The Official Rules for Hiring Top Talent

Use an Evidence-based Assessment Process to Hire More Top Talent

Sometimes the best person for a job is not the best interviewer. Most often the best interviewer is not the most talented among a group of three or four candidates. Frequently the best person for a job, who is a good interviewer, is underwhelmed by the opportunity available and comes across as quiet or uninterested. On top of these problems, add hiring manager bias, lack of understanding of real job needs, temporary nervousness on the part of good candidates, and lack of preparation on the part of the interviewing team members. Collectively, it's fairly obvious why current interviewing and assessment techniques are poor predictors of on-the-job success. All this suggests that the traditional unstructured interview as well as the structured behavioral interview are inadequate in overcoming these hiring process problems.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss this topic as a panelist on a Human Capital Institute web program with Cathy Lee Gibson, the former Director of the Human Resources Program at Cornell's Industrial and Labor Relations School. The focus was on how to better "manage" hiring managers. This is a point of significant interest to any of the recruiters among us who have lost a good candidate because one of our clients made an incorrect assessment. It should also be a point of major interest to any hiring manager who is at odds with their recruiting or HR group regarding how to best measure candidate quality.

During the webcast I described the evidenced-based assessment approach we've developed as part of Performance-based Hiringsm to specifically address this all-too-common problem. Our solution was to change the method used by the interviewing team to decide whether to hire someone or not. Rather than add up a bunch of superficial or biased yes/no votes, the idea was to delay the assessment until all of the interviewers could present their findings. Once this is completed, the group collectively makes the hiring decision based on all of the evidence presented. Cathy summarized this whole point succinctly by saying it was akin to being "a juror, not a judge," during the interview.

While the idea of delaying the vote until all of the evidence is shared is a worthy objective, it does take a formal process to pull it off. This flies in the face of "tradition," and HR/Recruiting is rarely a trend setter at introducing readily-adopted management practices. However, the process I'm going to summarize below has received significant traction among major and mid-size organizations including Cognos/IBM, Broadcom, AIG, Mellon Bank, the YMCA, REI Coop, Duke Energy, Towers Perrin, and the Washington State Department of Transportation, to name just a few.

The assessment system we recommend is based on using a formal candidate assessment scorecard. Here's a sample of our 10-Factor Candidate Assessment template you can download to get an idea of how this process works. If you'd like the full version of the template you'll need to send an email to, buy a copy of Hire With Your Head, or take any of our courses. The 10-Factor Candidate Assessment template describes the ten factors that we've seen best predict on-the-job success. In addition, it includes a 1-5 scale scoring system with specific guidance on how to justify each score. While the ten predictive factors are obviously important, the scoring system is really the most important part of the assessment system. For example, following is the guidance provided for the 1-5 ranking for "Team and Leadership Skills," one of the most important of the ten factors:

Team and Leadership Skills with Comparable Groups

Level 1 – Unqualified : Uncooperative, bad attitude, negative. Hides problems. Or too individual. Cause of conflict. Antagonistic.

Level 2 – Less Qualified : Will cooperate if asked. Needs urging to be involved with others. Avoids problems. Can't handle conflict. Passive.

Level 3 – Fully Qualified : Fully cooperates with others without urging. Openly addresses problems. Accepts conflict. Pushes viewpoint.

Level 4 – Highly Qualified : Takes initiative to help others. Anticipates problems. Persuasive. Motivates others. Handles conflict well. Takes lead.

Level 5 – Extremely Qualified : Persuades, inspires, motivates, coaches. Minimizes conflict. Diplomatic. Proactively develops others. Asked to lead.

Some of the other factors include technical competency, motivation to do comparable work, job-related problem-solving, cultural fit, and organizational and planning skills. As you can see from the 10-Factor Candidate Assessment template, the guidance is not only unique to the specific factor and level, but also is based on a comparison to the real job the candidate is being assessed against.

Using this 10-factor assessment form as the foundation, here's how the evidence-based assessment process works:

  1. Make sure everyone on the interviewing team understand the real job needs. We use a performance profile to describe what the person in the job needs to do to be considered successful. As long as everyone knows the real job, interviewers naturally look for examples of comparable performance, rather than over-relying on intuition, emotions, or gut feelings.
  2. Don't assign anyone a full yes/no vote. Instead, assign each interviewer two or three of the factors to focus on during the interview. By narrowing their responsibility, interviewers are naturally more thorough in collecting unbiased information. If you have enough interviewers you can overlap some of the factors to ensure better coverage.
  3. We suggest that interviewers use our two-question performance-based interview to obtain the detailed facts needed to base their rankings on. The key to this is to dig deep into the candidate's accomplishments that best relate to each of the factors. For example, ask an engineer to describe how he organized and executed a complex design project. The interviewer would then ask a series of fact-finding questions to gather the necessary evidence to determine and justify whatever score is given.
  4. Using the 10-Factor Candidate Assessment scorecard as a guide, share the evidence gathered during the individual interviews in a formal debriefing session. It's important that the hiring manager or person leading the debriefing session forces the interviewers to provide specific evidence including facts, dates, and details, to justify the score and not accept feelings, beliefs, or emotions.

While there is often animated discussion in these debriefings, the sharing of specific evidence naturally increases the accuracy of the overall assessment. Wide swings in scores for the same factor indicate that too many interviewers are relying on feelings rather than facts to justify their evaluations. When evidence and facts are openly shared, the typical variances within any factor are typically quite small. We have discovered that the longer the interviewer and interviewing team delays the yes/no decision, the greater the accuracy. That's probably why jurors are asked to collect all of the information before deciding on a verdict.

Even though managers conceptually agree to the approach, sometimes they argue that it takes too long to conduct a formal debriefing this way. The obvious counterpoint is that it takes a lot more time every day to manage someone you shouldn't have hired to begin with. Since line managers won't naturally invest the time necessary to make the best hiring decision possible, it's important to force the issue and make the process formal. The evidence-based assessment process described above actually takes no more time than the less formal and more inaccurate processes most hiring managers use today. The key here is to consider each interviewer as a member of the jury, and not the judge. And as part of this, remember the judge's instructions: withhold your verdict until all of the evidence is heard. This is pretty good advice for assessing candidates, too.

Lou Adler
The Adler Group, President