WOW Hiring Managers by Projecting the Retention Trajectory of Candidates

Add a Future Focused Element to Your Hiring Assessments

Hiring managers all too often undervalue their recruiters because they feel that they know more about the finalist candidates than the recruiter does. But imagine sitting down with your hiring manager at the time when they must decide on which of their three finalists to select even though all three candidates seem to be about equal in their ability to do this “current job.” You speak up and proactively recommended candidate “A,” who stands out because they have a long retention trajectory. You would likely WOW the hiring manager because they have probably been stung in the past when an otherwise promising new hire abruptly quit.

So if you can help them discover which candidates are a high “flight risk,” you will be a hero. If you are not familiar with the term, a long retention trajectory means that a new hire will likely add much more value to the business unit because you have projected them to stay at the firm much longer than the average new hire (e.g., for at least five years). Forecasting long and short tenure might initially sound difficult, but it’s really not that hard if you know the “flight risk factors.”

Identifying the Flight Risk Factors That Predict Early Turnover

Before they make a hiring decision, every hiring manager would love to know if any of their finalists are likely to quit early, so that the manager can rate them lower. You, of course, can intuitively select what factors to use as predictors. But a superior approach is to use correlation analysis to determine which specific set of predictive factors that employees with long tenure have, but that early turnover employees don’t have. If you need a firm to model, the benchmark organization to learn predicting retention from is Major League Baseball. The league has an “attrition rate” SABR metric to assess the tenure for its players.

Look to a candidate’s interview answers, their resume information, and their reference’s responses to see if they meet any of these predictor factors that usually result in long new-hire tenure

Select your long tenure predictors from among these possible predictors of tenure

I have broken these 20 factors into four descriptive categories.

Previous tenure history

  • They stayed at least x number of years in a previous job — look at recent job tenure and job hopping. But also look for a trend where their average tenure increases with each successive job. Don’t assume that job hopping will never taper off or end.
  • There will likely be no repeat of their previous turnover issues — ask them why they left their last two jobs and to identify which factors might cause them to leave early at this stage of their career. And raise the candidate’s tenure projections if those previous turnover factors have not historically been an issue at your firm (g., a merger that won’t likely happen at your firm).

Factors and patterns that have historically led to long tenure

  • They were referred by an employee— a referred new hire is up to 30 percent less likely to quit (Source: U of Minnesota).
  • They have a best friend working here— having a best friend, a former close colleague, or a mentor already working at your firm will increase retention (Source: Gallup).
  • Their commute time— especially in lower paying jobs, the commute time is critical. It depends on the city, but normally a commute time of more than 45 minutes will reduce the likelihood of a long tenure. GateGourmet found that it was the No. 1 new-hire retention factor.
  • They targeted your firm— individuals who specifically targeted your firm as a place that they wanted to work at are less likely to quit early. The fact that they did extensive background research into your firm or they are a user of your product is both indicators of above average tenure. If they are enamored with a project or product at your firm, expect them to stay longer.
  • They are later in their career cycle— the average tenure increases as individuals move from early, to middle, to the later stages of their career.
  • They have established roots— you can expect a longer tenure if the candidate has lived in your geographic area for a long time, or they have close family, school, or other roots in the geographic area. Buying a house may also tie them down.
  • University commitments— if they are just starting a degree program that you are paying for, this will likely serve as golden handcuffs to keep them until they finish. However, completing a degree program during their first few years almost guarantees a fast exit if they do not receive a promotion at your firm because of it.
  • Starting in this job historically begins a long tenure — look for a pattern that reveals that new hires who start in this particular job have longer tenure than average (g., accountant high tenure and intern hire low tenure).

Their skill set and focus will impact tenure

  • They are top performers— even though they provide great value, data shows that top performers are the most desirable targets for recruiters who are in poaching mode. So unless they have other strong connections to your firm, assume top performers will leave one year earlier than the average new hire.
  • They have business skills— candidates with strong business acumen and management and leadership skills can move more often within and between functions. This movement will both excite them and allow them to avoid functional bottlenecks. And that, in turn, decreases frustration that could lead to turnover.
  • Their dream job— if you ask them to reveal their criteria for their dream job, and you meet most of them, expect a much longer tenure.
  • They experienced a recent layoff— candidates who were recently laid off may be seeking security, and that will likely lengthen their tenure.
  • They are money driven— ask them to reveal their top drivers or motivators. And if money is No. 1, expect a shorter tenure if your firm ever has a pay freeze or if your firm lags in giving raises.
  • They have expressed a desire to be an entrepreneur — reduce their projected likely tenure of those with a strong entrepreneurial desire. They are likely to leave at the first chance to pursue that dream.
  • They relocated for this job— the trauma associated with relocating one’s family a significant distance may show their commitment. However, it may also increase their chances of becoming frustrated, which could lead to a quick exit.
  • Asking them directly how long they intend to stay— if you have determined that they are honest. Ask them directly for how long they intend to stay. And if they answer quickly with a number and without hesitation, that is a good sign. If you are really bold, ask them to make a personal commitment to staying for __ years.
  • Asking their references— unfortunately, most references tell you what you want to hear. So instead of a direct “are they loyal” question, give them a list of characteristics and ask the reference to force rank them. If loyalty isn’t near the top, discount their length of tenure.
  • Holding peer interviews— candidates are surprisingly candid during interviews that are conducted with only their peers present. Encourage team members to probe into a candidate’s intentions to stay longer than the average time.

Final Thoughts

Recruiters frequently have a narrow view of their responsibilities. And that often means that recruiters provide little expert guidance covering important on the job success factors like early new-hire turnover. This is an error because in fact hiring managers when asked almost always respond that they would love a data-driven recruiter’s help in identifying short-tenured candidates. Managers would also like data-driven advice from recruiters as to which candidates will have a steep career trajectory (i.e., move up many levels) and which ones are likely to be top performers. These remaining two areas will be covered in my 10/16/17 article on entitled “WOW Hiring Managers By Projecting the Career Trajectory and Performance Level of Candidates.”


This article was designed to stimulate your thinking and to provide you with actionable tips. If you found that it met those goals, please take a minute to follow me on LinkedIn.

image from pexels

As seen on ERE Media, October 9, 2017.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

Check Also

Hiring Innovators – The Highest Impact Action In Talent Management (Highlighting the benefits from hiring innovators)

Hiring has the highest bus. impact in HR, and innovators produce the highest impact of …