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  • Writer's pictureBen Kettle

Canaries and Coalmines🐥

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

Like it or not, how you hire is a reflection of your company culture.

Hey Everyone,

This is the second of several posts covering why you should think critically about how you evaluate talent, and more specifically the hiring process in general.

The first post pointed out the obvious idea that the more people who reported to you the more you were dependent on their success. Today we’ll discuss how your hiring process is a reflection of your company culture, and what that means for you and your organization.

I hope you enjoy it!



Last week I wrote about why you should care about your hiring for personal, financial reasons.

This week my goal is to convince you that your hiring process reflects your company culture.

Why? Because first impressions matter. Let’s pretend that your perfect candidate’s initial experience with your organization isn’t great. Guess what? You won’t land them. There’s also a good chance that they’ll let other potential candidates know. That’s not ideal, especially in a competitive hiring environment.

This post will look at two real-life hiring scenarios and how a candidate might interpret them. I’ll also suggest some ways to make sure that they don’t happen to you.

The benefit here is that you and your organization can differentiate by being more empathetic and efficient.

Endless interviews = “We’re afraid to make decisions.”

Recently, two exec-level, former coworkers told me they were in endless interview cycles with more than one potential employer. They weren’t pleased with the experience, and they aren’t alone.

From the candidate’s perspective, the most charitable interpretation of an endless interview situation is that the potential employer is very thorough or risk-averse, or the recruiter is horrible at setting expectations. Neither of my former coworkers saw it that way.

The simplest, and far more likely candidate interpretation, is that the organization is unable, unwilling, or afraid to make decisions. None of those are good traits, and that’s especially true for teams that need to move fast, like start-ups. Further, the inability to decide demonstrates that the hiring committee suffers from analysis paralysis, the hiring manager doesn’t have autonomy, or the team is playing to not lose, rather than win.¹

How to Fix Endless Interviews

  • Plan and commit - Map out and commit to your hiring process, including evaluation criteria, number of rounds, who’s on the hiring committee, and who owns the decision before interviewing candidates.

  • Be transparent - If your process is likely to change, or you still aren’t sure who you need, then tell the candidates that at the beginning. They’ll respect your transparency.

Over-reliance on broken automation = “You’re just a number, but we’re incompetent.”

I’ll admit that this is one that I’m guilty of - mainly because the default hiring process at most organizations is automated.

Over the past couple of decades, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) have become a valuable and ubiquitous part of the hiring process. ATSs and their companion products, Recruiting Management Systems (RMS), help organizations automate the candidate recruiting and evaluation processes. They’ve become vital to the hiring process, but they’re not without their drawbacks.

For one, they’re frequently too inflexible. Last month the Harvard Business School released a report entitled “Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent” - why the phrase “hidden workers”? Well…

They [Applicant Tracking Systems] exclude from consideration viable candidates whose resumes do not match the criteria but who could perform at a high level with training. A large majority (88%) of employers agree, telling us that qualified high-skills candidates are vetted out of the process because they do not match the exact criteria established by the job description. That number rose to 94% in the case of middle-skills workers.

Said another way, the overwhelming majority of employers know that their overreliance on automated systems is counterproductive and overly exclusionary.

Look, if you don’t believe your automated recruiting system works, what do you expect a candidate to think?

And how does it make you look when the only way² that a qualified candidate can get your attention is through a portal that dings them for not having “computer programming” in their resumes when what you need is someone who can enter data into a computer?

What does it say about a company’s culture when everyone knows the candidate filtering is arbitrary and broken, yet they’re unable or unwilling to do anything about it? Would you want to work at a place like that? If you did, would you be one of the coveted “engaged” employees?

How to Fix Over-Reliance on Automation

Thankfully, the Harvard Study has some good ideas on how to avoid the perils of over-automation.

  • Refresh your job descriptions - If you have used an ATS to filter, it’s probably time to refresh your job descriptions and get a bit more real about what you need.

  • Shift from “negative” to “affirmative” candidate filters - focus on the skills you need, not the worst predictors of candidate success.

And finally, I’d add that you should find another way for a candidate to get your attention. For example, at the end of the description, ask the candidate to send an email or complete a form that lives outside of the traditional “click here to apply” flow. I’ve personally used this one, and it’s worked great, particularly if you need thorough people.

Positive first impressions and good reputations

If your hiring process is the canary in your company’s cultural coal mine, let’s make sure that it makes it back alive.

I get that swimming against the automation current and dealing with indecision isn’t easy. But the work pays off - you and your organization will stand out in a competitive hiring environment.


1 Playing not to lose isn’t a good idea.

2 Yes, someone could network to get your attention. But networking causes its own set of issues: navigating an unfamiliar org can be challenging (to put it mildly), successful networking tends to reinforce homogeneity, and if people have to network into your org to get a job, doesn’t that support the idea that your expensive and time-consuming hiring process is broken?

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