The #1 Secret of Hiring Success

If your hiring manager clients are not doing a good job of assessing your candidates, you should review this article with them. No matter how good a recruiter you are, if your clients pass on your good candidates, you’re working too hard doing searches over again. The key is just to assess a candidate’s motivation to do the work. Motivation to do the work is the #1 secret of success. Technical competency to do the work is actually quite easy to measure. Motivation to do the work, however, is another ball game entirely. Motivation to do the work encompasses responsibility, team skills, commitment, initiative, diligence, leadership, drive for success, and desire all in one little phrase. In some cases, it just means showing up everyday. In this article, I’d like to show you how to use the performance-based interviewing process described in my book, Hire With Your Head (Wiley, 2002), and especially the one-question interview. In the process, you’ll discover a little secret: Hiring is really pretty easy. All you have to do is stop hiring people who aren’t motivated to do the work, and start hiring people who are. The foundation of performance-based hiring is the performance profile. These are the six or so performance objectives that define excellent performance for any job. The recruiter needs to develop these with the hiring manager. For a sales rep, it’s about consistently making quota ó including all of the sub-tasks required to get there, like developing 20 leads per week or making 10 presentations per month, etc. For an engineer, it’s about leading the design of a new product, developing alternatives, or working with manufacturing to ensure an on-time flawless launch. For a manager, it’s about assessing, building and developing a team to accomplish some big project on time and on budget while tracking performance, or it’s about upgrading or improving some process. Once you have the performance objectives figured out, all you need to do is use the one-question interview to assess competency and motivation to do this work. Just dig deep ó peel the onion, get examples ó into a candidate’s major accomplishments (I’d suggest four or five) to determine when, where, and for how long the candidate excelled. Spend 10-15 minutes on each accomplishment. Develop a trend line over time to observe consistency and growth. Then, for each required performance objective, rank the candidate using the 1-5 ranking scale described below. You can download a copy of my 10-factor candidate assessment form to try this out yourself in a more formal way. Level 1: Zero motivation to do the work. This is a candidate who can’t or won’t meet the tough expectations for the job. A person with zero motivation can’t or won’t do the work. It could be an accountant who doesn’t want to do journal entries, an engineer who would rather do analysis than design, or a recruiter or sales rep who doesn’t want to make cold calls. Zero motivation is actually very easy to measure. The candidate will usually tell you they don’t want to do the work once you tell them what’s required. If a person tells you they will do the work, even if you can’t find any recent evidence of them doing this kind of work, you’ll need to figure out why the person would be interested. It probably relates to how desperate the person is for the job. When fact finding, look for these clues of Level 1 performance: no examples of doing this type of work well, no examples of taking the initiative to do this type of work, the person never having done this type of work or never having gotten better doing it. Level 2: Requires extra pushing or supervision to do the work. This candidate falls short of the tough expectations for the job. This is the most common hiring error of all time: hiring people who are competent to do the work but who need to be constantly pushed, prodded, urged and supervised to do it. It takes a lot of diligence during the interview to assess lack of motivation, because the person can describe lots of recent examples of doing the work required ó and can even sound excited about it. Some clues that the candidate isn’t all that motivated to do the work: few examples of taking the initiative to do this type of work, accomplishments only indirectly related to this type of work, no recognition for doing this type of work, and no examples of excelling at this type of work. Remember that every job has multiple tasks. It’s the interviewer’s responsibility to know which ones are most important for on-the-job success. For example, if the job requires a software developer to spend more time writing code than architecting the system, make sure the person wants to write code. Don’t assume motivation. Use the one-question interview plus fact finding to assess it. Level 3: Highly motivated to do all of the work required. This candidate meets the tough expectations for the job. He or she is a great hire, someone who is both competent to do the work and also has a great deal of desire to do it. This is a top-third person who can meet most, if not all, of the performance objectives described in the performance profile. Of course, don’t believe the person’s stated interest in the job without proof. Here are some clues indicating that the person is motivated to do the work required: many examples of doing comparable work with comparable results, multiple examples of taking the initiative in the areas required, self-development in the core areas, and consistent and significant recognition in the required areas. For example, don’t rank a person a Level 3 in motivation for a team-building objective unless the candidate can clearly describe initiating, helping or coaching others over an extended period of time coupled with some serious recognition for doing it, like an early promotion or a special award. Level 4: Highly motivated to do more work than required. This type of candidate exceeds the tough expectations for the job. He or she is a top 10-15% person, a super hire, someone who does more, does it better, and does it faster. This is the person who has the capacity and potential to get promoted in short order. Don’t buy into good verbal skills, affability, or enthusiasm to rank a person a Level 4. Instead, look for a trend line of increasing responsibilities and a track record of exceeding expectations in every job. As part of the fact-finding process, ask what the expectations were, and then find out how well the candidate performed, to determine how often and by how much expectations were exceeded. Look for recognition. Level 4 people get lots of it. If they’re in sales, they always make quota and always make club. If they’re in management they get promoted more frequently, hire better people, have less turnover, achieve more significant results, and have a number of people who have worked for them who have also been promoted. There aren’t many Level 4s, so when they show up hire them right away. Level 5: Extremely motivated to do far more work, far better work, or far different work than required. This is MVP performance, a top 1-5% person. These people take you to places you never expected, like doubling or tripling quota, designing world-class products, or building not just top teams but outstanding teams that never lose. Jack Welch or Bill Gates would qualify for Level 5 performance. Certainly Steve Jobs and John Wooden would. A sales manager I met in Houston also would. She managed a team of nine reps: three of them were in the top 15 in a company with over 700 sales reps and 75 managers. Level 5s have a track record of success with documented proof. Make sure their success is comparable to your job needs, or else you’ll wind up with a classic mismatch ó hiring a great person for the wrong job. Level 5 is pretty spectacular and pretty obvious when you dig in to the accomplishments. The big problem with Level 5s is that most interviewers start selling too soon. This not only cheapens the job, it’s also a turn off. And if you sell too soon, you might discover too late that your Level 5 was just a Level 2 with a flashy story. Digging deep to prove someone is a Level 5 is how you also recruit the person. Level 5s want to work at companies with high standards. This 1-5 ranking has been designed to make a Level 3 a great hire. It defines the expectation for superior performance. Since you’ve documented exactly what it is by using a performance profile, everyone is also using the same measurement criteria when assessing candidates. So be stingy with your Level 4 and Level 5 rankings, and deliberative when trying to determine the difference between Level 2 and Level 3. This is all there is to successful hiring: stop hiring Level 2s and start hiring Level 3s or better. For a manager, this is Level 4 performance. For a recruiter. it’s how you increase your productivity by 100%.

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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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