Scandal: A TV Drama and Real-Life Hiring Process

Like the TV drama, current hiring processes could fit into the “drama” genre, or “comedic drama,” or maybe even “tragedy.” A series with multiple seasons at that. There are plenty of players, stakeholders and an industry built around it. My focus here is on two similarly written powerful lines that I recall being exquisitely delivered by Kerry’s Washington’s character, Olivia Pope.

  • What do you want?
  • What do you need?

Key differentiator – want versus need, but bear with me. Your answers to these questions matter so they are worth some time. The answers or lack of can affect the results of your search, your ability to attract future talent and the future of your organization in its culture – collective experience of expectations and practice.

At an organization that existed in a moment in time, more than a decade before Laszlo Bock at Google is credited for coining the term “People Analytics,” hiring managers were indoctrinated with a set of hiring criteria. The hiring criteria were driven by a consultant and industrial psychologist who studied control groups of current and previous employees. The results? First some drama of its own. Have you seen examples of indoctrination in Scandal? Like most changes and new requirements or expectations in any organization it’s not pretty. Eventually the effort played out:

  • Turnover at the Client Service level went from over 80% to 28% only two years later
  • Branch management promotions from within increased over 100%.  

I want that!  Well, the way we did it then was to require hires to fulfill five out of six of the common hiring criteria. In communicating and reinforcing these criteria we not only improved business results, we also contributed to our corporate culture. Every hiring manager was expected to explain how their hire fulfilled at least five out of six of these criteria and everyone coming into the organization had at least this in common – five out of six of these criteria. What were they?

[Insert commercial break]

You can imagine the drama unfolding in the communication and execution of that new and now consistently applied expectation. Some exceptions, while valid, elicit tension just this side of anything coming from Shondaland or your preferred binge. This tension is presumably preferred to high turnover and being forced to buy talent rather than creating internal promotability.  

You’d like to know the hiring criteria – the answer to reduced turnover and increased promotability. Well, before I tell you, let me remind you that they are a quarter of a century old. Don’t dismiss them, but don’t jump on them as best practices. Consider them for what they are and for the results they drove. Consider what common criteria would improve outcomes in your organization and for what you want to be known.  Consider how you are going to determine them and how you are going to put them to work.

[Insert commercial break]

The hiring criteria that created this overnight success after just two years of use, included the following:

  1. Candidate is currently employed as a full-time employee in another organization
  2. Position offered is a promotion in responsibility and opportunity
  3. Candidate’s experience represents a history of success, stability, and previous growth
  4. Offer is a 5-20% increase in total compensation
  5. Candidate brings 2-plus years of related experience
  6. Candidate has completed at least a four-year degree or its educational equivalent

A TV Drama and Real-Life Hiring Process

Did you turn the channel? Did you copy these to use yourself? Pencils down people!  

These worked for that organization at that time. It’s not the criteria but the process and cultural impact that I’m espousing. Are you being at least as intentional today? Today we talk about a gig economy, transferable skills, different forms of compensation – benefits vary widely as do individual motivations. What matters is knowing what hiring practices will drive positive results in your organization today and tomorrow. Achieving and acting on that knowing will take a team of gladiators and some technical expertise – an “Olivia Pope” that also melds with your organization.

So what? Candidates, recruiters, and hiring managers will still distrust each other. Frustrate and annoy each other. Assume that the others are lazy, sloppy, don’t care. You may even be adding to the drama, but you’ll be doing so intentionally, with data to support why, and with a better idea of what matters.   

Do you know what you want? Do you know what you need? What are you willing to give up? What are you going to do about it? Get the answers to these questions and you’ll be writing your own script.

Jim Fox

Jim Fox

Jim Fox has been in the recruitment business long enough to have some good stories. Admittedly, that doesn’t take very long, but you get the idea. Jim led the Human Resource team for Recruitment Process Outsourcer, The RightThing and for ADP’s Talent Acquisition Solutions businesses. Currently, as ThePeopleFox, he provides advice on talent acquisition and human resources with respect to brand, process, and technology. He believes in the importance and power of people in the workplace and welcomes robots too if they have the right skills. You can follow Jim on LinkedIn.

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