Does Anybody Care About What You Want-to-Do?

Mostly they care about what you can do. Then, they might want to know if you've ever done it.  We're not even sure that they pursue the question of whether you've done it well if you claimed to have done it.

Why does it matter?

Some people want to do things they can't do.

Some people can do things they don't want to do.

Some people can't do things and don't care to do them if they could.

And, some people can do things they want to do.

When hiring and retaining talent, our goal is the latter group:

We'll affirm at the outset that competency or ability is a necessary condition for performing successfully. The saying "You can't do what  you can't do" applies.

What's the Point?

Competency alone is usually not enough. Competency is not a sufficient condition to guarantee performance.

While organizations set out to hire the best people, their actions in recruiting and hiring don't always result in achieving their goals.

To the extent that organizations short-cut the hiring process, leave out critical components, or use out-of-date or invalid tools, they increase the probability that they will end up with suboptimum performers in the role they are filling or end up losing a person who is mismatched with a position after making a significant investment.

Challenges With the Tools We Use in Hiring

While any of the following has the potential to provide valid, useful information for the hiring process, we'll point out some potential downsides of a few.


The resume is the most common tool prepared by job seekers and reviewed by potential employers (or search firms). Online social media may have become the first source, but ultimately the resume becomes the devil-with-the-details.

For well over a decade, the internet has provided tips and examples of how to prepare resumes. In addition, there is a large pool of consultants, recently joined by AI, who/which will prepare resumes for an individual or, at the very least, advise one on how to format and word the resume for maximum impact.

While the potential employer is provided with a database in a resume, there is no longer an indication of the applicant's ability to write clearly, to make something presentable (formatting), or to provide an indication of preferences for elements like big picture vs. attention to detail. Most important, the resume doesn't usually tell you (a) how well a job was done or (b) why they're not doing it anymore.


When was the last time you listed a reference who was likely to talk about why it would not be a good idea to hire you?

The pool of references listed in a resume or provided in an application is likely to consist of people who will say good things about the candidate.

Further, even references who are inclined by values to be transparent are cautious in today's litigious environment.  So while many references are likely to present the upside of the candidate's contributions as an employee or colleague, they may avoid or step carefully around the candidate's potential liabilities.

That choice is understandable, but again, does not help hiring managers who are trying to get an accurate picture of a potential candidate in whom they are going to invest thousands of dollars as well as potentially their organization's reputation.


The most frequent tool in screening is the job interview. Even that has lost some of its power in the pandemic since many interviews are now indeed virtual (pun intended).

Interviews, like the other tools, can be valid and useful, but not just because you do them. For example, it is important to standardize the questions, so that when you conduct multiple interviews, you have some consistency in the data gathered. (Otherwise, you may get ratings based on how much they liked or connected with the individual.) Second, the kinds of questions you ask make a difference. If you Google the topic of interview questions, you will pages of recommendations of questions to ask. You get no data on the validity of those questions in finding the best candidate.

During the pandemic, we often had reduced choices about in-person versus virtual interviews. The virtual interview caused us to lose crucial information. For example, a colleague/friend is an expert in micro-expressions. Micro-expressions are an incredibly powerful tool for determining what's going on inside the person that may be different than what's being said (the outside). I, for example, liked to watch not only general expressions, but also what the candidate did with their hands or whether their leg jiggled or bounced in response to certain hard or unexpected questions in an interview.

Finally, I'm reminded of a discussion with a professional group about hiring when one of the senior members of the group said, "My biggest limitation in the hiring process is that I keep looking for people like me and that's not necessarily what we need." That statement represents an example that all of us may manifest to some extent. We tend to evaluate people we like positively (Halo Effect?). That can lead us to recommend or hire people for reasons that are unrelated to what is required for success in a role. Or, the opposite is that we can evaluate someone's potential negatively because there was something about them we didn't like (Horn Effect).

What About Abilities?

Interestingly, organizations to not seem to be consistent in whether they assess abilities. This is the can-do aspect of performance. (We'll get to the want-to later.)

Having "done it" does not equate to "having done it well". We had an experience in the last few years when a relative was not chosen for a position. Instead, the organization hired an individual who had experience in this context on his resume. That person turned out to be a very poor performer and after a year was removed from the position. The relative is now in the position, who had several demonstrated experiences and the qualifications for the job (but had never worked in this particular context) was subsequently hired and appears to be doing well.

We may now come to the double-bind challenge of hiring. What if the person hired in the previous paragraph was asked to leave his prior position? And, when the previous employer was called, if they had said that, would he have been hired by this company? Probably not. So, the hiring company either didn't contact the previous employer or they did, got the true story, and hired they guy anyway. Or, they didn't get the true story (see "References" above) and decided to do the hire assuming that what they were told was accurate.

Organizations that use something akin to the "In-Box" exercise or other simulations to test abilities will have information that is helpful in making a decision. Or, an assessment like the Highlands Ability Battery can be useful in assessing certain abilities.

We repeat: Having done it does not imply that it was done well.

The Question of Values

Values are not abilities, emotions, or motivation, but they may impact each of those characteristics of individuals.

How often are they assessed either in interviews or with instruments in the hiring process? Almost never.

Yet, values can be extremely powerful in driving behavior because they represent one of the criteria (norms or guiding principles) an individual uses in evaluating choices and making decisions.

Is ethical behavior important to your organization? What about how policy (diversity-equity-inclusion) is executed?

Ignoring the importance of values in the screening and hiring process means that your organization could be missing another piece of the extremely complex human puzzle.

Emotions and Emotional Intelligence

The academic debate continues about the importance of emotions and emotional intelligence in evaluating performance. The continuing debate provides professors plenty of grist for the publication mill. It does not, however, provide the solid ground we need to make definitive judgments.

At the same time, anyone who claims emotions are not important has either not been paying attention or has been looking at life through different lenses that some of the rest of us. In the past, we have cited examples of professional athletes and coaches who behaved inappropriately for their role and eventually impacted performance.

Most recently, we witnessed Will Smith administering a slap to Chris Rock at the Academy Award ceremony. That was probably as good an example as we could cite of how The Performance Model plays out. There was a stimulus, Smith processed the context, his value set came into play, both of which impacted his emotional state, and he executed his ability to climb steps, walk across the stage, and administer a slap. (Will has apparently spent considerable time and energy trying to deal with the consequences of his behavior.)

What About Motivation?

We now come to the last aspect of the elements in the hiring process. It is related to what the individual is motivated to do.

This turns out to be a powerful variable in predicting performance especially when you know the motivational patterns that are typical of high performers in a role.

Further, context is important. For example, suppose you have a neighbor you've known for a few year and really like the person. You know the individual is smart and seems to be successful in their current role. There's an opening in your organization and you think this individual would be a good fit and recommend that they apply.

Context is important. The context of neighbor/social setting is not the same as work. It is possible that this individual could be motivated quite differently in the context of work. In fact, over the years, we've had specific examples of that very fact. We often refer to the individual as a "Jekyll-Hyde"; that is, two very different people in two different contexts. In all of these cases, the individual's colleagues agreed with the assessment.

Given the power of this variable and the importance of context, we recommend that an organization include the assessment of motivation and attitude in the recruiting and screening processes.

In fact, it has been shown that if you know that certain motivational patterns are important and if you language your recruiting ads consistent with those patterns, you are more likely to get an applicant pool that is consistent with the kind of individual you are seeking.

Further, if you do not have a tool like the Inventory for Work Attitude and Motivation (iWAM) available, there are interview questions in the Language and Behavior Profile which will provide some of the same kinds of information. Both tools, by the way, require training and certification for use.

Finally, the iWAM contains a set of eight (8) "Job Interest Filters" scales which provide an indication of what the individual likes to have or work with in a job. Knowledge of these factors is helpful in determining the extent to which a position's requirements align with an individual's desires and, to the extent they do, can be used in helping "sell" the position to the individual.

How important is that in this employment market?

Where From Here?

If you have questions about or comments on the above, send me a note to