There are two huge problems when hiring is viewed as an end-to-end process. The first one involves sourcing. Most companies are terrible when it comes to advertising, recruiting, and attracting the best. Of course, as a recruiter, how I make my money is by finding top people that others can’t. And, in today’s Internet age, this is actually quite easy. However, this is a big waste of time if you or your hiring managers don’t know how to accurately assess candidate competency.
I’ve seen many good people get overlooked and underperformers get hired because the recruiter or someone on the hiring team didn’t properly assess competency. With this in mind, I would like to offer a 10-step process that will increase your company’s ability to accurately determine a person’s ability to perform on the job with 80-90% accuracy.
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- Know the job. As odd as this seems, the primary reason most people aren’t very good at assessing competency is that they don’t know what the person really needs to do on the job to be successful. Recruiters are equally at fault here. When you don’t know the job, you over-rely on experience, skills, and qualifications with some combination of intuition, gut-feel, personality, and technical depth. I use performance profiles to determine real job needs, but the key is to focus more on results and deliverables to define the work rather than qualifications.
- Emphasize comparable results, not skills and competencies. Dig deep into a candidate’s major accomplishments to find out how their skills, behaviors, and competencies collectively were used to achieve success. Then, compare these results to what’s required on the job. By trending these accomplishments over time, you’ll also be able to observe consistency and growth. This “combo-behavioral” interview is far more effective than looking at individual traits separately. (Here’s the one-question fact-finding interview I use for this.)
- Give a very restricted “no” vote that must be proven with facts, not feelings. It’s too easy to say “no” about someone for a minor issue (late, unprepared) or incorrectly assess someone on an important trait that requires skill and training to measure, like meeting performance objectives on time. To minimize these false conclusions, require written documentation with substantive proof for all “no” votes.
- Don’t give anyone a full “yes” vote. There is no way someone can assess complete candidate competency across all job needs in a 45-60 minute interview. You might be able to determine if someone is an abject failure in this time, but that’s about it. Instead of allowing a full “yes” vote, assign interviewers a sub-set of factors to assess during the interview (here’s a generic competency model you can use for this.) When interviewers “own” a specific trait (e.g., job-specific problem solving), they tend to be more focused and more accurate.
- Require candidates to give a PowerPoint presentation of their background. Errors due to lack of good interviewing skills on the part of the candidate or the manager can be reduced by having candidates present their background in a more structured way using PowerPoint. During the interview, allow candidates to talk through their 6-8 page printed summary with the interviewer getting details and asking for clarification. The presentation consists of a work-history overview, major accomplishments and recognition received at each job, and a summary of strengths and developmental needs. This structured interview approach forces both the candidate and interviewer to stay on point and prevents misunderstandings. The written component is especially valuable in overcoming language gaps.
- Conduct more panel interviews. Positive and negative emotional reaction to a candidate is one of the root causes of interviewing errors (lack of job knowledge is the other). Structured panel interviews with 3-4 interviewers are extremely useful in minimizing errors due to first impressions, personality style, and preconceptions. During the session, one interviewer must lead, with the others only allowed to ask for clarifying information. The worst type of panel interview occurs when panel interviewers compete with each other asking their “favorite questions.” Here’s an article on organizing panel interviews you might find useful.
- Use job-simulation or problem-solving questions. For years I’ve been asking candidates to present their analysis of a business-related issue in a panel interview as part of a take-home project. As long as the problems are job-related, important traits are uncovered, such as thinking, creativity, communications, confidence, interest, decision-making, and analytical skills. You can also ask a similar question during an interview by asking the person how she would handle a realistic job-problem. Then, get in to a give-and-take conversation. This will provide a rough sense of these same traits. Job-simulations like these, or anything else that demonstrate a person’s ability to handle real job needs, improves the overall predictability of the assessment.
- Conduct multiple interviews. If the hiring manager is serious about hiring the best, more than one session should be spent with the candidate. For staff positions I’d recommend at least two meetings, and for mid-management at least three. For executive-level spots a minimum of 5-6 hours spread over multiple sessions is essential. You can’t learn much about a person in the first meeting since everything is scripted and the candidate is prepped. The real truth comes out in the second and third sessions.
- Use a formal group debriefing process to reach consensus across all job factors. First, assign interviewers a sub-set of the traits in your competency model (here’s a free generic one with a results-based ranking system) and require them to provide detailed evidence to support their assessment. Then review these in a formal group debriefing session. The hiring manager and more senior people should make their comments last. Also, start off with the positives, before getting into the negatives, to increase group objectivity. Then, foster argument about each trait. At the end, you’ll know your assessment is reasonably accurate if there is little variation in opinion on each factor. Wide variation on each factor is indicative of a superficial or biased assessment.
- Implement a multi-step validation process. A multi-step interview process as described is not enough. You’ll need to include some type of cognitive skills testing to assess verbal and numeric reasoning. This will increase assessment accuracy by about five percentage points. A personality DISC-like test is helpful as a confirming indicator when used to guide the second set of interview questions. (I like the Profile XT instrument for both of these.) Of course, you must have drug testing (this weeds out a lot of under-performers) and conduct a formal background check (Hireright.com is the one I recommend). In-depth reference checks must also be conducted, with the hiring manager personally involved. Checkster.com is a new tool that we’re just checking out which provides a 360-degree, anonymous means to conduct more effective reference checks.
Interviewing candidates is an important business process that few companies implement properly, even for those that have competency models and use behavioral interviewing. The problem is weak integration among all of the tools, inappropriate training, and lack of enforcement, including weak metrics. For example, if you’re not measuring predicted candidate performance versus actual performance, you can’t get better through process improvement. (The multi-factor competency model mentioned earlier provides an easy way to do this.)
While some of the steps above are paradigm shifting (e.g., focus on comparable results, group voting, PowerPoint structured interviewing), none are complex. The hard part is in the implementation and monitoring. But if hiring the best is an important strategic initiative for your company, there is no simpler, more accurate, or more effective way to pull it off than what’s described here.