room at their best on that day? Following are the three most common factors that motivate this acceleration:

  1. Urgency

When the decision is made to incorporate someone, a lot of time has already been spent in the decision process itself. Then, you do not want to set the counter to zero. If it’s for someone’s departure or for a change of position, the incorporation is expected at the moment, so as not to result in two people having the same position. If it’s a dismissal, it’s expected that the candidate will not know about it. If it’s a new position, it’s often doubtful whether it will be worth the money or whether the position is really necessary, waiting to make a decision until the situation is unsustainable. Then it’s time to run!

  1. Laziness in the process

Anything seems easier than starting a selection process. Talk with candidates, see their CVs, meet, understand and connect, develop a profile, research, go to different recruitment sources, search through databases, filter, assess suitability, contrast the opinions of several agents involved, reach a consensus, make an offer, and reach an agreement. Why, then, do we strive to carry out the entire process?

Because the process is necessary! Can you learn something without a learning curve? Can you build a house without a construction process? A process is a set of successive phases that ensures a better result. When you want to cut the learning curve or the construction process, the bases wobble and everything you put in later will crack.

  1. Perception of expense

How much does a process cost? Like any service, it can cost from almost free up to thousands of euros. “Almost” free because it’s never worth zero. The greatest cost is time, whether from an internal or external resource. Everyone, including the sorters, wants the process to be resolved quickly, easily, and cheaply. Nobody likes to throw away money, much less time. However, they always see it as expensive because they see it as an expense. The contribution of the selector is not valued; it’s believed that anyone could do that. And then problems occur.

The selection processes find the most suitable people for organizations. Assess, weigh, and analyze multiple objective and subjective elements to avoid being a complete failure. They aren’t a test for candidates to show how much they know or for the company to show only its friendly face.

A candidate doesn’t fail if they are rejected from a process. Their worst failure is if they’re chosen for something that’s not for them. That’s because, inevitably, they will leave and their CV will always contain a line describing only a few months on a job, which will leave a bitter taste. The bad thing is that when a selector chooses a candidate, it’s seen as enough, as too much time has already been expended on that, so nothing else is done. Paraphrasing the saying: “If you believe education is expensive, try ignorance.”

About the Author

Arancha Ruiz is a recognized specialist in talent, employment, and personal branding. The vision that Arancha Ruiz pursues in the complex context of digital change is that all professionals will find the best environment for their talent and that the greatest challenges will meet the best professionals. Her company, Headhunter & Talentist, conducts talent management, selection, and personal brand consulting. She collaborates with large companies such as Computrabajo, AdGlow, Telefónica, Atento, HP, Affinity, Actelion, and Banc Sabadell and has presented more than 500 personal branding cases to managers, businesspeople, and professionals.


Peter Cappelli. 2019. Why companies are so bad at hiring. Bartleby. The Economist. 11 May 2019.