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3 Things Marathon Runners Can Teach Us About Hiring

August 7, 2014

Although I have never actually completed a full marathon (26.2 miles) I work with a number of individuals who have accomplished this amazing feat. During my discussions with them I have actually noticed many similarities between training for a marathon and setting up a consistent and predictive hiring process. Below I have outlined 5 of the more interesting similarities. 479108401

1. Start by understanding what it takes to be successful before you begin.

a. Marathon Runners – Any good distance runner will have a detailed daily workout routine. Many times these translate into elaborate spreadsheets or online databases that include more information than you could ever imagine. They make sure they have scheduled days off and stick to a fairly strict diet. Running coaches make a living helping distance runners develop training plans. Most long distance runners don’t just start running and stop when they get tired. They have detailed plans for what they need to accomplish on a daily basis.
b. Hiring – Before starting to recruit for any position organizations, recruiters, and hiring managers need to understand what it takes to be successful in the target position. Just like marathon runners understanding and documenting what it takes to accomplish their goals, organizations need to have a deep understanding of the target position. More specifically a job analysis needs to be conducted so that all of the KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) are uncovered. The hiring process cannot be effective if there is not a good plan in place for what actually predicts success in the target position. For example, just like a marathon runner wouldn’t run just 1 mile per week, an organization shouldn’t look for candidates who only possess one skill or ability when, in reality, many skills and abilities are needed for successful job performance.

2. The real work goes in during the preparation stages.

a. Marathon Runners – Very few people are able to show up on race day and rip off 26.2 miles. I knew a guy in my high school that did this twice. He got away with it on his first attempt. However on his second he caused major damage to several ligaments. The reason why so much preparation goes into a marathon is because our bodies need to build up the appropriate muscles and endurance so that race day is not a miserable death march. Race day is typically the culmination of many months of training and the most fun part of the entire training experience. Besides weather and “hitting the wall”, there are typically not any surprises on race day if you have prepared appropriately.
b. Hiring – Any predictive and consistent hiring process was developed in advance with very careful planning. Preparing and developing the process steps, interview guides, assessment content, and other screening tools is important to ensure that all candidates are being treated equally and allows the organization to identify the strength and developmental areas for each candidate. Furthermore, they can compare the candidates to the KSAs needed for successful job performance. There should be no surprises when you are executing the hiring steps. It should be planned in advance and conducted consistently across candidates.

3. Realistic previews are always a good idea.

a. Marathon Runners – Although it is typically NOT recommended to run 26.2 miles in one session during your training, it IS recommended to practice long runs on a weekly basis. Additionally, it is good to try and run at the same time that the actual marathon will be taking place. You should practice your calorie intake before, during, and after so that your body gets used to all aspects of the “race day” through simulations during your training. You should also wear the same (or similar) clothes to those that you will wear on race day. One of the most important recommendations for the race is “nothing new on race day”. For example, it is not recommended to buy new running shoes the day before a race without trying them out and breaking them in first.
b. Hiring – Just how marathon runners like to “simulate” a race organizations should be providing their candidates with realistic previews of what to expect once they are in the role. This is good for a number of reasons. However the biggest advantage to doing this is allowing the candidate to “select in” or “select out” of the job. The application process allows the organization to determine who they want to hire. However it is also the opportunity for the candidate to learn about the job and determine if they are a good fit. Candidates who self select out of the process are actually a hiring process victory. Organizations should not over sell their jobs and try to hire candidates who have similar likes and dislikes to those that the job has to offer.

NOTE: Congratulations to Vicki Marlan, Consulting Associate at Select International, who recently qualified for the 2015 Boston Marathon and also the inspiration for this blog entry :)


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Paul Glatzhofer Paul Glatzhofer is the VP of Talent Solutions based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI Services LLC. He works primarily with organizations that are implementing global assessment and development systems at the leadership level. Paul’s work includes leadership development, leadership skills training, coaching, leadership and executive selection, turnover and ROI analysis, and ongoing feedback development.