If you know what it takes to be successful in a job, it's easy to avoid judging people based on their first impression--or mistaking motivation to get the job for motivation for doing the job.

I was with the president of a company a few weeks ago. He invited me for lunch after one of his VPs mentioned that preventing hiring mistakes was easy as long as you followed Lou Adler's two foolproof rules for interviewing. The company had made a number of recent hiring mistakes and was primed for improving their interviewing effectiveness. Within seconds he asked me what the two rules were. I wouldn't tell him.

Instead, I wrote the following list on the whiteboard and said, the rules aren't effective unless you know what you're looking for and conduct a Performance-based Interview. He was getting impatient, but since he had just started eating his pastrami sandwich, I knew I had him--at least for five minutes. Here's what I wrote.

The Performance-based Interview and Assessment Process

  1. Prepare a performance-based job description before interviewing anyone. This defines the top five to six performance objectives of the job.
  2. Conduct a work-history review looking for general fit and the achiever pattern. The achiever pattern indicates whether the person is in the top half of the top half of his/her peer group.
  3. Ask the candidate to describe a significant accomplishment for each of the performance objectives listed in the performance-based job description. This ensures they're competent and motivated to do the actual work.
  4. Ask the problem-solving question two or three times. This technique assess commonsense, insight and decision-making.
  5. Have the team formally debrief using the Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard to assess ability, fit and motivation. I suggested that "gladiator style" up-down voting was a sure way to hire the wrong person.
  6. Under no circumstances, violate the "two rules."

The president decided it was worth learning more and asked, "What are the two rules?"

On the whiteboard, next to the above I wrote:

"Wait 30 minutes!" and "No 2s!"

I then went on to explain both of them.

The "Wait 30 Minutes" Rule.

Basically, I said don't even start to make a yes or no hiring decision until the 31stminute of the interview. This is how long it takes for the impact of first impressions, biases and emotions to dissipate. The problem is that most interviewers use the first 30 minutes to look for information to confirm their immediate judgment about the candidate. If it's positive they seek out confirming information and avoid hard questions. If negative, they do the opposite. The 30 minute delay rule minimizes this effect.

The "No 2s!" Rule.

This took a little longer to explain, but I started by saying that in a 30-to-60-minute interview, the best you'll be able to do is figure out if the person shouldn't be hired (a Level 1 on our 1-5 ranking scale), could potentially be a rock star (Level 5), or could be somewhere in-between (Level 2, 3 or 4). The problem is those who are Level 2s shouldn't be hired and Levels 3 and 4 should be. By definition a Level 3 is a great hire, someone in the upper third of his/her peer group and fully competent and motivated to do all the work required. A Level 4 is even better, doing the work either faster or better, or doing more of it.

It's hard to differentiate between Levels 2, 3 and 4 in a typical interview, especially a behavioral interview, since these people are similar regarding competency, but not motivation. That's why I suggest that interviewers should avoid hiring Level 2s at all costs, since they'll always require extra supervision and direction. That's the "No 2s!" rule in a nutshell: spending extra time in the interview finding out what type of work and circumstances motivates the person to excel and mapping these to real job needs.

While the "Wait 30 minutes" rule will eliminate most mistakes due to biases and emotions, it's not enough. You also need to avoid hiring 2s! This is simple as long as you've prepared a performance-based job description and conducted a Performance-based Interview. Otherwise you're destined to hire some great people who will underperform.