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Following on from our recent article  ‘Is cultural fit the right indicator when hiring in HR?’, I wanted to focus more specifically on constructive ways by which HR professionals may seek to enhance their existing practises when recruiting one of their own! Among the key findings of our recent research project to explore how HR leaders are evaluating the qualities of prospective experienced HR hires, it was apparent several areas can present particular challenges.

  • Assessing cultural fit
  • A deficiency in key skills

Assessing cultural fit

From our survey to HR leaders, cultural fit to the organisation/team was cited most frequently as both the most important and most challenging area to assess, over and above technical proficiency, and behavioural competence to perform the role. In a previous article I also questioned whether cultural fit was in fact the best indicator to use in a consistent, objective process, and increasingly companies are looking at shared values, beliefs, or behaviours as a driving force behind their hiring decisions.

However, on a purely practical basis, some themes from our research can offer up some simple areas of review, in the hope of helping companies improve the quality of their hires, and avoid the time and financial cost of making a bad hiring decision.

  • Bring in assessors with different perspectives, perhaps most easily achieved by increasing the participation of non-HR stakeholders
  • Ensure there are enough (but not too many!) participants in the selection process to validate opinions
  • Allow time for reflection before rushing to a decision. Often a second viewing can help identify areas to explore with more rigour with emotional connection taken out of the equation (much like buying a house!)
  • Where possible ensure assessors are well briefed on their role, with tips and easy to use reference points (such as positive and negative behavioural indicators) for less experienced interviewers
  • Establish clear indicators to assess against, ensuring they are validated, and measuring  criteria is robust
  • Increase the behavioural focus of interviews
  • Consider some informality in the process, perhaps introduce more social interactions with stakeholders as a forum more conducive to see the authentic qualities of the candidate
  • 49% of HR leaders felt shared values and beliefs were the strongest indicators to assess cultural fit, so consider focusing time on these areas in the process
  • Consider the use of psychometric assessment to introduce an objective means to get explore the candidates motivators or working strengths, with tools such as OPQ, Saville Wave, situational judgement/simulation, Big 5, 16PF, MBTI, Harrison, Coast (Criterion Partnership) & CALOMM (ICQ Consulting) among those mentioned by HR leaders & Occupational Psychologists

A deficiency in key skills

Our research asked HR leaders to highlight the four abilities they felt were most commonly lacking among HR professionals, with the most common responses below.

  • Commercial acumen (73%)
  • Courage (35%)
  • Analytical ability (34%)
  • Creative thinking (32%)
  • Influencing (30%)
  • Numeracy (29%)
  • Credibility (24%)

In addition, we asked what four abilities HR leaders look for most in HR BP’s, again commercial acumen scoring most highly (65%), followed by influence (55%), problem solving (36%), credibility (34%) and communication (29%).

Two key areas were striking in these results. Firstly the prominence of commercial acumen, although in truth this was anticipated. Second was the frequency of abilities that could perhaps best be evaluated through some form of practical assessment (such as aptitude tests, case studies, presentations, situational judgement etc.) including analytical ability, numeracy, problem solving,  communication an arguably commercial acumen. However, our research showed that less than 1 in 5 organisations undertake any form of practical assessment to measure technical proficiency at leadership level, less than 30% at specialist level, and no more than a third include psychometric assessment at any level. This does raise a question, whether an interview alone is sufficient to measure many of these more technical qualities, and therefore is too much being left to instinctive judgement or being taken as read?

Referring back to the key deficiency, commercial acumen, it is in fact something I hear most HR professionals state as an area of strength! However, perhaps there is an argument that companies should look to use wider means to assess against this criteria, and allowing for the fact commercial acumen could fall into both behavioural and technical abilities, these are the areas where more attention could be given. Situational judgement, case studies, practical exercises are all things that could be deployed with relevant ease – but in the large majority of cases are not used at all. Perhaps academic credentials are under-valued, for example a degree (49%) is the most commonly expected level of academic qualification required at leadership level compared to 12% seeking a masters or MBA, and CIPD featuring at 36%.

So rather than solutions, here are simply some ideas as food for thought if companies were to consider tweaking their existing processes to assess areas such as commercial acumen.

  • Consider including practical exercises as part of the selection process, such as situational judgement, case studies, business problems, aptitude tests
  • If using practical or aptitude tests, ensure these have been ‘normed’ against current incumbents or high performers to validate appropriate standards
  • Review the ‘bar’ in terms of academic achievement or capability
  • Ensure enough time and attention is given to properly assess areas such as commercial acumen, and if relying on behavioural interviews make sure sufficient rigour is applied to verify commercial sense
  • Include non-HR stakeholders to look at business awareness


I am not an advocate unnecessarily long, complicated, protracted recruitment processes. The key point is for each business to determine what is critical to success in the role, and use sufficient rigour to be confident of a positive appointment. Undoubtedly, face to face interviews still play the most critical role in assessments, but even these can be refined, better organised, and more effective if using additional sources of information to feed into decision making processes.

Reportedly 1 in 3 new hires leave within the first year of employment, and Harvard Business Review suggests 80% employee turnover comes from bad hiring decision, so a little more could go a long way.

One last thing, not linked to recruitment, but on the theme of skills deficiencies around commercial acumen, if it’s a perceived area of weakness within the HR community, are steps being taken to counter this, such as academic or practical training on business/financial skills, support for non HR studies, or even are opportunities to shadow or take up secondments in wider business/operational functions actively encouraged? I see a lot of CV’s, and it’s more common to see people move from other functions to HR, than vice versa.

Comments, advice, thoughts all welcome!

If you would like to receive a copy of the results of our survey, ‘research into the effective assessment of experienced HR generalist, balancing technical, behavioural and cultural fit’, please contact me on

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