Monday, March 28, 2011

Seeing through the candidates' eyes

"A person-centric work psychology will look at the world through the eyes of the worker. It will take work in the raw, all the sights and sounds and tasks and people that run by the worker everyday. The worker experiences all of it, not demarcated parts of it. She organizes and partitions to be sure, but it is her organization that must interest us." - Weiss & Rupp

"Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes." - Jack Handy

The two quotes above represent different ways of looking at someone else. The first, from a recent journal article, suggests we benefit from studying the world as others see it. The second, while humorous, suggests an alternative--and more common--worldview, where people are really just a means to our ends. Unfortunately in the world of recruitment and selection, all too often we're stealing shoes rather than practicing (and studying) empathy.

Fortunately there's been quite a bit of talk lately about seeing things from the perspective of the applicant, particularly in the recruiting world. Joe Murphy, among others, has done a lot of writing and thinking about this. And in the latest issue of I/O Psychology, Howard Weiss and Deborah Rupp bring our attention to the fact that I/O research tends to treat people as objects. (e.g., a collection of KSAs, a test score). They also point out that much of I/O research is done for the "collective purpose", driven explicitly to serve organizational needs, rather than beginning with the person. It's one of the best written, most thought provoking pieces I've read in a while. And it convinced me that we need to spend more time studying the experience of working; or for our purposes, the experience of applying for a job.

There is a lot of emphasis these days on reaching out to prospective applicants via social media. I'd like to respectfully submit that for many organizations this is putting the cart before the horse. In fact it may cause the horse to trample you. Because we don't even do a very good job communicating with EXISTING applicants. So you could very likely be trying to build a brand or reputation that's already been sullied. Yeahh..good luck with that.

And think about how important it is to treat applicants right. Not only can you get easily razzed on Facebook, you're dealing with people at one of their most vulnerable times. Think about when you really NEED an organization and how it impacts your sensitivity. What state of mind are you in during a medical emergency? When your car needs to be fixed? When you REALLY need a plumber? Looking for a job, whether because you're unhappy in your current one or, even worse, because you don't have one, puts people in a vulnerable, and sensitive, state of mind.

Do we see things from the eyes of our applicants? Do we treat them as customers? Because in many cases they literally are, and if they're not they're connected to people that are.

If we do see them as customers, then why...

Do we not get back to them, even with a simple automated acknowledgement, when they apply?

Do we not give them any feedback about their performance on assessments?

Do we structure our processes and career portals around what makes our lives easier, not theirs?

Do we wring our hands about how hard it is to weed through piles of applications, when most ads do a horrible job of serving their purpose (attracting the RIGHT applicants) and we give people very few tools to use to self screen (e.g., realistic job previews)?

In our defense, there is research done in this area (e.g., perception of selection tools and websites, organizational attraction), but there are many more opportunities, as pointed out in the commentaries. For example:

- What does it feel like to be recruited? To be passed over?

- What does the experience of taking a particular assessment for a particular opportunity feel like? Exciting? Frustrating? Confusing? Engaging?

- What are applicants attending to while taking a test? (we assume it's just the test)

- Does having fun while being assessed add to the organization's perception, or lower test anxiety?

- How does an applicant describe their assessment process to others?

If we want to explicitly tie these to organizational objectives, we could take the results of this research and answer questions like: How do candidate/applicant perceptions translate into socialization, turnover, attitudes, and job performance?

From a broader perspective, this article reinforces out that most organizations need to adopt much more of a systems perspective of the selection process. And there are other implications. Perhaps if we knew more about the experience of working, it would help us understand job performance better. And that would help explain the large amount of variance that goes unaccounted for by formal testing.

To some extent, none of this is new. Recruitment and selection research is all about understanding applicants. But it's done so through the lens of the organization--in other words, it looks at what applicants bring to the table. It's a slight shift to think about studying applicants as individuals and focusing on their experience. But doing so might help both organizations and individuals find a better match.

1 comment:

Jason Read said...

I couldn't agree more. It is too easy to set up a selection or testing process from the perspective of the organization. What filter works best for us? What is the most efficient and cheapest method? I think that a wise employer will step back for a minute and think about the applicant experience. Does the experience flow? Is it user friendly? It is confusing? It should be simple and intuitive for a person when they are applying for a job or taking one of your tests. The test might be hard, but the process of taking it should be easy as can be. Thanks for taking the time to blog on this important issue.