The Formula for Hiring Success, Part 2

Recap: in part one of this series, the two-question performance-based interview was introduced. The first question involves asking candidates to describe some of their most significant business accomplishments in great detail. While it’s only one question, it is repeated multiple times to ensure coverage of all aspects of exceptional performance. The key to accurately assessing the person using this question is the need to define exceptional performance in the form of a performance profile before the interview. Most job descriptions over-emphasize skills and experience requirements with a short list of vague responsibilities. Being reasonably specific with regard to expected outcomes is the key to using the two-question interview and making an accurate assessment.

The second question involves asking the candidate how he/she would go about completing one or two of the most critical performance objectives, including figuring out the problem, putting a plan together, and overcoming job-related challenges. This is more a give-and-take type discussion to get at thinking, planning, and the ability to visualize job-related problems.

The two questions in combination with the performance profile, and an in-depth review of the person’s resume looking for the achiever pattern indicating that the person is in the top-half of the top-half, is all that’s necessary to accurately assess a candidate across all job needs.

The following formula defining hiring success will help guide you through this process:

Hiring Success = [(Talent x Motivation2)+ Team Skills-EQ + Problem-solving Skills]/(Organizational and Cultural Fit)

Here’s the quick explanation of each term. Some people call these factors competencies or behaviors. Regardless of what you call them, the idea is that you need to assess them all in order to better predict a person’s ability to meet the objectives described in the performance profile.

Talent is the ability to do the work, and the easiest of the factors to measure. Surprisingly, too many interviewers, typically those with a technical bent, overvalue this factor, oftentimes demanding brilliance. While talent is obviously important, it needs to be measured in terms of job demands, not some artificial standard.

Motivation to do the work required is the most important of these factors, and the hardest to assess. It is squared in the formula since it has so much impact on job success, output, and performance. To assess it properly you need to find multiple examples of where the person went the extra mile doing work comparable to what’s needed to be done. Alternate terms for this could be “drive” or “results-oriented,” but the key idea is that during the interview you’re not looking for generic motivation, but specific job-related examples of the person doing far more than required.

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Team skills, aka emotional intelligence (EQ is a term Dan Goleman coined in his book on emotional intelligence), relates to how the person relates with others. During the interview, look for examples of how the person interacted on projects and/or led teams. Seek out coaching examples, dealing with conflict, and persuading or inspiring others. Also look at the make-up of the teams the person has been on, the person’s role, if the make-up changed or grew in size over time, and if they were multi-functional or comprised of more senior-level company leaders. Team skills and cultural fit are not determined by warmth or affability during the interview. They are determined by the person’s impact and effectiveness in collaborating with others and the teams the person has been asked to join.

Problem-solving skills addresses the person’s understanding of job-related issues and being able to figure out the best course of action among various alternatives. The problem-solving question involves asking the person how he/she would solve a realistic problem. Look for depth of insight, the questions asked, the process the person uses to figure out the problem, and how he/she develops and evaluates different alternatives. As part of the assessment, get detailed examples of actual accomplishments the person achieved comparable to the problem under discussion. This two-question combo is called the Anchor and Visualize interviewing process.

Organizational fit covers a number of dimensions including fit with the job, the hiring manager, and the company’s environment, values, culture, and its way of doing business.  From what I’ve seen, the candidate’s fit with the hiring manager and the job are the dominant factors here. If the candidate and the hiring manager clash from a style, coaching, and/or development standpoint, the person will fail, regardless of capability. Job fit is just as important. A person competent enough to do the work, but not motivated to do it, will underperform. As part of this, to accurately assess organizational fit, you need to consider resource availability, the company pace, and the level of sophistication. Ask about these cultural issues as part of each major accomplishment question for comparison purposes.  (Here’s a video I’ve prepared that describes how to use the two-question interview to assess organizational fit along these dimensions.)

There are some caveats to follow as you assess candidates using the formula for hiring success. For one thing, don’t make a yes/no decision until the end of the interview. Most people are overly affected by the person’s first impression, good or bad, so it’s best to temper this by waiting until the end of the interview to determine the candidate’s suitability for the job. While it’s okay to determine if the person’s first impression will impact job performance, do this at the end, when you’re not personally affected by it. To make sure the team assessment is as objective as possible, go through each of the factors in the hiring formula as a team, getting specific and factual evidence from each interviewer. The idea is that each interviewer has to provide evidence to support their ranking — not feelings or emotions. (Contact me if you’d like to review our talent scorecard which we use to formalize the debriefing session.) Under no circumstances should you allow the team to add up individual yes/no votes to make this decision.

In Part 3 of this series, I’ll describe how this type of interview can be used for recruiting purposes. Part of this involves looking for differences in what the candidate has accomplished in comparison to the performance objectives for the job. These differences could relate to the size of the project or team, the importance of the work, or the opportunity for accelerated growth. Collectively, these gaps can represent a significant career move for the candidate, which can more than offset the need for a significant compensation increase.

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).


5 Comments on “The Formula for Hiring Success, Part 2

  1. Thanks for the interesting article, Keith.

    I’d be curious to hear if you’re seeing trends around organizational/cultural fit now in comparison to how companies often claim to want people who can “think outside the box,” “shape change,” “move the needle,” or any other catch phrase. I think I find many companies actually over-assess themselves out of great candidates.

    Whenever I hear up front companies using the term “fitting in” it makes me question why “fit” is so emphasized. It’s usually pretty easy to spot individuals who can’t and don’t get along with others or in particular types of work environments, but hair-splitting over too many environmental factors could be a signal that the company is getting in it’s own way of success down to the individual employee level.

  2. Darryl – fit isn’t likeability. From my perspective at a minimum it includes fit with the job, fit with the hiring manager’s style of leadership or lack thereof, fit with the company environment (pace, level of sophistication, resource availability, time pressures) and culture (bureaucracy vs. entrepreneurial). Most people are reasonably likeable in the interview but it’s on-the-job where fit actually needs to be measured, and it’s a multi-headed monster.


  3. @ Darryl; Whoa you are GOOD- you thank me before I make my comments! Something to think about: the more the person can work remotely, the less important fit is likely to be.
    (Another good reason for tele-commuting when possible.)

    @ Lou: Thanks. Hiring Success = [(Talent x Motivation2)+ Team Skills-EQ + Problem-solving Skills]/(Organizational and Cultural Fit) It seems like a handy rule of thumb. What research is it based on? If you’re trying to quantify perceptions to justify a decision, there are a number of good decision-tree tools available. If you’re having a hard time telling if someone will fit into your organization, that may because the person is rather reserved, the interviewers aren’t able to bring out a sense of the person as an individual, or your org’s culture is too complex/subtle for easy judgements for fit. Essentially, you just need to make sure you feel comfortable working around around them for the 2-3 years before you’re gone or they’re gone.


    Keith “We’ll All Be Gone Soon” Halperin

  4. @Lou – I realize this article is from a few years ago, but we recently used the formula and discovered that it has an issue. We used a basic 1-5 Likert style scale to assess candidates on each of the variables in the formula, with 1 as a low score, 5 high. We discovered that a top candidate who gets a perfect score in every variable would get a 27. Someone who gets a top score in every variable except organization fit, and they get the lowest score in org fit gets 135. It makes no sense for someone with a higher org fit score to get a lower success score. It should be the opposite! The issue is happening because the formula has you divide by org fit. We then googled around and found a formula in your book in Google Books, but it’s totally different–there’s no division, and the variables are slightly different. I don’t know if you’ll see this, but if you do, I’d like to hear your take on what your recommended formula actually is.

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