Making the Job Search Work for You – The Science of Fit

Looking for a job is like playing the dating game: you’re like a lover looking for the best mate, and the employer is playing the same game in reverse.

The Dating Game, a TV show in the 1970s, let women select from three “eligible bachelors.” It was among the most popular shows of its time. The Match Game, which used celebrities to make matches, was similarly popular.)

I’ve been travelling around the country the last few weeks meeting with many HR leaders and everywhere I go I hear the same thing from employers: there are a lot of people out of work, yet we are having a very tough time finding the right candidates.

I call this the paradox of today’s labor market. Even in the world of high unemployment, the match between employer and candidate is worse than ever.

There are a lot of reasons for this: as the trend toward skills specialization, the tremendous increase in younger workers, and the globalization of businesses (most of the companies I met with told me they’re struggling to find people in China and India), and the general decline in education in this country.

And I do not think this problem is going away. This is going to be the nature of the job market for years to come.

So how do you as a candidate (or as an employer) deal with this big matching game?

Well there are lots of tools and strategies to consider here – but let me discuss one which seems to be lost on many organizations: the science of fit.   (Research members can download the report here.)

Several years ago we conducted a year-long research effort looking at companies in retail, entertainment, pharmaceuticals, and financial services to understand precisely how they found their “top candidates.” And the results were both profound and easy to understand.

1.  If you are an employer, you have to understand “what drives success” in your company.

Do you know what drives success in a given role? This is not an easy question to ask, but many don’t take enough time to figure it out. One way of doing this is through what we call “A-Player Analysis.” You simply analyze the cohort of high-performers you have in a given role, and figure out what they have going for them.

You don’t necessarily need to be a psychologist to do this, by the way. Go talk with them, chat with their managers, and look at their backgrounds. You can hire an assessment firm (like Kenexa, SHL, DDI, Hogan, etc.) to help if you’d like – but at your core you, as an employer, need to know this.

What you will find is that these “A-Players” have a lot of unique things, and they may involve attributes like intelligence, learning agility, friendliness, leadership, quality orientation, or even age. You will also find that they have a strong alignment with your corporate culture.

What you should NOT do is look solely at experience, GPA, or pedigree. These factors play a role, but all our research shows that they are far less important than employers think.

I recently talked with a senior recruiter from an oil services company (he spent more than 20 years recruiting engineers). He told me that after years of experience hiring people, the single biggest factor which predicts performance is “the experience of the recruiter.”  What??  What he found was that GPA, school, etc. had almost no correlation to success – but the very senior and very savvy recruiters had a sixth sense for “What it takes to be an A-Player.”

2. Culture plays a major role – and this is why referrals are so important.

The second thing we found in this research is that finding great people is a problem of creating a candidate “tunnel” not a candidate “funnel.” In other words, dont cast a wide net, cast a very narrow and focused net.

What does your organization stand for?  What is the culture of your workplace? You should seriously understand this, and then focus your employment brand and sourcing to find people who fit that culture.

Ikea, for example, only wants to hire people who live by their values: ecology, minimalist, design-centric, quality oriented. They hire tens of thousands of people every year – yet they rigorously screen for these types of personal characteristics before accepting a resume. Another great example of a company who hires for culture is Decker Outdoors, the makers of Uggs. These companies have built career sites which truly embody their culture.

Also remember also that A-Players will recruit other A-Players. So referrals are very important. People who work for you already know what it takes to succeed, so they will recruit people they know will fit. High-performing companies get as many as 40% of their job candidates through referrals.

3. If you are a job candidate, use these principles in reverse.

I know its tough looking for a job, I’ve been there. The best advice I can give is simply to do your homework, and look for an organization which feels like “your people.” This means informational interviewing, talking with people who have worked there in the past, and doing lots of homework on the company itself.

Most companies have lots of jobs open which may not be posted online. Once you find an organization you “want to be part of,” launch a campaign to meet people. And when you do search for employers, talk with all your friends first. If you can be referred into an organization, you will automatically take advantage of the “science of fit.”

There are lots of great books and tools to help interview, screen, and assess people. But ultimately this matching game is one of “fit.” It’s not a matter of finding the “Best” candidate, but rather finding the “Right” candidate. If you follow these principles you will make the matching game work in your favor.