Diamonds Last Forever, or How to Eliminate 50% of All Hiring Mistakes

With behavioral interviewing and all the heralded tests now available, why do you think managers still hire candidates who under-perform? Come up with your best four answers here: Reason 1. ___________________________________________________

Reason 2. ___________________________________________________

Reason 3. ___________________________________________________

Reason 4. ___________________________________________________ Before I give you my own reasons, and a few techniques to improve your own batting average, consider these rough statistics based on 20 years of personal observations:

  • More than 60% of most new salespeople don’t make quota the first year.
  • More than 60% of new CEOs don’t succeed when given two years. (A Fortune magazine article a few years ago actually indicated it was much higher than this.)
  • Hiring managers indicated that more than 50% of their new hires fall short of expectations in some important way.
  • Technical managers are more than 80% right when assessing technical competency.

When you breakdown why new employees under-perform, you discover these common hiring mistakes:

  1. Hiring candidates who are partially competent. This means they’re competent and motivated at performing some of the activities required on the job, but not all of them. This generally indicates the interview was incomplete.
  2. Hiring candidates who are fully competent, but who are unmotivated to do the required work. This generally happens when candidates are first filtered and evaluated on skills ó and then someone mistakes a candidate’s enthusiasm for wanting the job. The initial assumption is that the candidate wants to do the work. More likely, the enthusiasm is there because the person needs a job, dislikes his or her current job, or doesn’t know what the real job is. In any case, the interviewing problem is due to an inability to assess true motivation.
  3. Hiring candidates who talk a good game, but don’t deliver results. These candidates are bright, articulate, well-prepared, and outgoing. They sound great during the interview. Unfortunately, on the job they’re still better at talking about how the work needs to be done than doing it. It’s obvious that the assessment was made on how bright and outgoing the person was, not whether he or she can or wants to do the work.

These are the candidates you’ve hired that you need to provide with extra supervision, training, coaching, or a frequent kick in the you-know-where, just to get the person to meet normal job expectations. While these mistakes are obvious, another big hiring mistake rarely gets mentioned: not hiring the best person available because he or she didn’t interview well. Most managers never know they made this mistake. Recruiters know it happens a lot. If a better person is hired this isn’t a concern, but unfortunately this is often not the case. The person typically hired is the best interviewee, not the best possible employee. That’s why so many under-performers get hired. Here’s why this happens:

  1. The best employees aren’t the best interviewees, and it’s easy to eliminate a candidate who doesn’t seem to be effective at presenting him or herself.
  2. Most managers don’t really know what it takes to be successful on the job, so they overvalue candidate presentation, intelligence, or communication skills and undervalue performance.
  3. Except for assessing raw technical skills, most hiring managers aren’t really very good at assessing on-the-job performance and motivation.
  4. We never have enough time, and since interviewing is hard work, everyone takes shortcuts and ends up relying too heavily on first impressions and gut feelings.

The impact of these mistakes is summarized in the following table. It describes the four possible hiring outcomes when presentation is over-valued at the expense of performance.

Strong Performer Average or

Weak Performer

Strong Presentation Great Hire:

“Packaged Performers”

Bad Hire:

“Shooting Stars”

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Average or

Weak Presentation

Missed Chance:

“Diamonds in the Rough”

Good, No Hire:

“The Underwhelming”

Most people recognize that presentation doesn’t predict performance, but we unknowingly overvalue it anyway. The two most common mistakes: too often hiring shooting stars (enthusiastic underperformers), and too frequently not hiring the diamonds in the rough. Using presentation as the primary selection criteria, most managers get two of the four possible hiring outcomes right: hiring the packaged performers, and not hiring the underwhelming. Understanding why each type of hiring decision is made provides a simple solution.

  • Packaged Performers: These are the candidates who make great presentations and are also top performers. Just about anybody can recognize this person. However, in hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted with truly strong people, only one-third were also very good at presenting themselves. Another third were about average, and the remaining third were below average. When presentation is valued more highly than performance, two-thirds of these top performers are eliminated from consideration.
  • Shooting Stars: Hiring these enthusiastic underperformers is the most common hiring mistake. These are the candidates who seem good during the interview, and might even be good on the job for a few months. Unfortunately, once the honeymoon is over and routine sets in, they fall short of expectations. Two steps are required to stop hiring these shooting stars. First, eliminate the tendency to overvalue presentation. Second, learn how to assess both competency and motivation. Traditional behavioral interviewing unfortunately only gets at the competency part, not motivation.
  • Diamonds in the Rough: These the other two-thirds of the fully qualified candidate pool who got eliminated because their interviewing skills were sub-par. The same process used to stop hiring shooting stars is required to hire more of these diamonds in the rough. Getting these candidates hired is how hiring managers and recruiters become famous.
  • The Underwhelming: These are candidates who are both incompetent and make weak presentations. Few of these people ever get hired. This is a no-brainer. You have two chances to not hire this person, and most interviewers get at least one of them right. Few people need training to do this (probably only those who fall in this category themselves).

Here’s the simplest way to hire more diamonds and less shooting stars: just start measuring first impressions and presentation skills at the end of the interview, not at the beginning. Even if you think first impressions and presentation skills are important to job success, measure them at the end of the interview. This delay minimizes the emotionalism and lack of objectivity associated with first impressions and presentation skills. During the first 30 minutes, measure candidate performance. One way to do this is to have the person describe his or her three biggest accomplishments. Dig deep and get as many details as you can. Find out what the person has accomplished, how, and what motivated them to succeed. By the 30-minute mark, you’ll know if you’re interviewing a strong candidate or a dud. Then, objectively assess the candidate’s presentation skills and first impression. You’ll be surprised. A third of the candidates will get better, a third will get worse, and a third will stay the same. Everything changes when you delay the yes/no hiring decision by just 30 minutes. Simple. Diamonds last forever. Shooting stars don’t.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


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