I’ve been interviewing and placing job candidates for 40 years and tracking their subsequent performance for almost as long. Based on this and training more than twenty thousand recruiters and hiring managers on how to actually predict on-the-job performance, one problem always stands out:

The best person for the job is frequently not the one whose hired. The best presenter more often gets the nod.

By overvaluing interview presentation skills over past performance we sometimes hire people who are strong but just as often hire people who are not. This causes a worse problem: Not hiring the best performer because he/she is not a great interviewee or doesn't look or sound quite right. This problem is summarized in the graphic.


Getting past the veneer of presentation skills and digging into a candidate’s past performance can eliminate both problems. In fact, by just following the simple steps below it can be done in the first 30 minutes of the interview.

Define the work before defining the person doing the work.

Most job descriptions including your company's look like this list of more than 800 jobs on Indeed.com for mechanical engineers in the Chicago area. Other than the common generic responsibilities the requirements define what the person hired needs to have in terms of skills, education and experience. These are not job descriptions, they’re “person descriptions.”

Since clarifying job expectations has repeatedly been shown to be the number one driver of performance, it’s important to define the work that needs to be done before defining the person doing the work. Most jobs can be defined as a series of 5-6 performance objectives. Here’s an example of one and the instruction manual on how to prepare one for any job.

Getting the job is not the same as doing the job.

Emotions play a big role in who gets hired. Most managers overvalue first impressions, affability, assertiveness and communication skills. Techies overvalue the depth of technical skills. Most interviewers quickly eliminate those who “just don’t fit,” using some nebulous criteria including those who seem quiet, less interested and introspective.

One way to overcome these biases is using a scripted 30-minute interview for all candidates whether they make a good first impression on not. This delay forces objectivity into the assessment. At the end of 30 minutes you can then determine if it makes sense to seriously consider the person. Using a talent scorecard with specific ranking guidelines quickly separates the objective interviewers from those who over rely on emotions or their intuition. This entire process is summarized in the video below.

Recognize that strangers are treated differently than acquaintances and referrals.

In a recent post, I contended that people who are personally connected to the interviewer in some way – even loosely – are evaluated differently than strangers. Strangers are assumed unqualified to start. Under this premise they are judged largely on the depth of their skills, level of direct experience, personality and first impression. These are terrible predictors of performance and fit. The connected person begins with a significant advantage: they’re assumed competent. The subsequent assessment is slower and based on the person’s track record of past performance and ability to learn new skills. Here’s a simple way to assess everyone the same way.

Managers ask irrelevant questions and assess people on meaningless facts.

Brain teasers were proved not too smart long ago, although it took a huge study by Google before these questions were shown to be useless. I had a GM client who related strong organizing and planning skills with an orderly desk, and wanted to visit every candidate’s office as part of the assessment. This past year I had a client who assumed people who cancel interviews at the last minute due to a family crisis lack a strong work ethic. Since it’s hard to know when a hiring manager or someone on the interviewing team will go ballistic I suggest using more panel interviews. This way everyone hears the same questions and answers and everyone keeps everyone else honest.

The typical hiring process is too transactional.

Filling jobs with those who are the most skilled is totally different than hiring the strongest person possible. The former is largely a box-checking exercise with the compensation determined by supply and demand. The latter involves spending more time with fewer candidates focusing on their past performance, upside potential and intrinsic motivation to actually do the work that needs to be done. When people are hired this way there’s an instant improvement in quality of hire, an increase in job satisfaction and a huge reduction in unnecessary turnover.

There are a lot of great people who don’t get hired because they don’t fit some misguided stereotype of success. And it’s not because these people are different or odd. It’s that the traditional approaches for hiring and stereotypes are flawed. Bottom line: Don’t use the interview to make the hiring decision, use the interview to collect the evidence needed to make the hiring decision.