Best Recruiting Practices for Corporations (and 5 Mistakes to Avoid)

people working at a desk

Share This Post

Introduction: Hiring for Corporations

Large companies typically have thousands of employees, very often spread across several countries and continents, and are coordinated by complex HR departments often divided into central and other local functions and accompanied by internal recruiting departments divided by areas of expertise. 

Large companies need talent and suffer from competition in the HR market from startups and scale-ups that try to identify the best candidates to take them away from these large companies with the advantage of being more agile and faster in the recruiting process and being able to offer more exciting challenges for candidates who are more attracted to challenges. 

The risk for large companies is to create long and complex recruiting processes that discourage some candidates or to be seen as ‘closed clubs’ that admit only certain elites. Corporations can lose some of the best candidates along the way because they are so convinced in the absolute value of their recruitment processes that they never question it over time.

I have worked for some large corporations in my career, including the largest and most respected (almost revered) company in the world, and I can say with confidence that there is ample room for improvement at various levels in human resource selection processes. 

The old mantra of staffing only A list candidates who will hire other A lists is no longer true, in reality this practice soon turns into the creation of ‘closed circles’ where the skills and value of individual candidates are not always the most important element in the selection and where various biases interfere with the final choices. 

Let’s examine together these problems that plague corporate recruitment processes and some of the characteristics that one must look for in ideal candidates for this work environment.

5 Common Mistakes

Large companies have very structured recruitment processes, sometimes too much so… 

Usually each business area/department and/or country may have its own dedicated HR team that also includes internal recruiters (often divided by area of expertise) who work with hiring managers (team leaders) on the different open positions. 

The process usually includes job posting on the corporation’s website (very often preceded by an internal posting to open the position to current employees and referrals before making it public), CV screening by the internal recruiter followed by an initial brief interview and in some cases a test of various kinds to check technical skills and/or aptitude characteristics of the candidates. 

Candidates who pass these first steps usually move on to an initial interview with the hiring manager, who very often will be the person to whom the chosen candidate will report directly, which is followed by a series of other interviews (with other team members, with peers from other teams). Some companies ask for a final step with an assignment and a final presentation to the finalist candidates (usually two or three). This is followed by a reference check and possible job offer. In short, a process that can vary from case to case, but is generally quite long and complex and can take up to 2-3 months.

In my personal experience I have gone as far as 16 interviews/rounds of selection for a position in a large corporation (including 2 with a headhunter at the beginning of the process) and on average each time I have participated in selections I have had to go through 8/9 different steps. In some cases, but quite rarely, large companies also use external recruiters to select candidates/profiles in line with positions they are having difficulty filling with external sourcing (very technical or in countries where they do not have a large internal referral network). 

I have seen from the inside (as a hiring manager) and from the outside (as a candidate) the different problems that the recruitment process of large companies presents and the main ones are:

  • Selection processes that are too long and based only on past experience/backgrounds
  • Relying solely on internal referrals and becoming closed circles
  • Considering your process infallible and best regardless
  • Disregard hiring managers/team members’ personal agendas and company politics
  • Making decisions based on recommendations and bias

Let’s analyze each of these problems in detail



Why Ask 5 times for the same thing?

As anticipated, one of the biggest problems for large companies is having overly long selection processes that sometimes force the candidate to answer the same or very similar question several times (on one occasion I answered the same question 5 times). The best candidates want to have a quick and interesting process that can enhance their experience even if they are not selected, on the contrary very often they end up in processes that are months long, boring and not challenging where they find themselves repeating their past work path for many times. 

Another problem related to these long processes are the questions that very often are only related to the past, to giving examples of past experiences and situations. Remember that an active candidate is projecting into the future and has a greater interest in understanding what his or her professional future may look like within your company. What I mean to say is that focusing only on past experiences in interviews is not the best choice: first because the context in which these experiences took place is certainly different from yours (and so it is not an absolute metric for predicting how candidates will perform in your company) second because it instills in the perception of the best candidates that your company looks only at the past and gives little consideration to the future and the candidates’ willingness to grow, their potential. 

At ExpHire we have decided to include in the interviews that our Technical Experts (managers in the same field as the figure you are looking for, but with more seniority) some questions that are aimed at exploring the candidates’ potential by leveraging practical, real-world cases that they will have to face if they are chosen for the role being selected.

A well-known company in the world of e-commerce for which I have interviewed several times over the years (very often because one of their recruiters contacted me) bases hours and hours of their interviews (almost the entirety) on asking questions based on examples of past experience, honestly as a candidate I often felt bored during these interviews and felt that one role within the company is as good as another because the list of questions does not change, my specific expertise and potential in a particular area were never evaluated, in other words I felt that the role to be filled in the future was a negligible detail and this took away my desire to go work for this big company (despite the fact that the economic prospects they offer are among the best… ). 


Referrals that Become Closed Circles

Large companies have included among their steps of recruitment processes the internal referral, that is, the possibility for current workers to apply on behalf of third parties like their acquaintances and friends, some incentivize this practice a lot by awarding bonuses in case of final success of candidates, that is, the hiring of candidates with referrals. 

In theory this is a good practice, and in the beginning it was, in practice this can become the cancer that over time kills large companies that are overtaken by new challengers who know how to attract top talent. Let me explain: referrals over the years have become the main form of sourcing considered by internal recruiters at large companies. When a position opens up in one of these companies, hundreds sometimes thousands of resumes arrive on the desk (or better said on the monitor) of internal recruiters, in the past these external and internal applications were equally considered by the recruiters who provided hiring managers with the best candidates to start the recruitment process. 

Over time internal recruiters began to see that the hours of work spent evaluating hundreds of resumes received from outside candidates were thrown away as in the end the offer was almost always extended to candidates with an internal referral. This led internal recruiters, or many of them, to almost exclusively consider only candidates with referrals.

The mantra behind this practice was: my employees are A list and will only make referrals to other A list candidates, so I have the best talent today and will continue to have it tomorrow. Unfortunately, this theory holds water: sometimes your employees are not ‘A list’ (mistakes are made in hiring and in large companies mistakes can go unnoticed for years) or sometimes they are not (they were 7 years ago when you hired them, but now they are sitting on their laurels and thinking more about how to get into the country club thanks to the referral to the son of the president of the same…), it is by no means certain that the reasons for a referral are professional (sometimes the referral is made just for purely personal reasons or to receive the bonus attached to it). 

I would go so far as to say that if in your corporation referral hiring exceeds 10% of the total of the offers extended to candidates, it means that you have (and will have) a big problem, and you are probably not just hiring A list candidates for a long time…

I have had this experience myself, in one large and prestigious company at one point they were hiring in the London office almost exclusively people who were connected to a certain high-ranking and exclusive club, in another company they were hiring almost exclusively people who had attended a specific university. Mind you, many of these people were qualified and prepared, but were they really the best? Were some qualified candidates lost simply because they did not belong to a certain circle or elite? 

At ExpHire, we use the help of Technical and Behavioral Experts to evaluate candidates; our Experts are third-party and disinterested, putting all candidates on the same footing and ensuring that the selection process is fair and impartial.


Believe Too Much in Your Selection Process

Some large companies have an absolute belief in their recruitment process. You must always remember that the selection process is a means, not the end. The ultimate goal is to find the best possible candidates for the positions your company is seeking. The sometimes lengthy and overly articulated processes also become forms of empty and tired rituals in which things are done only because they are expected by the process.

Everything evolves and recruitment processes should do so as well; relying on a process designed 5 or 7 years ago is definitely wrong if in the meantime there have not been moments to evaluate the effectiveness of the process itself and revise it if necessary. 

Very often it becomes apparent to candidates and hiring managers that the process is diminishing the opportunities for a proper match between companies and candidates. This happens when a candidate perceives discomfort with the type of questions he or she receives, or worse, boredom, and when the hiring manager becomes extremely mechanical in his or her approach to interviews.

It has happened to me many times to interview with hiring managers who were obviously  skeptical about the selection process and the type of questions they had to choose from, usually I have felt this distrust in a very tired and mechanical execution of the interview, almost resigned to having to execute a script that no one believes in anymore and which is certainly not interesting to candidates who wonder whether or not they should continue in the selection process.

Large companies have the problem of being slow in their decision-making processes, so there needs to be a systematic annual review of the selection process in which every part of it is questioned and in which all the actors involved need to be asked, including the candidates. 

I have sometimes received post-interview questionnaires with large companies asking me to evaluate the process, these are very questionable if sent before the process is concluded (people will be afraid to express their real opinion for fear of somehow being excluded from the process itself), those who have received a job offer will have a positive bias toward the process and those who have been rejected will have a certain amount of resentment that could negatively influence their judgment. I recommend doing qualitative surveys of candidates at the end of selection processes, perhaps a few weeks after, to obtain more useful and truthful information. Internal surveys, on the other hand, should ensure anonymity and the ability to include qualitative comments. 

Everyone Has an Agenda

Every person working in a large corporation knows that power and power management are important elements in this context that lead to a certain amount of internal politics to be owed and know how to manage. In every corporation there is a share of time and energy that must be devoted, especially by managerial and senior figures to the management of internal politics, it is a fact that exists and must be taken note of (then there are the pathological cases in which politics absorbs up to 70 percent of managers’ time, but that’s another problem…). 

Internal politics leads to managerial territorialism, that is, the phenomenon of self-defense and self-preservation typical of different teams and managers from different areas within the same company. 

Personal reasons come into play in many contexts that drive certain business and strategy decisions, including those related to staff recruitment. Managers out of a spirit of self-defense (in the best cases) by application of personal agendas (in the worst ones), make decisions that are not necessarily geared to the ultimate good of the company.

I have witnessed myself singular situations in which a manager from another team was tasked to interview a finalist candidate for a position in which I was hiring manager.  This manager, my colleague, assigns a negative evaluation to the candidate, in fact terminating this candidate’s process according to the rules established in that company’s process. A few months later I see ‘my candidate’ walking in the office and part of my colleague’s team, she tells me that she was contacted two months later for a position on my fellow manager’s team, by him of all people. In short, I have no proof, but my colleague simply decided to steal an excellent candidate from my team by disqualifying her for reasons of self-interest.

Even less edifying examples relate to those managers who are afraid of overqualified candidates, and therefore eliminate them from selection processes for fear of including a possible future threat in their team (the subordinate who takes the manager’s place). These are petty attitudes, but far more frequent than one imagines, especially in large companies.

I happened to have a series of interviews in a large company for a senior management role, the last interview was with the country manager to whom I was supposed to report. The interview goes great and I am pretty much sure I have a great chance of getting the job, but the country manager walks me to the elevator and is keen to tell me that I have an outstanding profile, that the interview went well, but that I am too senior for what she is looking for and what she needs at the moment, a few days later I get a call from the internal recruiter telling me very embarrassed that the country manager has decided to start the selection process again with a more junior figure and then, off the record, saying that the real problem was my professional experience and he added that she was still in her probationary period, better not to introduce qualified potential alternatives…

In short, trusting your hiring managers is good, but blindly trusting them and their good intentions is wrong and risky; at ExpHire we try to solve this very problem by adding an external, qualified, impartial, and disinterested level of selection that can deliver an additional independent and credible voice to the selection process of large companies.


Recommendations and Biases

The last major problem corporations face in hiring is represented by two opposite but somewhat related extremes: recommendations and bias.

These two elements can make the selection process highly unfair and unbalanced. We have talked about internal referrals, but there is a much heavier form of referral that has become entrenched especially in certain cultures and business contexts, recommendation. 

There are selection processes that are fictitious, because the selector knows from the outset who will be assigned the job, as a recommended individual. This malpractice occurs in some areas overtly, but in others covertly. 

I have seen selection processes organized with the help of emblazoned and very expensive external headhunters who had from the beginning a written story, hire a recommended person. Large companies need to be very careful because these cases are more frequent than imagined and also occur in cases where people of great corporate power are able to exert enough implicit pressure to decide the fate of selection processes. HR figures (especially internal recruiters) often have weak internal political clout compared to these senior managers and therefore do not oppose or pretend not to see certain distortions in selection processes. 

I speak from my own experience, I went through twelve total steps/interviews to get hired in a large very well known company, once hired I find myself reporting to a very inexperienced person who makes clear management mistakes and has wrong, unfair and unprofessional attitudes. I wonder, with my team colleagues, how it was possible that in such a complex recruiting process such traits and shortcomings of our manager did not come to light. 

Over a year passes and one evening at a company dinner and after a few too many glasses of wine, the aforementioned manager confesses the story of his own recruiting process, which is very different from ours. This person graduates at college and his father asks to make a list with the 5 companies he would like to work in. The manager delivers the list and after a few days is contacted to have an interview in the company first on the list, the interview takes place in a café in front of the offices, lasts less than an hour and a few days later the manager receives a job offer. It is clear that no predetermined company-wide recruitment process was followed in this case, but other reasons (aka recommendations) intervened, with disastrous outcomes (many people resigned over time or asked to be moved off teams so as not to work with this manager, and there were several official proceedings investigating this manager’s behavior that obviously never led to the dismissal of the person in question because the recommendation continued to exist…), eventually this person was promoted to a different role, but one in which he did not have personnel responsibilities; in short, he was put in a position where he couldn’t do too much damage. 

Bias is another element to be taken into account in order to keep selection processes objective: very often even inadvertently, recruiters and hiring managers apply a personal filter to selections, that is, a bias based on elements that circumvent the professional assessment of different candidates. 

These so-called biases involve several areas: gender, cultural bias, skin color, personal and family background of candidates, possible discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs and sexual preference, but also others that are more subtle and less common (I have seen people have bias for the accent of candidates, or their clothing or hair color).

I was a victim of bias early in my career almost twenty years ago, a large company summoned me to Sweden for a 3-day selection including test and activities to select 10 talents to start on an accelerated management growth path. On the third day we are called individually to discuss the results of the selections, the person in charge of this selection tells me that I was among the 20 candidates the one with the best results, but that they decided not to select me in the shortlist of the 10 chosen because my approach to the tests revealed my ‘not international’ background (i.e. of a person with little exposure to an international context, with little savoir faire denoting my humble origins). I explained that indeed my humble origins did not allow me to travel and experience the world or participate in expensive courses abroad, and the committee merely told me that they were sorry for that. Today, probably no one would go out of their way to explicate and verbalize such a bias, the world is too attentive and sensitive to certain issues, and if I had posted such a reason on social media the company would have been the subject of a so-called ‘sh*t storm’, but that does not mean that this kind of bias and more serious ones do not happen on a daily basis either intentionally or inadvertently.

Two recruiters interview a candidate

Traits of a Perfect Candidate for Corporations

We have reviewed the most frequent errors and issues that occur in recruitment processes for large companies. Now we want to deal with another, more purposeful aspect, the identification of the distinctive and main traits of candidates who are well suited to the context of large companies. 

Let us begin by saying that there are people who are suitable for large companies and people who are not or who are suitable for a limited period of time (3 or 4 years), and that knowing how to identify suitable people is of primary importance for large companies. 

One of the main elements to evaluate in candidates is the specialized approach of the candidates, let me explain: large companies have many departments and many areas of vertical specialization, the roles to be filled need to be extremely focused to avoid unnecessary duplication and internal competition between different teams (although there are large companies that make this a banner and distinctive element); those who are called to fill a role in a corporation need to be very focused on their tasks and be among the absolute best at solving a specific problem or finding specific solutions. 

Knowing how to identify candidates who like to tackle specific problems and have the passion to do so is very important. There are ‘vertical profiles’ and ‘horizontal profiles’, the former by aptitude find professional satisfaction and fulfillment in having a specialized and focused approach to specific projects, the latter love and want to have an overview and tend to get bored and lose interest if called upon to work on one issue very long. 

Let us assess from this concept the salient traits to look for in ideal candidates for large companies:

  • people who are not easily bored
  • people who assign value to stability
  • favor those who love the brand, but not super-fans
  • avoid yes men
  • evaluate people based on real qualities, not the amount of money spent on MBA 

Let’s go through all these traits.

Repeat Until You (don’t) Get Bored

Corporations work on very large projects so very often individual employees lose the big picture and can find themselves feeling like a cog within a large machine, there are contexts in which this factor is mitigated by corporate sharing of information and collaboration between different teams, but also contexts in which for reasons of secrecy it is forbidden for employees in one area of a company that is working on a new product to talk about it with colleagues not involved. Some companies allow information to be passed on a so-called ‘need to know basis,’ you are informed only if you really need to know and be exposed to a piece of information. This lack of project overview can be frustrating for some people who feel over time detached from the company’s strategy and loose their passion for what they do. 

Typical work in large companies is very repetitive, you are called upon to fill a role and do it to the best of your ability for a few years, until you are eventually promoted to another role with a different and new specific purpose, but still with the same repetitive approach. Rightly so, great companies have become such because they pursue excellence and achieve it through the use of very specialized and focused human resources. It must be recognized that the combination of adjacent excellences is the basis of the success of large companies, and it is also worth remembering that if work were not managed in this way it would be total chaos, in other words in a complex machine there are not 2 gears doing the same thing, it is not efficient, and if such a situation arises the machine could break down. 

Given these elements it becomes a priority to identify people who have specific passions and who intend to stay in the same very defined role for at least a few years, people who are passionate about a project or part of a project and who do not have the continuous need to have an overview, and above all people who are not easily bored. 

There are also those candidates who have a specific passion and who are good for filling a role for 3-4 years within a large company and then continuing their career path elsewhere (you should not exclude such candidates because they can also be a great asset for large companies in filling very specific and technical roles). 

You need to be able to identify these characteristics in candidates, and usually you should rely on the analysis of CVs and the length of tenure in individual companies and positions in the candidate previous career path, but you need to go beyond that by trying to understand during interviews the specific motivations behind each change. 

Large companies also need to be very frank and transparent, not promising, dynamism and overview, cross-functional projects and variety of work for tasks and roles that do not inherently have these characteristics, no one likes to be deceived…



Stability is Valuable

 In Italy there is a saying: everyone wants the fixed job, possibly at a state company or at the post office, is a stereotype, now passed, and one that carries with it some negative meanings related to the concept of sitting in an armchair and staying there for 40 years, never putting yourself back into the game professionally speaking, but benefiting from the security of a job from which you are unlikely to be removed. 

Outside of this extreme and somewhat quaint case, there is a psychological element relevant to corporations that plays a key role in attracting the right candidates. Some people have a greater appetite for risk than others; there are individuals for whom the economic, image, and continuity security that working for a well-known and beloved brand confers is an important element in their career choices. Some people place great value on the stability and sometimes prestige that large companies give them and feel reassured and comforted by these elements. Mind you, I’m not talking about slackers who yearn for a permanent job; we are talking about qualified and good people who have every intention of growing professionally over time, and who have real ambitions, but who simply feel more comfortable doing so in contexts that have fewer unknowns and less risk than other contexts such as startups and scale-ups. 

Identifying people who value stability in large companies is quite easy, you analyze their past work history, if they have changed jobs with an average tenure per position of less than 3-4 years usually means they have a high propensity for risk and therefore are potentially unsuitable for work in a large company, however, biases always carry errors and misunderstandings, personal risk propensity and the value of job stability evolve over time and vary according to the candidates’ personal situation. Those who become fathers may be more attracted to a stable role, but after ten years when the children are grown and the home mortgage paid off, they may find that they have a renewed appetite for risk. ExpHire’s Behavioral Experts are qualified to understand this and other elements of candidates’ personality traits and approach to work.



Avoid the Yes Men/Women

Corporations are pachyderms, and the risk over time is that they can no longer see problems and identify solutions and thus be replaced by new, more agile companies. 

The validation conferred by the previous successes of large companies leads employee not to question, projects, processes and people or to do so rarely. This single element can cause the end of a large company that must continuously question itself at every strategic and operational level, must plan for internal disruption in order to survive the external disruption of startups and scale-ups. 

Those who enter a large company sometimes feel that their voice and opinion is limited, however, ways must be explored to bring out the voices of all employees, and stimulate internal debate. Corporations must not become dogmatic churches where a creed is followed and never discussed. Large companies must equip themselves with tools to encourage debate and questioning of the status quo among their employees, and one of them is to hire people who are able to vocalize their views without fear of repercussions. The first step is to avoid hiring so-called ‘Yes men’ people who prefer, for various reasons, to agree with their superiors, never question processes and projects, and prefer to adhere exclusively to what they are asked to do. The reasons that lead to this merely assertive attitude may be of a personal and attitudinal nature, but may very often be an indication of a willingness not to make one’s voice heard for the sake of quiet life or worse out of disinterest and/or personal gain. 

Questions about specific instances from past work experience where candidates were not in agreement with the company or with their managers that highlight these personality traits are helpful in understanding their temperament in this regard. 

I worked for a leading tech company and when I started to bring examples of what direct competition was doing in some meetings I was seen as an alien by some, as the devil by others, to the point where my manager took me aside to tell me that in the company we only focus on our work regardless of what others do, it is the company culture, in other words I was silenced. Ironically, that company after about 3 years found itself in hot pursuit in terms of features compared to the product offered by the main competitor, in short someone finally realized that it was productive to open an internal debate and revise absolute corporate certainties. Candidates who like and use the brand’s products are obviously to be preferred, but you must be cautious and avoid fans, people who believe the brand is ‘the only one’ and unquestionable, who subscribe to its every action and decision regardless, most likely these people if hired in the company behave like ‘Yes men’ and may even become a bigger problem because they can prevent people with proactive qualities of criticism and change from making their voices heard, guess what, the person who had asked me not to talk about competitors during meetings was a fan of the brand…


Focus on Candidate’s True Qualities 

It seems almost pleonastic, but often when evaluating candidates, professional and personal qualities are not taken into account and other accompanying elements that should be of lesser importance take over and are sometimes a politically correct way or loophole to apply biases. 
I read many large companies include in their job descriptions as a ‘welcomed element’ ?nice to have’ in the profile sought having done an MBA; this is a kind of legalized bias. 
Let me explain: does doing an MBA per se qualify a person for a role? Not unless you are looking for an MBA professor. Such training does not deliver unique, position-specific skills, and it does not guarantee that the person who did it is better or more competent than one who could not afford to participate. 
This is a disguised bias; you are basically discriminating against candidates who have not had the financial resources or time to be able to do an MBA in their lifetime, in favor of those who have had those privileges. 
A similar bias is related to having certain emblazoned (and very often exclusive and expensive) universities on one’s CV, many large companies hire only candidates who have attended certain universities, even if they do not explicitly state it, which is also unfair especially when you consider that sometimes  people who get admitted into these universities are sons and daughters of someone who give lavish and generous donations to the universities themselves…
Another bias I have seen is related to the practice of company A that hires only if the candidates’ CVs include companies X and Z or conversely the a prior exclusion of candidates who have experience with direct competitors in their CVs. 
All these criteria are superfluous and should never determine the outcome of a selection process; there are 4 elements on which you should focus: technical skills, behavioral skills, potential and cultural fit of the candidates. Anything else risks bringing into the selection process elements of bias (intentional or not) or corruption of the process itself that are not in the ultimate interests of large companies.

Conclusion: Lesson Learned for Corporations

Large companies are complex and I realize that pointing out problems is easy and solving them in reality is more complex, but we need to start talking about the distortions in recruitment processes and find solutions together, it is a path and I invite all those involved in selection processes to contribute. 

It seems clear that things need to change because too many are dissatisfied with the status quo. Let’s start by pointing out the salient traits of the ideal candidate for large companies, to avoid bringing people into unsuitable contexts who have other inclinations and would suffer, and to favor those who can succeed over time in this context.  

Knowing some of the main traits of the ideal profile of your candidates is a good starting point for rethinking and reconsidering the selection process of corporations.

What problems have you identified in recruitment in large companies (as recruiters or hiring managers)? What solutions have you found?

ExpHire: We Can Help Corporations

As we have seen in large companies there can be problems with the fairness and impartiality of selection processes, due to various reasons manifested in different steps of the recruitment process. ExpHire with its independent technical and behavioral Experts can easily remedy these problems, adding an independent and qualified voice to your current process and being flexible and modular to adapt to even the most peculiar and complex processes.

More To Explore

Do You Want To Hire the best talents with the help of Experts?

Set up a free call with us and learn more