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Part III – This post is part of a blog series on “Challenges in Higher Ed Hiring”

Guest post by Jann Gillingham, Higher Education Industry Specialist, SkillSurvey

Employee compensation is the biggest expense for colleges and universities: an average of 60 to 70% of the institutional budget[1] – and with good reason. The performance of your faculty and staff directly impacts recruitment, retention, and graduation rates. For example, added encouragement from a faculty member or someone in student services can mean the difference between persistence or dropping out for a struggling student.

Soft skills like communication and empathy can be as important as credentials. But getting insight into a candidate’s behavioral competencies is a challenge.

The fault in our process

When it comes to selecting candidates, many institutions rely on an approach that’s distinctly lacking in academic rigor. Naturally, candidates put their best selves on display to get the job. We hope that the qualities we perceive on a resume or in an interview reflect real-life performance. But admittedly, some of our assessment and hiring tools are inherently biased or open to abuse.

The fact vs fiction resume – Does the fact that a candidate held a position mean that he or she did the job well? How much did they individually contribute to the award-winning initiatives they cite? The truth is, candidates often embellish their resumes.

On-the-fly reference letters – Some candidates prepare a glowing letter about themselves for a reference to sign. Clemson University often wondered if a reference had read the document closely before signing.

Open book personality tests – A quick search of the Internet reveals numerous tempting resources that can help candidates game their assessments. Researchers say about 30.5% of candidates research the responses that employers want to hear.

Oscar-worthy interviews – A great interviewee doesn’t necessarily make a great employee; and vice versa. Many candidates will tell you what you want to hear – determined by online research prior to the interview. A University of Massachusetts study[2] found that 81% of people lie about themselves during job interviews.

Past experience is the strongest predictor

It’s pretty clear that we need insight from someone other than the candidates. And who better than people who have worked with them in the past? That’s why we call references. And how’s that working for you? You probably have the same experience as Mott Community College which continually found that ‘old school’ reference checking yielded little more than dates and titles.

In order to get meaningful insights, the college now uses an online reference checking tool, getting feedback from an average of 4.75 references per candidate in less than two days. Sharon Ewles, staffing manager at the college, says, “We are getting honest feedback, and using it as a tool to evaluate candidates, interview better, and make more informed decisions.”

The University of Colorado found that the ease of use and confidential format of the software encourages objective, honest, and relevant responses. Lisa Landis, associate vice president and CHRO of employee services, says, “We’re getting a much more complete picture of our job candidates’ strengths and weaknesses through candid feedback from their references.”

Soft skills make a hard difference

It’s usually not a lack of job skills that gets people fired; it’s the lack of the right soft skills. Personal qualities, habits, attitudes, and social graces help make someone a good employee and compatible co-worker. According to research by Leadership IQ, 89% of new hires fail due to attitudinal reasons[3]. Yet the traditional methods we use to assess candidates barely scratch the surface when it comes to identifying professionalism, problem-solving, interpersonal, and other essential soft skills.

In order to get relevant answers, you need to ask the right questions – questions about the skills and strengths specific to the job. For example, for the position of Academic Advisor, you’d want to ask about candidates’ track records of referring students to appropriate support programs, their ability to listen carefully and understand, and their history of treating people of different backgrounds with fairness, respect, and sensitivity.

Using feedback gathered from references using SkillSurvey’s Pre-Hire 360®, Mott Community College can readily see the candidate insights that are relevant to specific positions. Then they probe any areas of concern during interviews.

Make the best decision the first time

Staff turnover is lower in higher education than in most other industries. This is great if you have the right people in place. But a poor decision has long-lasting impact. Hiring managers say they wish they’d never extended an offer to one out of every five members on their team[4]. And replacing someone is costly: studies say the cost ranges from 50 to 150% of a position’s salary. Inefficient search and hiring processes drive up costs even farther.

Clemson University finds its best-fit candidates the first time through in depth feedback and data using online reference checking software. During its first year using the software, the university saved $1 million in potential turnover-related costs.

Learn more

Whether you define quality of hire by retention, productivity, or sheer brilliance (you’re in higher education after all), determining whether a candidate has the right soft skills is challenging. Learn how to find the candidates who share your passion for higher education and helping students succeed in an on-demand webinar with me and Sharon Ewles, staffing manager at Mott Community College.

Read our other blog posts in this series: Picking Up the Pace to Reduce Time-to-Fill and Promoting Diversity and Minimizing Risk

[1] The Courier, Compensation Survey Shows High Salaries of Administrators, April 2014.[2] Harvard Business Review, Brent Weiss and Robert S. Feldman, Looking Good and Lying to Do It: Deception as an Impression Management Strategy in Job Interviews, April 2006.[3] Leadership IQ, Why New Hires Fail, June 2015.[4] Corporate Executive Board, Reported by The Atlantic, November 2013.

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