The #1 Secret To Eliminating Costly Hiring Mistakes

First, be skeptical of anyone with a Ph.D. No, that’s not the number #1 secret; that’s just good advice (there might be a few exceptions to this principle of business ó Jack Welch, for instance ó but not many others). Demand proof of everything they say. This is also good advice that applies to others you come into contact with, from candidates who claim they’ve accomplished a lot to the non-Ph.D.s who write these articles. Demanding proof is actually the #1 secret of good interviewing, but it’s not #1 for eliminating hiring mistakes. Second, hiring top people is not about interviewing and competency models. It’s more about getting top people interested in your job openings. No, that’s still not the #1 secret of eliminating hiring mistakes ó that’s just a fact. If you’re not seeing top candidates, all a good interview will do is prove that your sourcing techniques aren’t any good. In fact, this is probably the best reason to be good at interviewing ó so you can have proof that you should dump your recruitment advertising program and change your sourcing methods. Third, hiring top people is really about getting a great candidate with multiple opportunities to consider your job opening and eventually accept an offer if one is extended. But even this is still not the #1 secret of eliminating hiring mistakes ó although this is the #1 performance objective for a recruiter. So let’s assume you’re pretty good at interviewing. (The truth is you don’t have to be great, just pretty good. And I can prove this if anyone wants me to ó see the first paragraph). Let’s also assume you’re seeing a number of strong candidates. Now imagine this: someone who appears to be a strong candidate begins an interview with a good interviewer. This good interviewer could be anyone on the interviewing team, even the hiring manager. The candidate makes a great first impression, has good paperwork, is prepared, and is on time. Furthermore, the candidate is attractive, assertive, affable, and articulate, and has made pleasant remarks to everyone she or he has met. In addition, the candidate has a firm handshake, is confident, makes good eye contact, and is poised and professional. The interviewer immediately likes this candidate. It is just at this moment that the biggest chance for a hiring mistake is possible. Now image another scenario. Someone who doesn’t appear to be a strong candidate begins an interview with a good interviewer. While the candidate has good paperwork, he or she is a bit nervous, is not as attractive, isn’t as comfortable, seems to ramble, isn’t too prepared, and might even have been late to the interview. The interviewer immediately is turned off by this candidate. It is just at this moment when the biggest chance for a hiring mistake is also possible. Here’s what happens next. With the apparently stronger candidate, the interviewer instantly relaxes and starts to sell the candidate, talks too much, accepts generalities as facts, and assumes competency, motivation, and good team skills. Why not? The person is outgoing, bright, self-confident, and appears very interested in the job. With the apparently weaker candidate, the interviewer instantly tightens up and feels uncomfortable. The interviewer then asks some obligatory questions, with the underlying intent of trying to find some reasons to end the interview early, or to look for some facts to exclude the candidate from consideration. Why not? The person is an obvious misfit. More hiring mistakes are made in these first 30 minutes of the interview than at any other time. As interviewers, we are preprogrammed to go through the type of scenario just described, depending on whether we initially like or dislike the candidate. Our conduct is unfortunately based on nothing more than first impressions, intuition, and gut reaction. We then look for facts to prove and support our initial reaction to the candidate. With an underlying like/dislike bias, it is always possible to find enough facts to prove whatever case we want to make. Overcoming this emotional reaction is the key to eliminating all common hiring mistakes. If you want to eliminate the most number of hiring mistakes, wait 30 minutes before you determine if you like or dislike the candidate. This is the #1 secret of eliminating hiring mistakes. It takes 30 minutes for our initial gut reaction to dissipate and for objectivity to return. To hasten the process, first go out of your way to really determine if the person is both competent and motivated to do the work, whether you initially like the candidate or not. Then determine if you really like the person based on what they’ve actually done, not on your first impression. Another way of accomplishing this is to postpone making your first impression for 30 minutes, when you’re less emotionally affected by it. Performance and personality are both important to job success, but measure the performance part first. If you do, you’ll be able to see true personality emerge through the candidate’s performance. For many candidates, interviewing personality is more like party personality. Most people can be friendly and outgoing for at least an hour. For others, interviewing is a bit stressful. Under these conditions, strong candidates can sometimes become forgetful, superficial, and lacking in confidence. After 30 minutes of objective interviewing, most candidates return to their true selves. Staying objective and getting to that 30-minute mark is difficult, but it’s worth it ó since this is the key to eliminating the majority of hiring mistakes. Try to bring your subconscious reaction to the candidate’s first impression to the conscious level. This will help fight the tendency to judge the candidate’s competency and motivation too soon, and help you get to the 30-minute mark. Here’s how you do this. As soon as the interview begins, describe in your notes the candidate’s first impression and the impact it had on you. Then change your frame of reference. If you like the candidate, go out of your way to be more probing and challenging. This will be hard, but it will help offset your natural reaction to be more open and forgiving. If you don’t initially like the candidate, do just the opposite ó assume the candidate really is very competent, and force yourself to look for proof. This is also hard to do, since we naturally are trying to disprove competency. After 30 minutes, or at the end of the interview, consciously measure the candidate’s first impression and how you feel about the candidate’s personality and fit within your company. Once the candidate has left, compare your “before” and “after” notes. The difference in the candidate’s immediate first impression on you and the delayed more objective impact can be quite revealing. You’ll immediately see how your personal biases affect your judgment. Using this delayed evaluation technique, I’ve discovered that about half of the candidates I thought were initially great were really pretty average, and about half of those I thought were weak were really quite good. You’ll probably find similar results. I remember a very short and very heavy candidate for a sales job who grew five inches and lost 40 pounds during one of these 30-minute exercises ó after I learned he sold a $10 million order to a Fortune 100 company. Once you’ve tried this technique out and proven it for yourself, train others on the interviewing team to do the same thing. Since interviewing is a collective assessment, it’s important to eliminate everyone’s emotional biases from the evaluation process. This is the real challenge, but worth it if you want to stop making dumb hiring mistakes. Wait 30 minutes. This is the #1 secret of eliminating costly and easily preventable hiring mistakes. In the process, you’ll find some overlooked stars that just get a little nervous early in the interview. You might even learn something more important about yourself.

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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).


1 Comment on “The #1 Secret To Eliminating Costly Hiring Mistakes

  1. This is so true. First impressions are so powerful that they create sometimes a false acceptance of some candidates. It is human nature to visualise what your ideal candidate will look like, act like etc. If that person walks into an interview the physical and mannerisms can outweigh and undermine what should happen next.

    Good advice Lou.

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