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Commentary: Better job matching? Employers should note these top 5 recruitment mistakes first

Are we doing the best we can to attract, support and grow the talent, or are we as employers also being entitled and unrealistic with our expectations of having the perfect plug-and-play candidates? Crystal Lim-Lange serves up a reality check

Commentary: Better job matching? Employers should note these top 5 recruitment mistakes first

A man tired from working in the office. (Photo: Pixabay)

SINGAPORE: Job seekers are asked to be contortionists and masters of reinvention these days.  

So much has been written about what job seekers need to do to adapt themselves for the age of disruption. But what about employers?

Does our entire approach towards hiring also need to be reimagined to deal with the demands of a future where not even the best futurists can predict which skills will be needed?

The old job description standard of “5 to 10 years of relevant experience” seems jarringly outdated when entire fields such as social media or big data analysis were only born a few years ago.

Most companies these days find themselves bewildered by an array of thorny new challenges – how to attract and retain millennials. 


Singapore seems to be struggling.

Last week a senior leader in the biopharma industry sent me a one-liner email: “74 per cent of employees in Singapore plan to leave their organisation soon! What to do?”

Attached was a report by a Roffey Park Institute and Profile Search & Selection studying HR trends in four places – Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Australia.

Comparatively, Singapore came out the worst in many factors – diversity, lack of mental health support, and, of course, the dreaded employee turnover statistic, which showed Singapore having the highest percentage of employees considering moving jobs – 74 per cent, versus China at 67 per cent, Australia at 64 per cent, and Hong Kong at 63 per cent

But what is the root cause behind the high turnover?

A man in an office. (Photo: Pixabay/StockSnap)

One interesting nugget in the report was that the number one people challenge that HR professionals in Singapore said they faced was “recruiting the right staff”.

Singapore respondents viewed the ability to recruit as much more important compared to their counterparts in the region. In fact, in Australia, HR professionals did not even cite this factor as amongst the top.

It got me thinking – why is recruitment such a challenge in Singapore?

Companies routinely lament that the talent pool is too entitled, not hungry enough and lacks skills. There is no doubt some truth to some of these complaints. But on the other side of the coin, are companies investing enough thought and intentionality into hiring and developing talent?

Are we doing the best we can to attract, support and grow the talent, or are we as employers also being entitled and unrealistic with our expectations of having the perfect plug-and-play candidates?

Over the past few years, I’ve had a unique vantage point from dealing with thousands of employers and job seekers having run the career centre at a large university and talent development programmes around the world.

While everyone understands the importance of hiring well, these are the top five recruitment mistakes I see in the market today:


I often encounter job descriptions in ads the length of my arm that are complex to the extreme. Oftentimes these templates were created by some long-lost boss, with each successor just piling on more wishes, resulting in a long and improbable wishlist.

In my experience, someone qualified (most likely a HR expert), needs to screen all wishlists for sanity.

(Photo: lukasbieri on Pixabay)

Do we really need a hard cutoff of five years of relevant experience or are we narrowing the funnel too early? Some of my best hires had little relevant experience but were fast learners, self-aware and highly motivated individuals.

Another bugbear of mine is seeing “degree inflation”. Harvard Business School carried out a study that showed that two-thirds of postings for production supervisors called for bachelor degrees, while at the same time just 16 per cent of current production supervisors have one. 

READ: Commentary: The generalist-specialist job distinction is holding many back

READ: Commentary: Is a first-class degree really that important?

So much research shows that grades are a terrible predictor of workplace success, to the extent that many global organisations are scrapping college degree requirements, such as Ernst and Young, which conducted an 18-month study of employees in 2015 to find that academic success didn’t matter when it comes to how well new hires performed.


Employers routinely spend thousands of dollars on hiring each individual who fills their vacant seats, yet hardly actually bother to analyse whether their hiring methods actually worked or measure the difference between the success of their various approaches whether it is which interview questions are most correlated to success or which recruitment channels are most effective.

A better and more adaptive performance review process is needed to keep employees accountable, drive their performance and maintain the sanity of traditional managers. (Photo: Unsplash/rawpixel)

Many employers argue it’s impossible to measure job performance well, but even one or two follow-up questions can be useful. Prof Peter Cappeli from Wharton suggests two simple questions: Do you regret hiring this individual? Would you hire her or him again?

I once invited an expert on hiring, to conduct a masterclass for my team. I can honestly say it was one of the most eye-opening, humbling experiences to learn just how biased humans are at recruiting, and how important training is.

One key takeaway was the importance of structuring interview questions so that every candidate can be assessed on the same basis. It may sound boring, but interview panels who ask exactly the same questions in the same order allow organisations to aggregate answers and collect data properly on what works.

Unstructured interviews are the worst predictors of workplace success, mainly because we unconsciously tend to look for someone like ourselves in interview, and favour certain communication styles.

READ:  Commentary: How can I beat the curse of endless office emails?

I’ve also encountered “school bias” in Singapore where hiring managers form snap judgements about candidates from certain schools based on stereotypes, which are downright unfair. Yet many managers have so little training in this very key area of leadership.


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day” is one of the most overused corporate clichés. Culture is important, especially in the context of creating an inclusive environment and aligning mindsets.

But when people hire people who look and think just like the rest of the team, it reduces innovation and reduces psychological safety – because they feel that they can’t put forth a differing opinion without it being held against them.

Office professionals at work. (File photo: Unsplash/Mimi Thian)

One of the hidden culprits of groupthink is the well-loved employee referral programme. Research by sociologists Robert Fernandez, Emilio Castilla and Paul Moore found that people hired as referrals were actually not any better than other candidates. 

The reason they performed better was because the referrers (their friends) were looking out for them in their early days and giving them useful information, essentially doing an excellent job with onboarding.

The study showed that if a referrer left before the new hire began their job, the new hire’s performance was no better than a non-referral. This is why some companies pay deferred referral bonuses and only if the hire is still there after six months or so.


Employers need to understand that the majority of Gen X and Ys typically leave jobs due to a lack of perceived growth and development; it’s not just about financial rewards or recognition.

This speaks to the important need for companies to invest in learning and training, develop a strong talent management programme, be disciplined about succession planning and measure engagement as an early warning indicator.

READ: Commentary: What 2019’s graduating jobseekers need to know – four recession-proof strategies

The top bread-and-butter leadership challenges aren’t about technical problems, they deal with handling pressure, motivating others, aligning stakeholder interests, managing politics and driving innovation.

All of these leadership skills of the future rely on deeply human social emotional competencies such as empathy, resilience and self-awareness.

Woman speaking to a colleague in the office. (Photo: Unsplash/Mimi Thian)

Yet these are hardly taught in formal education, which leads to many poor managers who have gotten where they are due to competent individual performance, but lack the ability to manage complex team and interpersonal dynamics, which is essential in today’s hypercompetitive and global environment.


I’ve written before about the value of having a diverse array of experiences, and how the future requires us to have broad skills and an open mindset.

So it is key that employers do not reject candidates even before the interview stage for having many different jobs (which may be due to a variety of good reasons, including having children).

READ: Commentary: What you need to know about Career Mobility

READ: Commentary: Watch for casual ageism and other signs of caustic attitudes about older workers

Another valuable source of talent is our pioneer generation. Local businesswoman Janice Lim who set up PioneerCan, an social enterprise for people in their 70s and above, says that older members of the workforce have many advantages especially in the service sector, including higher emotional intelligence, a calmer disposition and more loyalty.

Not to mention that they are less likely to be glued to their mobile phones texting at work.

Crystal Lim-Lange is CEO, Forest Wolf and co-author of Deep Human.

Source: CNA/sl


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