“To create a great workplace, you need to excel at hiring.”
So says Ron Friedman in his book The Best Place to Work – The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace (one of my new favorites, by the way!).
I happen to agree with him.
Friedman further explains that “no matter how well you manage, how often you recognize, or how generously you reward, there’s simply no substitute for selecting talented people and placing them in the right roles.”
If you don’t hire the right people, either they leave (costing you thousands of dollars), or they stay and are unproductive (also costing you thousands of dollars).
So it pays to get hiring right.
No pressure, hiring managers.
Anyone who has ever been involved with hiring to any extent will agree: trying to hire the right person is hard work.
Let’s tackle just the interviewing portion of the process today.
Our potential candidates have made it through the phone or resume screens, and we’ve decided that it’s worth a shot to move forward and chat face-to-face.
But before the candidates even walk in the door, the challenges have begun. We start forming opinions about them from the get-go, with very little information on hand. Where did they go to school? Who previously employed them? Can we figure out how old they are?
Once they do actually appear in person, then we really start sizing them up.
Everything about their appearances helps to form our initial impressions of them: Age. Gender. Level of attractiveness. Height. Weight. Attire. Did she flash a winning smile? Is he wearing a great tie?
“The trouble with first impressions,” says Friedman, “is that we can’t help overestimating their value. The first piece of data we learn about an individual tends to hold a disproportionately large influence on the way we interpret information revealed later on, despite the fact that it is necessarily more representative.”
We don’t mean to allow these types of things to unduly influence us, but… we’re human, and it’s hard not to.
Friedman asks the question, “How many managers can say with absolute certainty that their hiring decisions are based solely on job-relevant criteria?”
He then answers his own question: “Just about none.”
To excel at hiring, we need to put some practices in place that will help us look more objectively beyond the first impressions and improve our odds of hiring the best person for the job.
Friedman has five suggestions for us:
Many companies are now doing this as a part of the hiring process. Whether it’s through submitting previous work samples or creating new work from scratch, this tactic says “Don’t just tell me… show me what you’ve got.”
I had to do this once as part of a lengthy interview process. I was assigned the task of putting together a presentation much like the ones I ended up creating after I actually got the job. It took me about ten hours to prepare, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about spending that much time – unpaid – creating that presentation. But, I figured it was probably a pretty good weed-out strategy, and I later found out that my presentation was what cinched the decision to hire me versus the others who were competing for the job.
“Extraneous data, such as a candidate’s appearance or charisma, lose their influence when you can see the way an applicant actually performs,” explains Friedman. “It’s also a better predictor of their future contributions, because unlike traditional in-person interviews, it evaluates job-relevant criteria.”
Friedman would also note that research shows that when we make a personal sacrifice to get something we want (like the time I spent creating that presentation), we value it more once we get it.
Are we all seeing the same thing here? What do other people see that we don’t? Having a candidate talk to multiple people – including both potential supervisors as well as peers – helps the hiring manager see the candidate through many sets of eyes. An added bonus is that it also gives the candidates a better feel for their potential teammates.
What’s really needed to do this job well? What specifically do you want interviewers to look for / evaluate? Here is where collaboration among the hiring manager and other interviewers is key.
I’ve been guilty of not doing this earlier in my career. I wasn’t a fan of “canned” interview questions and preferred to just wing it / go with the flow during each interview. The problem with this is that each candidate is not evaluated based on the same criteria. Standardizing your interviews helps provide the same experience to every candidate plus ensures that you’re evaluating responses to the same questions. Using “canned” questions that are customized to the position you’re filling still provides plenty of opportunity to “go with the flow” through follow-up questions, while still maintaining a consistent overall structure to the interview.
“Tell me about a time when…” is how many behavioral questions begin. “Past behavior is a strong predictor of future behavior, which is why learning how a candidate handled a particular situation can be useful,” Friedman says.
Situational judgment questions are those that ask candidates how they would handle a hypothetical situation in the future. “What type of approach would you use to…” or “How would you go about …” might be ways to start off these types of questions. You can think of real-life scenarios that your candidates would likely encounter so that you can get a feel for how they might behave in your organization if hired.
Hiring will always be a tough task – after all, we’re dealing with people! While interviewing is just a piece of the hiring process (oh yes, there’s more! Think recruiting, assessing, onboarding, and more!), every refinement we can make to improve the process gets us one step closer to our ultimate goal: great hires for our companies.