The job market has turned around! One thing is for sure – the current market for talent is Still teeming with people who are unemployed or under-employed and consequently looking for work. This creates a bit of a conundrum for hiring managers; we can be picky about whom we hire, but we’re also now forced to filter through an exponential number of candidate applications for every vacancy.

Yet, regardless of the number of available jobs or the girth of the applicant pool, a company’s competitive edge is increasingly tied to the quality of its talent. Poor, and even average hires will reduce profitability, stunt growth and lead to a vulnerable position relative to competitors.

The good news is that companies can learn from the common mistakes made with pre-employment assessment and reference checking technology experienced by early adopters to avoid the errors and oversights that lead to sub-par hires.

Poor, and even average hires, will reduce profitability, stunt growth and lead to a vulnerable position relative to competitors.

Below are the top five mistakes that, in our experience, make companies most vulnerable, and our thoughts on how to avoid them.

1. Looking to Top Performers for Benchmarks

It seems like a logical approach—test your best people to create the desired candidate profile based on their characteristics and traits. But if you hire candidates that only match that profile, you may still get low performers. Why? To establish an effective benchmark, like those developed by our team of behavioral science experts, what you really need to know is how your strongest people are different from your weakest.

For example, top supervisors may share characteristics like coping well with stress, a belief that motivating employees is their first priority and a good degree of comfort with exercising authority. But they may share these traits with poorly performing supervisors as well. If you don’t look at the flipside—the beliefs and traits of low performers—and analyze the differences, you can end up with hires that don’t perform so well, perhaps because they communicate poorly, play favorites and treat subordinates inconsistently.

2. Relying on the Interview as the Only Tool

The interview may be the least effective—and most widely used—HR practice out there. As far back as 1984, John and Rhonda Hunter at The University of Michigan, conducted a study that showed interviewing candidates increases the likelihood of choosing the best candidate by l less than 2%. We continue to use the interview perhaps because it seems negligent to hire someone sight unseen. But, in fact, an interview leaves you open to hiring mistakes in three ways:

First, candidates do more interviewing than most managers, so they have more experience in how to present themselves well. They may be friendly, personable and good at making an interviewer feel comfortable. Meanwhile, a manager who doesn’t do a lot of interviewing may not be so good at prodding for more relevant information.

Meeting someone in person leaves you vulnerable to charismatic candidates who give you a misleadingly good “gut feeling.”

Second, meeting someone in person leaves you vulnerable to charismatic candidates who give you a misleadingly good “gut feeling.”

Third, too often companies “wing it” in their interviews, skipping the important step of structuring their

interviews by developing a list of key questions, weighting them for job relevance and consistently using the same questions with every candidate. Our system’s structured interview questions relieve all of these common problems, offering companies a detailed plan for acquiring the data they want to collect. What’s more, Each interview guides are highly structured, based on scientifically validated job profiles that prevent bias from creeping into the process.

3. Omitting Reference Checking

References that never call back, concerns about legal fallout, conversations that shed little light on a candidate’s previous performance—the old phone-based method of reference checking certainly has its challenges. But foregoing the reference check means eliminating your best opportunity for learning how a candidate has performed in previous positions.

An automated reference checking tool is a good way to retain that opportunity and eliminate the hassles. Our automated reference checking streamlines the process by taking it all online. Candidates—not hiring managers—send an email requesting that their references complete an online questionnaire. This saves the company time and improves reference response rates, as references are more likely to fulfill a request from a former colleague than a stranger.

Reference anonymity is also protected because at least five must respond to a candidate’s request. Since data is aggregated in this way—and references are informed of this fact—their answers tend to be less guarded and more helpful to prospective employers. This data aggregation also allows the tool to collect better data because a minimum number of responses are required—and when you have more data points, you have more accurate information.

An automated reference checking tool is a good way to retain the opportunity to learn how a candidate has performed in previous positions and eliminate the hassles. Questions are validated to elicit more useful responses, meaning they’ve been tested and shown to be job-relevant. Instead of using general questions like “How would you rate this person’s organizational skills?”, the online questionnaire asks, “Does this candidate prioritize tasks according to their importance?”, which is a much easier question for references to answer accurately.

Finally, unlike traditional reference checking, the automated alternative is applied early in the recruiting process, helping companies focus their time and attention on high potential candidates whose references have already indicated that they’ve performed well in previous positions.

4. Using Assessments That Aren’t Granular Enough

According to conventional wisdom, certain personalities are best for certain jobs. You want enthusiastic self-starters for sales and empathetic listeners in customer service. Anecdotal evidence abounds to support these ideas, but data does not. A personality trait is not a predictor of success on the job.

What does predict success is incidence of critical behaviors. These are specific behaviors that occur in the workplace that are relevant for success, based on research. A critical behavior that supports the competency of leadership, for example, would be mobilizing the efforts of workers toward a common goal.

Using data about these critical behaviors, pre-employment testing can help you determine which behaviors best support high performance in a position and in your company—which is key to developing effective candidate profiles.

With these profiles in place, scientifically validated questionnaires are developed that point toward more objective considerations of what candidates actually do—not what their proclivities or tendencies are. These questionnaires collect the information that tells you not only if a candidate can do the job, but if she will.

5. Missing the Feedback Loop Opportunity

You’ve gone through all the critical steps and have hired a candidate that matches up nicely with your candidate profile and whose reference data is excellent. You hire him and then move on to your next open position – and that’s where mistake number five comes in!

An automated reference checking tool is a good way to retain the opportunity to learn how a candidate has You don’t want to think of a filled position as the end of the process. It’s the next point in the cycle, where you take the opportunity to track how well your new hire performs and feed that back into your screening process.

By linking the post-hire performance metric to pre-hire questionnaire responses, you can get better and better at determining what responses reveal about candidates. You can use results from this comparison to improve subsequent questionnaires and focus in even more tightly on the specific characteristics, skills, and behaviors that distinguish high performers from average.

Great strides have been made in recent years to create more scientific-based tools for pre-employment assessment and reference checking. These tools reduce gut feel to make the hiring process more objective and therefore more predictive, allowing companies to hone their competitive edge by continuously improving their ability to find and hire candidates who will be high performers.

References are a joke. Every company requests them, every candidate provides them, but no one checks them. Why? Because old-fashioned reference checks are phone-based, time-consuming and obsolete. Our system makes reference checks relevant with an automated reference-checking solution built on assessment-based logic. As an add- on for an even greater level in hiring accuracy, It delivers the same assessment-based screening logic in a high-volume early-stage pre-employment test to rapidly weed out low potential and identify high potential candidates.

Maximum Potential’s online reference checking will provide you and your organization with valuable hiring information.

Maximum Potential is located in St. Paul, Minnesota with distributors in many locations in the US and Internationally. Please contact Bill Schult for additional information or your personal demonstration of our SaaS-based assessment platform.