Good or bad, hiring strangers is far riskier than hiring acquaintances. The problem can be avoided by using a performance-based interview to hire anyone.
Over the past few weeks I led two hiring manager recruiting and interviewing programs. Some interesting things happened.
To start, I asked all of the managers how they got their most recent job. Of the 50 or so people only one applied directly. The others were either promoted to the position or referred by someone known to the hiring manager. This alone suggests an important principle about how to get a managerial position.
However, it was the next point that was more interesting.
I asked the hiring managers given the choices below whose on-the-job performance was more predictable:
- Those who were personally known to the hiring manger.
- Those who were highly referred by someone personally known to the hiring manager.
- Candidates who were total strangers.
Their responses are shown in the graph with those known to the hiring manager the highest and those unknown the lowest.
But things soon got even more interesting when I asked what was the primary criteria the hiring managers used to hire or promote someone who was well known or was highly referred. In both cases the criteria was some understanding of the person's past performance as it related to the performance requirements of the open position.
But most interesting of all:
A Fundamentally Different Process is Used When Hiring Strangers
To get hired, strangers undergo a far different hiring process than acquaintances. First they're filtered on their skills and experiences before they're even considered viable. Then they have to agree to a title and compensation range before they can even talk to the hiring manager. During the interview the assessment is made on their depth of technical skills, first impression, personality and how they answer a few behavioral questions about motivation, values and team skills.
It didn't take long for the 50 managers involved to see that hiring based on the person's past performance is far more predictable than hiring on skills and experience. This is represented by the "X" gap in the graphic and the sharp drop in interviewing accuracy.
Bridging this gap was the purpose of the training program. In fact, bridging this gap is essential for any company that wants to improve the quality of the people it hires.
Here's how to get started:
- Define the job before defining the skills and experiences required to do the job. Every job in the world can be defined and clarified by 6-8 SMARTe performance objectives. These are Specific and Measurable with the Action required defined, the Results and deliverables clarified, the Time to complete determined and the environment described. Acquaintances and strangers will both be assessed against this criteria. The idea is that as long as the person has done comparable work he/she has the skills and experiences necessary.
- Advertise the challenges in the job and their importance to the company's success. Jobs are more compelling when they're tied directly to some important initiative. This is called job branding. For example, one post for a cost analyst prepared by the McFrank and Williams ad agency highlighted the need for attention to detail as essential in building the company's quality products. Traditional job posts typically offer boilerplate and lateral transfers.
- Delete the apply button. Instead of applying, have candidates submit a write-up of some comparable accomplishment. There is no law that candidates need to apply directly to an open job. Instead, ask interested candidates to submit a video or a short write-up describing a major comparable accomplishment.
- Go slower. It takes time to convert strangers into acquaintances. Add a phone screen and an exploratory conversation into the process at the front end and an additional interview and lunch at the back end. This is how you get to know people.
- Put your biases in the parking lot. Here are nine simple things you can do to minimize interviewer bias due to first impressions. Acquaintances don't face this problem so it's an essential first step for leveling the playing field.
- Conduct a series of pre-hire performance reviews. Forget the behavioral and trick questions. Instead, over the course of several meetings and with different people, ask the candidate to describe in detail a major accomplishment for each of the performance objectives listed in the performance-based job description. Peel the onion by asking SMARTe questions and use a pre-hire quality of hire talent scorecard to evaluate each candidate and compare all of the candidates against each other.
Predicting on-the-job performance more accurately is not hard. But you need to know what you're looking for, go slower using a consultative recruiting approach and focus primarily on the person's ability and motivation to do the work you really want accomplished. If you do all of these things you will first turn strangers into acquaintances. More important, you will hire stronger people and make fewer hiring mistakes.
Let's be frank. Most interviewers aren't very good at interviewing. Here's why.
One quarter will overvalue the first impression you make.
If they like you, they'll ask easy questions to justify their instant reaction. If they don't like you, they'll ask harder questions to justify their instant reaction. None of this has anything to do with your ability or motivation to do the actual work required or how you would fit in with the culture.
One quarter will overvalue their intuition and judge you on your assertiveness and how articulate you are.
They'll figure this out in 10 minutes. These people will then boast they can assess anyone in 10 minutes but ignore the fact that more than 75 percent of the people they hire aren't as good as they expected. Worse, more than 75 percent of those they didn't hire were far better.
One quarter will overvalue your technical brilliance in comparison to theirs.
These people will ask you to solve problems that have nothing to do with the actual job as a test of their ego, will, and intelligence. Despite the fact they have a good track record of hiring smart people, they have a terrible record of hiring people who make their commitments, get projects done on time, work well with others, prioritize well, and are effective communicators.
One quarter will assess your ability and motivation to do the work required and fit within the organization.
These people will clearly describe the work that needs to be done and ask you to describe comparable accomplishments. They'll likely describe a realistic problem and discuss how you'd address it. These people have a track record of hiring great people.
Those who overvalue first impressions are easy to spot. One clue on the positive side is when they start selling you on the job even before they know anything about you. A negative clue is that they look bored, ignore you, constantly look at their watch, or ask you tough questions that are so narrow in scope it's impossible to answer correctly. Regardless, when you're in either situation, ask the interviewer something like, "Would you mind giving me a quick overview of some of the biggest challenges in the job? I'd like to provide you some examples of work I've done that's most related."
The intuitives are also easy to spot. They'll be neutral at first, but if they sense you're smart via your vocal skills and confidence they'll relax a bit. At this point they'll begin a more open dialogue but they'll be more general about process, strategy, tactics, or planning. If you're a bit nervous or don't fit their stereotype they'll rush to end the interview. If you sense the conversation going astray, you need to take instant control. Start by saying something like, "I understood that the person in this role would be handling [here, describe a big challenge you know is part of the open job]. This is something I managed when I was the [title[ at [company]." Now don't wait for permission to describe what you did--just describe it for a minute or two, including details about the results achieved. Then ask, "Is this consistent with what you need done?"
The techies are even easier to spot. They'll start box checking your skills and ask you to solve some tough problems. Some problems will be job-related but others will be outlandish or meaningless. Whether you answer these questions appropriately or not, it's important to proactively intervene to better understand real job needs. One way is to ask, "How is this skill actually used on the job? Once I know this I can provide some examples of how I've used the skill to solve job-related problems. Based on this, we'll both know if I'm a fit for the job and interested in doing it."
Good interviewers are a little more difficult to spot since you'll be surprised that their questions are meaningful, they have a clear understanding of real job needs, they ask lots of related fact-finding questions to determine if you're competent and motivated to do the work, and, most important of all, they are truly interested in what you've done. When confronted with this type of interviewer, just say, "Thank you."
Most interviewers ask questions unrelated to real job requirements. As the person being interviewed, you need to take control to ensure you're being evaluated properly. This starts by asking the person to describe the job in terms of real objectives and challenges. Then you need to describe work you've done that's most related. You'll know you've been successful when the interviewer asks you if you're interested in the job and if you'd like to come back for another round of interviews. But be careful how you answer this one -- it might be a trap.