Halo: Not Just for Angels

Did you ever wonder why advertisers use celebrities to promote their products? Do these often drug-addicted, marriage-impaired, narcissistic, wealthy, spoiled people really know more than we do about life? Sure. And Michael Jackson is going to open a chain of childcare centers for latchkey kids next year while Hannibal Lechter opens a gourmet restaurant. Advertisers use celebrities because of something called “halo.” Halos are fine for angels, but they get hiring managers and professionals in real trouble. Halo is a naturally occurring process. It seems to be in our genes. It happens every time we meet a likeable person, and then, without gathering additional data, make an assumption that this person must also be smart, successful, happy, coordinated, etc. Basically, we take a “snippet” of information from one pleasant characteristic and use it to make a pretty big leap of faith about totally unrelated skills and abilities. Most of the time halo is no big deal, but when your job requires making expensive recruiting and hiring decisions, it becomes a real problem. A few weeks ago, I discussed some research that showed the interview is very good at measuring three characteristics associated with getting to know the candidate. These are agreeableness, extraversion, and openness to experience. Your basic, “Gee, you sound like the kind of person I’d like to get to know better” person. But, if your goal as a hiring manager or recruiter is to “get to know the person,” then you better come to grips with the fact that halo is actively at work undermining your objectivity. Want to know more about how halo distorts the facts? So tell me about yourself. For one thing, all we have to go on from most candidates is self-reported data. Assuming the interviewer was not raised on another planet, we all know in our hearts that self-reported data tends to be self-serving. It’s human nature. Everyone tends to forget and minimize past mistakes, so you’ll seldom hear anything bad from applicants – just good news, frequent successes, and great achievements in the face of serious obstacles. What is our human tendency to get around all this self-promotion? “Inexperienced” recruiters try to use lists of “trick” questions like “Describe your greatest success” and “Tell me about your greatest weakness” as if somehow the applicant will fall for this trick and tell us bad things about themselves. (Don’t worry if you are still doing this, almost everyone starts here). It takes a while, but most of us figure out that only the dullest applicant will give negative answers to this type of question. The smart ones have rehearsed answers that tell us nothing about their skills for the job. Rehearsed answers add to applicant halo. Some interviewers eventually graduate from using their “favorite questions” and learn to use behavioral-based questions (Paul Green, Targeted Selection, Accuhire, etc.). These techniques probe deeply the applicant’s background looking for evidence of legitimate job achievement. Evidence helps to verify applicant answers by focusing on job-specific skills, but remember the data is still largely self- reported. Smarter people tend to have more halo and do better in interviews, but this does not necessarily lead to higher job performance. You have references? It would be helpful if past employers could verify applicant job performance, but our litigious society discourages legitimate job references. Fear of litigation tends to squelch past performance data to demographics like salary, title, and employment duration. Personal references? They’re not biased. Noooo. What’s left? How about panel interviews? Same difference. Just more people firing more questions. Hundreds of thousands of dollars invested based on the halo generated by agreeableness, extraversion and openness to experience. Sound like a problem to you? The Way Out I think it is insulting to suggest that recruiters in today’s market should “start” looking for qualified people. Was it okay to look for unqualified people yesterday? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure that most recruiters want to do a good job, otherwise there would not be so many, “Anyone have a good question?” questions on the forum. But, before any recruiter can become really good at the job, he or she must use tools that minimize halo. For one thing, start using some form of behavioral or situational interviews. As I mentioned before, these will not do a good job discovering an applicant’s conscientiousness or emotional stability (I am not referring to emotional “intelligence”, that is an entirely different matter). But, they will do a better job of measuring applicant’s problem solving, planning and interpersonal competencies. But remember, any style of interview is limited to self-reported data and interviewer bias. If you want better than 10-15% interview accuracy, you need to use better tools – tools that look more like the job. If you are hiring a salesperson, manager, customer service rep, self-directed team member, or any other position where interpersonal skills are a critical part of the job, then only a simulation can measure one-on-one skills. Simulations are not the same practice events you suffered through in workshops. They are tests and should have all the controls of a good test. Forget the “sell me a pencil”, nonsense. Good simulations have about 60-70% job-skill predictability. Role-plays need uniform administration, controlled times, trained role-players, and uniform scoring guides. If you are a Targeted Selection graduate, you should be able to buy some decent role-plays from your vendor. If your vendor doesn’t know about role-plays, get another vendor. Role-plays are good examples of content-valid selection tools. If role-plays are the best measure of one-on-one skills, then what do you think are the best measures of mental ability? Right! Mental tests and exercises are the most accurate measures of mental ability. They are good tools to use whenever the applicant will face serious mental challenges and solve problems encountered in professional positions, technical customer service, some first line manages, mid and upper level managers. Be careful you don’t set the scores too high, though you only need scores high enough to be successful in the job. High scores tend to have adverse impact and may lead to turnover (people who are too smart for the job tend to get bored). Tests of problem-solving ability come in many types too numerous to mention, but they need criterion validation studies to set cutoff scores and find the balance point between screening out the qualified and screening in the unqualified. Mental alertness tests have about a 25% association with job performance. The last area is one I call AIMs – my acronym for attitudes, interests and motivations. These are the real “drivers” of performance. If you have the right one-on-one skills and a good head on your shoulders – your AIMs determine how you choose to use these abilities. You’ll seldom hear anything but good AIMs expressed during an interview. AIMs lay “under the waterline” and are rarely exposed to others or even expressed to oneself. A good AIM test tells you about three sides of performance:

  1. the applicant’s work standards,
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  3. the applicant’s emotional stability, and
  4. the applicant’s job and cultural fit.

(AIM data is not a coaching tool. You don’t coach someone to do something they don’t like or don’t believe in.) AIM data can be roughly broken town into ten different areas. These can be defined as combinations of problem solving, impulsiveness, idea generation/ innovation, expressiveness, inflexibility, perfectionism, self-centeredness, rule following, teamwork, and attitude toward work. The key to understanding AIMS is recognizing that different jobs have different combinations of AIMs and that one size does not fit all – AIMs have to be tailored to each position using a validation study. The End There you have it…halo is alive and well and actively undermining each placement decision you make. The way to minimize halo is to use better hiring tools: starting with structured interview technology, then adding cognitive ability tests, one-on-one simulations, and AIMs tests. What will you get? How about lower turnover, higher individual productivity, reduced training time, and better overall morale? Worth it? Well, consider the alternative: Does anyone have a favorite question that will help me better qualify applicants? <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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