The best way, bar none, to select a new hire for a manufacturing position, is a job tryout. The candidate actually gets to do the job and see how they like it. The employer gets to directly gauge aptitude and performance. This allows any rose-colored notions about candidate and company fit to be dispelled, so that both parties can proceed with a clear and objective understanding of the quality of fit.
But time and cost make this option untenable for both company and candidate. In practice, a job tryout requires nearly the same time and dollar investment as actually bringing the candidate on board.
Alternatives to the job tryout are plentiful, and include personality and other tests, traditional and video interviews, and gamified exercises that attempt to evaluate some set of skills. But many techniques used in hiring do not provide ideal candidate experiences. Looking for a job can be a grueling experience that demands a lot of time and frequently results a in a lot frustration. Subjecting your candidates to challenging and seemingly irrelevant hurdles does little to engender their goodwill toward your brand.
On top of that, most candidates apply to many jobs and spend as many as three to four hours on each application. And even worse, as a reward for all of that effort, most candidates do not receive any meaningful communication from the company about their effort. Imagine spending a few hours talking to someone and getting no response, and then doing that fifty or a hundred times and getting the same result every time. This is what the modern candidate experience is often like: exhausting and impersonal. And especially to a candidate for whom it is all intensely personal.
A few years ago, we worked with a major manufacturer of paint and coatings to help staff their new greenfield manufacturing facility. Prior to this, the company had staffed new plants by deploying a team of interviewers to manually sift through all the candidates.
In the new process, based on a hiring simulation that offered candidates a day-in-the-life simulation of the job while measuring performance on key competencies, the company was able to staff the plant substantially quicker and more effectively than it had in the past.
A year after the start up, not a single employee had turned over, job performance was exceeding expectations, and the workforce was substantially more diverse [PL1] than in other facilities. One reason: manufacturing hiring managers often have an implicit bias towards young, strapping candidates who are perceived to be more capable of keeping up with the demands of a plant environment, but the reality is that most reasonably fit men and women can perform fine in such an environment. Our objective, data-based simulation helped the client hire older candidates, and more women, and these new hires performed exceptionally well on the job.
How can we improve the overall hiring process? Employers should rethink hiring to focus on authentic, forthright, mutual discovery rather than a series of one-sided pass/fail gates. Your candidates desire to be treated as sentient beings who have a great deal of insight into whether they would be a good fit for your role. Millennials and the upcoming Generation Z are especially likely to be in search of a good job and career fit rather than simply earning a paycheck.
Here are some recommendations for creating an authentic hiring process that will improve quality of hire and your employment brand at the same time:
Stop using one-sided "tests" that offer candidates no value. Switch to tools that allow for mutual exploration like realistic job previews and job simulations. Many job simulations actually include testing components but do so in a much more job-relevant manner.
Don't look to gamification for the answer. While hiring games can be fun, they are not usually actually fun. What candidates really want is a more humane and informative hiring process, not being forced to complete another seemingly irrelevant time waster.
Artificial Intelligence is also not the answer. AI has enormous potential, but most AI-based tools are not yet capable of fully replacing traditional processes. Marketing claims notwithstanding, AI is still in the formative stage. The payoff will be tremendous, but be skeptical of grandiose claims made today.
Collect data on everything you can. Gather and scrutinize it all: hiring scores and results, candidate feedback, new-hire training performance, job performance, etc. By collecting large amounts of data, you can determine how factors interrelate and predict each other. You can find out exactly how well your candidate’s performance in the hiring process predicts their later success on the job.
Eliminate bias. Data also allows you to find bias in your hiring process. If you find bias, you can fix it. Tests have occasionally received a bad rap for leading to adverse impact, but if used correctly, not only should they not have adverse impact, they should help create greater diversity. The reason is that tests (and job simulations) collect numerical data—and once you have this data, you can break it down by protected class to see if there are significant differences. From there, recalibrating the scoring to eliminate the observed differences is a straightforward process.
Communicate with your candidates! Yes, you yourself, not a robot or other AI (those are better than nothing, to be sure, but not nearly as good as a human). You do not have to spend hours talking to rejected candidates, but you can and should at least give them prompt information on the status of their application.
With the new European Union GDPR standards, many international organizations are now required to store candidate data and share it with the candidate if asked. While this is not the case in the United States, we believe it is still the right thing to do. And a great way to improve your hiring experience is to offer candidates feedback reports on the assessments they take. These reports do not need to show the scores you use in hiring, but can offer more general feedback on competencies or other characteristics. We expect to see acceptance of candidate feedback grow in the United States in years to come.
These ideas and steps are simple to enact, but they do require abandoning the adversarial hiring models of the past. As the gig economy and younger generations enter the workforce, it will be increasingly important to treat your candidates as equals and co-discoverers of whether you are good fits for each other. Instead of selecting your new hires, you must now choose each other. While that is shift from decades past, it will lead to better fit, job satisfaction, and ultimately, organizational performance. And that is why we hire people in the first place!
Eric Sydell, Ph.D., is co-founder and VP of research and innovation, Shaker. A regular presenter at conferences, he has published work on simulation scoring and lectured on assessment innovation, testing procedures, and other human resource issues.