It’s pretty clear that when we hire or promote someone we personally know we judge them largely on their past performance and ability to handle the new job.

When we hire people whom we don’t know – like those who have applied to a job posting – we focus first on their skills and experiences and then on their personality and presentation skills.

Not surprising, when we hire people we know, their subsequent on-the-job performance is more predictable than when we hire strangers. The reason is that we’re assessing the known person largely on his or her past performance doing comparable work rather than the person’s absolute level of skills and experiences. It's been proven that when we assess strangers based on their past performance doing comparable work their subsequent performance is just as predictable. This is the idea behind the performance-based interview process I advocate which in many ways is comparable to a pre-hire performance review. This type of interview is a great means to convert total strangers into known acquaintances before hiring them.

The process starts by creating a performance-based job description listing the 6-8 critical performance objectives of the job. To prepare these it’s best to start with one or two major objectives and then define the sequence of sub-steps necessary to achieve the major objectives.

For example, if a major objective is to lead the implementation of a new business process within the first year, one of the initial sub-steps could be to create a detailed process map of the existing approach highlighting all of the changes needed to be made. The next step could be to work with the user groups and IT to determine the technical feasibility of the overall product and define the biggest challenges. Another step could be to develop the preliminary online interface designs and get approval from all of the stakeholders. Then the plan would need to be developed, approved, put into motion and executed properly.

Most project-oriented positions involve a similar sequence of steps from understanding the project requirements to successfully completing it. I refer to this as the “Process of Success” as shown in the graphic. When I interview candidates I ask them to describe their major accomplishments and then dig into the details behind each step to determine if they follow this logical sequence.

While I don’t overdo it, I like each of the major performance objectives to be as SMARTe as possible. This stands for Specific, Measurable, the Action defined, the expected Results or the deliverable clarified, the Time required to complete the task specified and the environment described. The environment includes the company culture, the pace of the organization, the hiring manager’s style, the resources available and any constraints or unusual challenges.

During the interview it’s important to ask the candidate to describe a comparable accomplishment for each of the 6-8 performance objectives describing the actual job. This is where the pre-hire performance review concept comes into play. The job of the interviewer is to fully understand exactly what the candidate has accomplished. The best way to get this information is to ask SMARTe questions and then get SMARTe answers for each critical step in the Process of Success.

For example, ask the candidate to be specific giving dates, measurable details and the actual results achieved. Then start at the beginning of the project and find out the candidate’s actual role, the planning process used and how the plan was kept on track. As part of this have the person describe the environment including the people on the team, the hiring manager’s style, whether the pace was intense or slow and how well the candidate adapted to these circumstances. This fact-finding process is further explained in this Performance-based Hiring course.

To make the yes/no hiring decision you need to compare the information collected to the actual performance objectives of the position from a scope, scale, process and team perspective. (Here’s a sample of a Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard you can use to collect this evidence from everyone on the interviewing team.)

By asking SMARTe questions for all of the objectives and using this type of evidence-based assessment you’ll know if the candidate is both competent and internally motivated to successfully handle all job requirements. As important, you’ll know if the person fits – fits with the hiring manager’s style, fits with the team and fits the company’s culture and environment.

Collectively, this is how you convert strangers into acquaintances before hiring them. In the process you’ll make better hiring decisions based on the person’s past performance and future potential.