Good Interviewing: It’s All About Style

Most interviewers overvalue a candidate’s ability to get the job, rather than do the job. In the first five to ten minutes of an interview, first impressions and biases dominate the selection process. Unconsciously, interviewers make an emotional decision at this point, and then look for facts to justify this decision. With this first impression bias firmly in place, interviewers then branch off into a secondary decision-making process. This is where the going really gets rocky – because these decisions depend on the interviewers’ natural personality and decision-making style. These styles appear to break down into three basic groups:

  1. The most frequent is the “intuitive” interviewer. Intuitive interviewers tend to overvalue communication skills, intelligence, and self-confidence. They have a natural desire to make quicker decisions, so they don’t want to spend a lot of time interviewing candidates. It’s much easier for this type of interviewer to make quick gut-level decisions based on a few facts and a few rules. While they sometimes hire some very capable people, they also frequently hire people who are only partially competent. More frequently, they exclude great candidates for superficial reasons. Both errors occur because they haven’t made a balanced assessment of the candidate across real job needs. Intuitive interviewers have a few key indicators of success and weakness they use to determine competency. They then globalize these rules to make the hiring decision. (Some of the silliest I’ve heard recently: “must have played high school sports, then they’re coachable,” or “must have a military background, then they’re committed,” or “must not have military background, because they’re too rigid.”)
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  3. If these hiring rules become more like box checking, without much thinking, I recategorize the interviewer’s classification to the “analytical” or “techie” style. This group overvalues experience, education, and skills.. They tend to hire solid people, but not superstars. Motivation is completely ignored. They forget (or never knew) that the best people don’t want to do exactly the same job – they want to be stretched and motivated. My suggestion for this group is to always reduce the qualifiers to the absolute minimum, and look for candidates who have demonstrated the ability to learn, grow, and perform in comparable situations.
  4. There’s another interviewing style that doesn’t have any rules. I call this type the “super-emotionals,” or “relationship” interviewers. They make decisions very quickly based on first impressions, and a decent resume. Style and personality are everything. Sometimes rational interviewers fall into this category if pressed for time, or if they’re just conducting a courtesy interview for someone else. Performance standards are non-existent. This type of interviewer overtalks, and underlistens. It’s the sales mode approach to interviewing and recruiting. The interviewer seems desperate, cheapening the job and putting candidates in control. If the person is ultimately hired, compensation is always higher than necessary. Results are always random, since no assessment ever took place.

Dealing with these various styles can be very frustrating for a recruiter, whose personal success hinges upon the poor assessment skills of others. It was this frustration at having to do the same search more than once, particularly after well-qualified candidates were excluded from consideration for the wrong reasons, that started the search for a better solution that eventually became the POWER Hiring concept. I began to notice that those hiring managers who got it right shared a common characteristic: in each case, job needs were clearly understood. They developed a list of deliverables defining the real job, and these were prepared well before the interview. Other interviewers involved in the hiring decision were required to know these before the interview. This list of prioritized deliverables became the P in POWER, the Performance Profile. Their interviewing method was always to get detailed examples of comparable accomplishments – the results achieved and the process used to achieve them. As much time was spent on understanding the team and environment involved, as on personal accomplishments. We developed our four-question objective interview from this. It became the O in POWER, the objective evaluation. We named this style “performance-based” interviewing. Hiring managers generally adopted this performance-based interview approach through the method of trial and error. They expanded the intuitive interviewer’s narrow approach by looking at more than two or three traits to predict success – usually six to eight factors. This was combined with the techie style of fact-finding to ensure that their assessments were accurate. Less emphasis was placed on skills and competency and more on initiative, ability to learn, and achieving comparable results. Remaining neutral was critical to offset the natural tendency to become emotionally biased. Personality and fit was measured through job accomplishments, not by feelings. (This is the E in POWER – emotional control.) Over the years, I’ve trained my clients to use this system to help do a better job of hiring top talent. It’s also helped me do a better job of being a recruiter. On my first day as a recruiter, I was told that if I worked hard I would at least become an average biller (not a bad-looking goal at the time.) I was also informed that if I could manage and control my candidates. I could become a very good recruiter and a strong biller. If I wanted to be the best, however, I had to control and manage all aspects of the hiring process – not only my candidates, but also my clients. This was critical. I’m still working at it. Understanding how our clients make bad hiring decisions is the first step in helping them make good ones. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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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