Lack of quality candidates is the single most common concern that I hear about from both recruiters and hiring managers. Most companies are dissatisfied with the quality of candidates they see applying at their websites, and everyone wants to avoid the uncertainties of selection. While there is no way to quantitatively prove it, much of the poor performance American corporations have reported recently might be related to the quality of the people they have hired over the past five years. Unemployment is still relatively low (despite illusions that it is not), and the demographic projections still indicate a long-term swing toward a market driven by candidates rather than by organizations. At some point in the near future, I can guarantee that you will be once again beating the bushes for qualified candidates and will once again be facing the “talent war” that may have seem to gone away. There are many anecdotes about poor hires floating around amongst recruiters, and I am sure you can all find a story from personal experience about a bad hire made either because of time and availability pressure or lack of selection expertise. If there is an area of low-hanging fruit, where relatively simple acts can save large amounts of money and time, screening and assessment is it. Here are a few practical things you can do right now to help reduce the number of poor quality hires that you make. 1. Establish a definition of quality and use it to select people. Most organizations do not have any definition of a “quality employee” nor do they even have a performance management system that is more than a popularity contest. While I could write a long column on the pros and cons of performance management philosophies, suffice it to say that before any performance can be assessed, the organization has to have a clear idea of what good or exceptional performance looks like. It needs to have longitudinal studies of its best performers so that a pattern of actions, competencies, and skills can be established that are linked to success. Then these characteristics can be used to select new people. This is the time to unravel the characteristics of the good performers and begin to develop profiles of top performers’ skills and competencies that you can use for selection. It is also the time to collect data and facts about how top performance is defined and measured and compare that data to the source of hire and the skills, competencies, education, and past experience of each employee. Selection can be made far more scientific and quantifiable than it is, and the best of the recruitment process outsourcing firms are doing this right now. But it is not all cold science. There is still the need to hire those who are unorthodox, from time to time, to keep the creative juices flowing and to unseat the status quo that can be damaging to new ideas and growth. What you should be striving for is not perfection, but improvement and the setting of some minimum selection criteria. 2. Educate hiring managers. Very few hiring managers know much about selection or about what it takes to assess a candidate. Even though you may have put all managers though some sort of interview training, I am sure they have forgotten most of it and have used even less. Most of us are not disciplined ourselves ó nor can we expect the typical manager to become expert with these techniques. Interviewing, even when done well, is far from accurate. Better improvements can be achieved by adding screening tools to the recruitment website to evaluate candidates against criteria that are objective and job related. Managers need to be partners in the process that determines those criteria, and they should be aware that by using criteria that are objective and consistently applied they may begin looking at a very different candidate profile than they are used to. This is an excellent time to hold some seminars and use case studies and examples from your own organization to help managers understand how important it is to select people with the right skills and the right organizational fit and attitude. 3. Investigate and experiment with new tools for screening and selection. Surveys that my firm, Global Learning Resources, has issued, as well as other surveys, underline the poor utilization firms have made of screening and assessment tools. It is startlingly obvious that very few firms are taking advantage of the many online tools that are emerging to help screen candidates before investing a large amount of time in interviews. By using the Internet and your corporate website, you can ask candidates to engage in a dialogue and mutual assessment process. While you are looking at their skills and fit, they can be looking at your organization and can make decisions on whether or not they like what they see. Many people I have spoken with have seen one side of an organization while interviewing, and another less attractive side after they are hired. There is still value in letting candidates email other employees for information about the company and work life. There is a need for job previews and better job descriptions that are based on reality, not what we wish were true. 4. Educate yourself. Take time to gain a new assessment skill, read a book or two on selection or assessment, take a seminar on the topic, or at least have some good conversations with vendors of other recruiters on what they are doing. It is as certain as the sun’s rising that we will be engaged in the battle for talent again very soon and those who have prepared themselves best will win. No one can find quality candidates if it remains an ill-defined and elusive concept dependent upon individual hiring manager’s opinions. Only carefully collected and analyzed objective data on performance and how it correlates to success, productivity and retention can accomplish this. The tools and processes are ready. They are just waiting for you to start applying them.