Recruitment | 7 Min Read

Defining and Assessing Candidate X-Factor

Ettie Holland By Ettie Holland on 17.11.2017
Group of colleagues in conversation

11 Qualities of the best candidates, and 3 smart ways to assess them

Or, how to find and hire candidates with the X-Factor.

Passion? Technical ability? Work ethic? Commitment? Ambition? The complex blend of traits, abilities and behaviours that make up Candidate X-Factor are difficult to define. And while it’s different for every role and every organisation, we still know when we’ve met The One.

Finding some way to quantify that elusive special something is the key challenge for hiring professionals. That’s the key to better hiring, increased productivity and improved employee retention. And they’re the key to business growth.

Let’s first consider some of the most common traits we look for. Then we’ll talk about the three smart methods you should use to more effectively assess them.

Have they got the candidate X-Factor? 11-trait hiring checklist

Before we start, there’s an obvious proviso. We can’t define cultural fit, because cultural fit isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. Someone with a ruthless, money-motivated streak might be perfect for a telesales role but not suited to social care.

That shouldn’t shut the conversation down though. You might disagree with the relative importance of each of the 11 traits below, but you’re unlikely to disagree with the principles.

If there could be a checklist for candidate X-factor, it might look something like this.

  • Passion. Whatever the role, a passionate candidate is a must. Lack of passion might indicate uncertainty about your role or company, or a too-cool-for-school attitude, or general ambivalence. Which means they might drop-out when they get a better idea what they want, or they’ll be difficult to manage, or they’ll rarely go the extra mile. Not ideal.
  • Ambition. Ambition, drive, motivation – call it what you want; it’s vital. Ambition is widely recognised as the determining factor behind success. You can fill skills gaps and provide resources, but you can’t make someone want to excel.
  • Resilience. Ambition creates resilience against pitfalls and failure. Every employee will face difficult days. Not every employee will have the grit to carry on anyway, and turn those difficult days into success. Hiring professionals are looking for candidates who will.
  • Work ethic. CareerBuilder and Harris Poll conducted a survey of 2000 hiring managers asking which qualities define a good employee. Work ethic came out jointly on-top (with dependability, which we’ll look at next), with 73% citing it a vital trait. Common sense concurs. Employees with a strong work ethic will go the extra mile to help the business realise its goals.
  • Dependability. A fantastic hire doesn’t have to be earth-shatteringly impressive; they do need to be someone you can trust to do what they say they’ll do. Someone you know will get the job done, so you can focus elsewhere. Dependable employees are the oil that keeps the machine working.
  • Hunger to learn. When you hire, you’re not just hiring for that candidate today. You’re hiring for who you believe that candidate will become. And unless they’re hungry to learn, their growth trajectory is severely limited.
  • Ability to accept criticism. The alternative is a candidate who can never be wrong, and who won’t learn lessons from mistakes. Every hiring manager wants someone who accepts – or even invites – constructive criticism, so they can grow.
  • Humility. That CareerBuilder survey found 60% of hiring managers value team-oriented candidates who’ll collaborate well. Part of that is humility, because the opposite is a quick-to-take-credit, slow-to-take-blame attitude that’s a killer for team morale.
  • Exceptional communication skills. 56% of surveyed hiring managers value strong communication skills, CareerBuilder say. Effective communication isn’t only relevant to the obvious roles. Everyone from your back-office admin assistant to the Director of Sales needs to communicate messages clearly for the business to run smoothly.
  • Positive attitude. Arguably the softest of all soft skills, but hiring managers know how important positivity is to overall team morale and productivity. One naysayer can cause dissent amongst the ranks, while one really positive, proactive employee can bolster morale and boost performance.
  • Adaptability. Vital. Agility is an increasingly large predictor of organisational success, and adaptable employees are the lynchpin. The alternative is a ‘but this is what we’ve always done’ mentality that cripples change and hampers growth.

Looking at this list, one thing is crystal clear: candidate X-factor is multi-faceted and complex. That’s not news. But why, then, do our hiring methods so often fail to reflect that complexity?

Many organisations still rely on traditional hiring methods, but traditional hiring methods simply aren’t getting results.

It’s still taking far too long to fill roles (an average of 52 days in 2015, according to the Bersin by Deloitte Talent Acquisition Factbook). Huge numbers of candidates are still dropping out because of poor process (60% of all job applicants, according to CareerBuilder).

And we’re still losing huge percentages of employees less than a year into their tenure (almost 25%, according to the 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey). Many more employees never reach target productivity.

Traditional hiring methods just don’t do justice to the complexity of the candidates we’re looking for. And technology now means we can do better – much better.

That’s why you need to add these three smart alternatives into your hiring mix.

3 Smart recruitment methods to understand candidates better

1 - Intelligent CV search and screening

You probably use some form of automation here already, through your ATS. ATS has been a useful semi-solution to the volume problem for years, but it’s far from perfect.

HRTechCon report that the biggest problem for more than half of recruiters is still screening the right candidates from a large talent pool, so ATS isn’t having a transformative impact. And ATS generally relies on keyword search, which often leads to the wrong candidates being screened in or, worse, out.

Plus ATS can’t “learn” which candidates become quality hires and adapt accordingly, which makes it a pretty limited tool.

Luckily, it’s no longer our only tool. CV search and screening is a major use case for artificial intelligence in recruitment, with forward-thinking organisations already harnessing the technology to transform hiring.

AI software can now integrate with your existing ATS to automate the CV search and screening process. The crucial difference is the ability to learn. AI learns from your existing candidate data what a high-quality, top-performing candidate looks like and can apply that when searching CVs. It’s much more complex than simple keyword matching, using Natural Language Processing to understand intention, semantic difference and context.

With AI CV search, recruiters get an intelligent list of suitable candidates who’re genuinely likely to excel in the business, ranked in priority order for each role. That’s the starting point, as opposed calling endless dead-end candidates from a job board.

2 - Psychometric testing

Psychometric tests allow you to assess candidates in a more three-dimensional way than face-to-face interviewing alone. These tests generally consist of a series of questions testing numerical, verbal and logical reasoning, as well as situational judgement tests.

Psychometric testing is not a new idea, but the global hiring community have yet to fully embrace it. The problem has been a lack of confidence in the technology, plus often these tests have been long, generic and unwieldy.

Those things are changing. In fact, the Global Assessment Barometer study found that 81% of organisations who used psychometric testing expect to make more reliable and less risky decisions as a result in 2016, compared to 67% in 2012. 57% believe psychometric testing can accurately predict future job performance.

Psychometric testing today isn’t the psychometric testing of ten, even five, years ago. Now smart businesses harness psychometrics as part of the remote hiring process, delivering shorter, branded, fully-customisable tests for immediate and automated scoring.

Used like this, psychometric testing is a fast and unbiased way to understand candidate intelligence, personality and ability. Candidates get a better, faster candidate experience and you get an objective score for candidates based around the qualities you most want to hire.

Your final face-to-face interview shortlist is stronger and shorter, so you’re more likely to get the best candidate for the role, in less time.

3 - Video interviewing

Over 30% of employers now regularly use video interviews during the hiring process – but that’s still 70% who don’t. And you should, because video interviewing can streamline the hiring process dramatically.

Scheduling interviews can be a logistical nightmare. Video interview eliminates that problem entirely, so hiring decision-makers can review anytime, anywhere. And allowing candidates to answer questions remotely improves the candidate experience. It’s much faster, from both sides.

The speed and ease of video interviewing makes it a feasible tool for early-stage review – as an add-on to CV screening, not a replacement for face-to-face interviewing. Which means you get a more complex understanding of candidates and you’re less likely to miss good people.

And, because all candidates get the same questions, you make the interview process more objective. Small changes in phrasing might not seem important, but they all threaten the validity of your hiring decisions.

And there’s never been a better time to embrace video interviewing, as AI starts to transform the area and solve one of recruitment’s biggest issues: unconscious bias.

Right now, different candidates might face a totally different interview and judgement process. Interviewers might be hungry, stressed and distracted one day but relaxed, excited and positive the next. Interviewees might seem assertive or arrogant depending on their name, gender, skin colour, education, age or any number of factors. We don’t realise we’re making those unconscious judgements – but we’re making them all the same.

AI plus video interviewing proves a potent combination, allowing intelligent and objective analysis of interviews using technologies like facial recognition, word choice assessment and intonation analysis. Plus machine learning, so it’ll learn which candidates become the best employees and adapt accordingly.

As with intelligent CV screening, hiring managers get a shortlist of the best candidates for their own consideration. It’s not replacing hiring managers; it’s augmenting them by giving objective, unbiased insight to inform better decision-making.

Better hiring decisions demands better hiring methods

If the candidates we’re looking for are complex and multi-faceted, we need complex and multi-faceted hiring methods to find them. Technological advance is making that easier and easier, especially as developments like artificial intelligence start to enter the mainstream.

If you want to open to door to more candidates with the X-factor – and who doesn’t? – AI looks very much like the key.

To find out more about artificial intelligence in recruitment, download our whitepaper. Inside we consider the major ways AI is transforming recruitment, the problems AI might solve, and the ethical questions AI raises.

Tazio helps businesses find the best-fit candidates who’ll drive business growth. We create tailor-made aptitude tests, realistic job previews, situational judgement tests and video interviews.

Tazio is developing AI video analysis, already analysing 900 data points per second. Get in touch to find out more.

Ettie Holland Written by Ettie Holland

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