In a recent post I referred to an article by Michael Simmons that described research indicating that those in an open network are more likely to be successful than those in a closed network. Open meaning broad, big, growing and multi-functional. Closed meaning stagnant, insular and populated by a few like-minded people.
I contended that the conclusions from the research might be incorrect and there might be a cause and effect problem not considered. In my opinion the root cause – based on my assessment of more than 5,000 candidates – is that team skills are more likely the driver of success. A lack of them causes people to stay within a closed network and possessing them is the reason people get assigned to open networks.
If team skills are in fact this significant, the solution to career success is straightforward for anyone who wants to get ahead: Force yourself into situations in which you need to engage with a variety of people and the more cross-functional the better.
Understanding the teams people have worked on and their roles is at the core of the Performance-based Interview I advocate. A streamlined version of this process is now available on Lynda.com.
The process starts by asking candidates to describe the people on the teams and projects they worked on and how successful the teams were. Learning how and why they were assigned to these projects and the roles played is an indication of their strengths. This is especially true if these team projects and managerial roles continue to grow at different companies with different leaders.
For example, techies won’t be assigned to work on important product marketing teams if they don’t understand the design issues from the perspective of the end user. And vice versa, no product marketing person is going to be assigned to negotiate product requirements on very technical products without the ability to communicate persuasively with super-techie designers.
Two real examples will help clarify this concept.
The first example is from a search assignment I worked on many years ago for a COO role for a multi-plant manufacturing company. At the time my candidate was a VP operations for a company in a different industry but using comparable technology. My interview focused on how he grew one plant in Asia with 100 people to a multi-facility operation spanning four countries and 3,000 people over four years. The biggest issues he faced had as much to do with manufacturing and distribution as they did with complex tax and pricing issues and supporting a state-of-the-art product design group.
He was initially rejected for the role because he didn’t have direct industry experience despite the fact that the new company was smaller and less complex. About six weeks after the first interview the company was reluctantly forced to hire him when their first candidate, whom they knew personally, rejected their offer at the last minute. I wasn’t surprised when my candidate was promoted to CEO 18 months later. I actually predicted it based on my team growth focused interview with him.
More recently I recruited a director of accounting from a large media company for a controller role in a smaller company but with a far greater span of responsibility. So when I found a young woman with only six years of experience currently in a director position with a well-known company and with a CPA from a Big 4 accounting firm, I knew I had to contact her right away.
Here’s what I discovered during the interview. In her first year in public accounting she was assigned to work on a few tier-one firms working directly with their senior financial executives. By her second year she was leading an international cross-functional team on addressing a major compliance and reporting issue. As important, she was dealing with the U.S. and international CFOs of two different companies and the senior partner of the CPA firm. When she left public accounting one of the CFOs hired her and she was promoted twice in the next two years. This is how stars are born. How they're discovered is by focusing on the team growth rather than the depth of their technical skills, IQ or generic behaviors.
Unfortunately she didn’t get the job since the CEO wanted someone who was more hands-on. Despite this minor setback, this very talented young woman continues to prosper (I just looked her up on LinkedIn) and now has a major business role with a fast-growing media start-up.
So if you’re on the side of the desk interviewing candidates, spend most of your time digging deep into the person’s team projects and growth over time. Done properly and without bias, you’ll discover everything you need to know to determine if the person should be hired or not.
More importantly, for everyone who wants to accelerate their career growth it’s important to push yourself onto important cross-functional teams. It’s great if you’re naturally assigned to them, however, it might be even better if you volunteer for some, especially those that no one else wants. You never know what you’ll learn and the invaluable stories you’ll be able to share with a recruiter, business leader or hiring manager some day in the future.
The Best Interview Question to Predict On-the-Job Success © Suprijono Suharjoto | Dreamstime.com
As a recruiter for the past 40+ years I’ve met many talented people. Some were my clients, some my candidates and many more who I wished were either my clients or my candidates.
So when I came across this article by Michael Simmons, The No. 1 Predictor Of Career Success According To Network Science, I was forced to drop everything and read it. It’s fascinating.
Here’s the tweet-like summary: People who are in open networks are far more successful than those in closed networks.
My lay interpretation of a rather scientific article is that more diverse exposure a person has in terms of experiences and interactions allows them to bring a different perspective to any business situation. More important, this diversity of thinking allows them to influence these groups more effectively than those with a more narrow or insular point of view. As a result they get assigned to more important projects and lead more important groups long before their peers.
My interest in this has to do with how this complex factor is assessed during the interview. As part of our two-question performance-based interview I was wondering if we missed something. My concerns had to do with the fact that over the years we’ve proven that our interview and assessment process is not only more accurate than DDI, BEI and Who in predicting on-the-job performance but also more effective in improving quality of hire. Despite this, if we could make it better we’d incorporate these new ideas.
One key aspect of our performance-based interview process is digging into a candidate’s major accomplishments over time to observe the person’s overall trend of growth. This concept is shown in the graph. As you’ll see there are two trend lines shown, one for individual accomplishments and one for team accomplishments. I believe the growth rate of the trend lines correlate highly with the open vs. closed networking concept – especially how we develop the team trend line.
During the interview we ask candidates to describe their team accomplishments in detail focusing on the size of the team, the person’s role, the purpose of the team and how the person got assigned to the team. A key aspect of this line of questioning involves the candidate drawing a 360° work chart. This chart describes all of the people on the team including peers, subordinates, superiors and people inside and outside the company.
What’s fascinating about this approach is understanding how people progress in their careers especially highly skilled individual contributors or technical people who start interfacing with people in other functions including executives. As interesting is finding people who start working with more senior executives in the company earlier in their careers. Asking how the person got assigned to the team is as revealing. Often it’s because the person is a recognized subject matter expert and the person’s manager wants to give him/her more exposure or the person is very ambitious and volunteered for the position.
If the person leverages this into even larger and more influential teams, it’s clear the person was successful working with all types of people. If the same trend is observed at multiple companies you can rest assured the person has exceptional team and leadership skills. This is true even if the person is quiet, nervous in the interview, not eloquent or introverted.
Equally interesting, are people who over the course of 5-10 years continue to work with the same types of people in the same types of functions on the same types of projects. To me this is representative of the classic “closed network” described in Simpson’s article.
So while the idea that a person with an open network is more likely to be successful in general, I’m not sure it’s a great predictor of success in relationship to a particular job and specific team. In this case I’d suggest that during the definition of the job it’s made clear what types of teams the person is likely to work on. Then compare this to the types of teams the person has already worked on and how successful the teams were in achieving their objectives. If these are comparable and the candidate has an upward trend in growth in team size and scope it’s likely the person will be successful in the new role at least on this dimension of performance.
While this is a critical piece of the hiring puzzle, it’s not the only piece. The other pieces are explained in this post describing the Hiring Formula for Success. Simply stated, on-the-job performance and motivation to excel are functions of the ability to do the work in relationship to fit with the job, fit with the team, fit with the hiring manager and fit with the company culture.
So despite the openness of the person’s network these other factors are equally as important and it could very well be that a person in a big and growing multi-functional closed network might wind up being the better candidate.
Interviewers often make the yes/no hiring decision is less than one minute based on whether the person is articulate, attractive, assertive, and affable. None of these predict job success. They just cause hiring mistakes.
Over the years I've written a number of posts about the Performance-based Interview process I've been using for the past 40 years. I first developed this methodology by benchmarking how the best managers evaluated and hired the best candidates. It was honed based on tracking hundreds of these people over 10-15 years. As a result a few things stood out as great and not-so-great predictors of on-the-job success. The big ones:
The not-so-great predictors:
- The list of skills, experiences, academic requirements and competencies were rarely the same as listed on the job description. (Everyone should read this sentence again.)
- The person's first impression - good or bad - was a terrible predictor of on-the-job success. (Everyone should read this sentence again.)
The great predictors:
- The person had a track record of accomplishments comparable - but rarely identical - to the actual work that needed to be done.
- The person had a track record of being assigned to, or volunteering for, difficult and/or stretch projects.
- The person proactively coached and helped others become better - including and especially peers.
Here are two posts that will help you get started on separating the best from everyone else.
- If You Want to Hire a Great Person You Need a Great Job. A great job is not a laundry list of skills, experiences, academic requirements and competencies. Instead it's a list of challenges and tasks a top person sees as a career growth opportunity.
- The Most Important Interview Question of All Time. Ask candidates to describe a major accomplishment for each of the performance objectives listed in the performance-based job description. You will quickly know if the candidate is competent and motivated to excel doing the actual work.
Before asking the most significant accomplishment question you'll need to conduct a thorough work history review. It offers an abundance of clues for assessing fit, performance and potential. Here's are a few of them:
- Progression and recognition. At each company ask about promotions, special recognition, bonuses, title or job changes and why the person was assigned to different projects. Lack of any of these, or a series of short tenures at multiple companies, should raise the caution flag.
- Job-hopper or career-focused. Ask candidates why they changed jobs and if they achieved the objective as a result of the change. Job hopping syndrome is quickly revealed when a person takes jobs more for what he/she gets on the start date (title, location, compensation and company name) rather than what he/she will be doing, learning and becoming. Of course, everyone will say the latter was the reason, but it's a phony excuse if it never pans out.
- Quality of team skills. For each major job, ask candidates to describe the teams they've been assigned to or were managing. Include direct reports, peers, people inside and outside the company, executives and people in other functions. Ask people how and why they were assigned to these work groups. If the teams are multifunctional and expanding in size, scope, impact and influence, especially at different companies, you can rest assured the person has exceptional team skills whether he/she is quiet or not or makes a good first impression or not.
- Quality of management skills. It's a strong clue the person has strong management skills if the person has been promoted into bigger jobs over bigger groups as a result of previous successes. If so, ask about the quality of the people on each team and how the team was built and developed. The best managers proactively hire the best people and work hard to develop everyone. The less best live with who they inherit.
- Where the person excels. Ask people what type of projects they were assigned and why they were assigned to these projects within 6-12 months after they've started on a new job. Those with real talent get assigned projects ahead of their more experienced peers. If it happens frequently, a pattern of the person's top strengths as recognized by others will emerge.
Too many interviewers get quickly seduced by the four "A"s - articulate, attractive, assertive and affable - soon after meeting someone for the first time. None of these factors predict on-the-job performance. You can cut through this veneer of superficiality by understanding real job needs and finding people who have a track record of doing comparable work in comparable environments. Much of this is revealed during the work history review. Don't take shortcuts. The truth will become obvious by putting the person's first impression into the parking lot until the end of the interview. When you take it out you'll discover no one's first impression is as good or as bad as you first imagined.
I was talking with an old friend the other day about the changes that have taken place in the hiring industry since 2000. Our unanimous conclusion was that very little had changed.
The big issue was that despite all of the new technology and doing things more efficiently, quality of hire has not improved overall. Equally troublesome, despite all of the changes there are still millions of jobs that stay unfilled, the underemployment rate is still staggering and the employment disengagement rate is exactly the same--a dismal 68%.
The only things that have changed are that companies have hired more recruiters, they've invested heavily in new technology, they've expanded their talent pools, have decided the candidate experience is important and they spend less on external search fees. Offsetting this is the fact that too many unqualified candidates apply to every opening, companies are still using skills-laden job descriptions to weed out the weak, hiring managers are still disengaged, and recruiters don't have time to talk with those candidates who want career moves.
One obvious conclusion is that once everyone has the same hiring tools, uses the same job boards, implements the same processes and has access to all of the same people on LinkedIn, they will pretty much get the same results. In this type of HR vendor-driven environment getting better depends on your employer brand, who adopts the new technology first and who has the best recruiters and the most engaged hiring managers. In this same ol' same ol' world, cost and efficiency become the measures of success, not improvement in quality of hire.
I contend that in order to improve quality of hire you first need to measure it long before the person is hired and then control it at every stage in the hiring process until the person is hired. To make sure you're doing the right things, you then need to compare these predicted measures of quality of hire after the person is hired. The reason is obvious: If you don't keep track of what's happening in real time you don't know if what you're changing is working or not.
Given this, here's what I've been using for the past 30 years to measure and control quality of hire.
The Performance-based Hiring Job Fit Index shown in the graphic describes seven factors that accurately predict a new hire's on-the-job performance. The five lighter shaded factors represent a candidate's ability to do the work required. The two darker shaded circles represent the person's motivation to do the work. Both sets of factors must be true in order to ensure your "yes" hiring decision is the right one.
Using the Performance-based Hiring Job Fit Index
A person needs to score high on all of these factors in order to be considered a strong hire.
Comparable Results. It's important to assess a candidate against the performance expectations of the job. This is the most important factor, and without this as the benchmark, quality of hire is impossible to measure, predict or control.
Talent and Ability. While a person needs to possess basic skills, these need to be assessed in combination with the person's ability to learn new skills and their upside potential.
Quality of Work and Trend of Growth. An upward trend of growth handling bigger projects is a good predictor of performance. High quality work is a good substitute for those who have slowed their ascent.
The Achiever Pattern. The best people are assigned more important tasks and to more important teams, they get promoted faster, win awards and/or receive special recognition. A pattern like this indicates a person is in the top 25% of his/her peer group.
Managerial and Cultural Fit. Good people underperform when their styles clash with the hiring manager or they don't fit the culture. Both of these factors can be accurately assessed by defining the specific culture and the hiring manager's leadership style.
These five conditions must all be true before hiring someone and, while necessary, they're not sufficient to predict job performance. These two additional candidate-facing conditions must also be true.
Job Fit. The work itself must be intrinsically motivating or the candidate will quickly become disengaged.
Career Move. A career move must provide a minimum 30% non-monetary increase. This is the sum of job stretch (a bigger job), job growth (the rate of increase in opportunity) and job satisfaction (a richer mix of more satisfying work).
I'd hate to meet my old friend in five years to discuss what's improved when it comes to hiring people, and the answer is still "not much." It won't be if this type of Job Fit Index is used both as a starting point and as a roadmap for getting better.