Performance is more predictable by assessing what a person has accomplished with their skills rather than their amount.

In a recent post I suggested that by converting skills-infested job descriptions into a prioritized list of performance objectives, the skills gap would start closing. When these performance objectives are defined before candidates are interviewed, it’s relatively easy to determine if someone is competent and motivated to do the work by using a Performance-based Interview. This approach allows an interviewer to assess what a person has accomplished using their skills, rather than their absolute level of competency. High performers and quick learners stand out using this process since they typically are assigned challenging projects before they’re fully ready, but somehow figure out how to achieve the results anyway.

As a result of the post, many of you requested a sample of this type of performance-based job description and how the interviewing process works. Let’s use the VP Marketing position from the original post as an example. For that position the basic requirements were an MBA from a top-tier business school, a strong technical background in automation, excellent cultural fit, results-oriented and 10+ years of industrial equipment industry experience. When I asked the hiring team what the person needed to accomplish to be successful in the job, this is what they came up with:

Basic Performance Objectives for a VP Marketing for a Mid-Sized Industrial Products Company

Major Objective: Over the course of 1-2 years, expand the customer base and product line from narrow niche end-users to OEM manufacturers of computer-aided robotic welding equipment.

Key Sub-tasks (I asked the team to use a timeline to define the steps needed to achieve the major objective)

  • Within 60-90 days, prepare a comprehensive marketing plan identifying all potential customers and distribution channels.
  • Work with engineering to develop a three-year product roadmap that identifies critical design requirements for redesigning existing products.
  • During the first six months, rebuild the product marketing team to emphasize the shift from end-user sales to OEM manufacturers.

Convert soft skills into performance objectives (ask, “What does success using _________ (soft skill) look like on the job?”). This way:

  • Cultural fit and team skills became “collaborate closely with engineering and operations to ensure a successful redesign and launch of the new product lines.”
  • Results-oriented became “implement a project management system to ensure critical launch and customer delivery dates are met without fail.”
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills became “prepare and lead the monthly operational reviews at the executive board sessions.”

Conduct a Performance-based Interview to Determine Ability, Fit and Motivation

Once you know the performance objectives for the position, determining competency and fit is straightforward using the Performance-based Interview. This consists of an in-depth work history review looking for the achiever pattern and two core questions. The first question involves having candidates provide detailed examples of accomplishments for each objective in the performance-based job description. The second question is situational, with the interviewer engaging in a give-and-take discussion on how the candidate would handle some of the more challenging objectives. To make the hiring decision the interviewers’ assessments are collected, discussed and summarized in a Quality of Hire Candidate Talent Scorecard. This covers not only the candidate’s ability and motivation to do the work, but also the person’s fit with the actual culture and circumstances.

A track record of past performance doing comparable work to what needs to be done is a solid predictor of the person’s ability to be successful. That’s why preparing a performance-based job description is an essential first step. But solid results can become great results when the processes and circumstances used to achieve them are consistent with the company’s culture, the hiring manager’s style and the resources available. Many managers ignore this obvious point, putting them solidly on the path of hiring the right person for the wrong job. As Red Scott said, “Hire smart or manage tough.” Unfortunately, if you hire the wrong person you can never manage tough enough.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He's also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. You can continue the conversation on LinkedIn's Essential Guide for Hiring Discussion Group.