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A Simple Way to Stop Making Dumb Hiring Decisions

Too many people are hired based on the quality of their presentation skills. By scripting the first 30 minutes of the interview you can be sure to hire people based on their actual ability.

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BY Lou Adler - 12 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Based on 40 years of recruiting and training more than twenty thousand recruiters and hiring managers on how to actually predict on-the-job performance, one problem always stands out:

The best person for the job is often the one not hired. Instead it's the best presenter who is usually hired.

In this case success is problematic.

This mistake is magnified 2X by not hiring the better person who just happened to not be as good an interviewee.

The Performance vs. Presentation graph summarizes this negative "double whammy" problem. By focusing on performance (the horizontal arrow) rather than presentation (the vertical arrow) both problems are eliminated. Here's how to reprogram yourself to make this critical change.

Define the job before defining the person doing the job

Most job descriptions look like this list of more than 800 jobs on Indeed.com for mechanical engineers in the Chicago area. Other than the common generic responsibilities the requirements define what the person hired needs to have in terms of skills, education and experience. These are not job descriptions; they're "person descriptions."

Since clarifying job expectations has repeatedly been shown to be the number one driver of performance, it's important to define the work that needs to be done before defining the person doing the work. Most jobs can be defined as a series of 5-6 performance objectives. For example, rather than saying a purchasing manager must have 10+ years in the hardware industry purchasing fasteners, a BS in a technical field and strong ERP background with SAP, say, "Lead the redesign effort of our entire fastener procurement process as we shift to SAP's new materials management module."

Here's the complete written instruction manual on how to prepare a performance-based job description from scratch. The video is shown below.

Recognize that getting the job is not the same as doing the job

Emotions play a big role in who gets hired. Most managers overvalue first impressions, affability, assertiveness and communication skills. Techies overvalue the depth of technical skills. Most interviewers quickly eliminate those who "just don't fit" using some nebulous criteria.

One way to overcome these biases is by using a scripted 30-minute interview for all candidates whether they make a good first impression or not. This delay is how you force the horizontal performance-based decision-making shown in the graph. Using a talent scorecard with specific ranking guidelines quickly separates the objective interviewers from those who over-rely on emotions or their intuition.

Recognize that strangers are treated differently than acquaintances and referrals

In a recent post, I contended that people who are personally connected to the interviewer in some way - even loosely - are evaluated differently than strangers. Strangers are rarely given the benefit of the doubt. As a result they are judged largely on the depth of their skills, level of direct experience, personality and first impression. These are terrible predictors of performance and fit. The connected person begins with a significant advantage: he or she is assumed competent. The subsequent assessment is slower and based on the person's track record of past performance and ability to learn new skills. Here's a simple way to assess everyone the same way.

Managers ask irrelevant questions and assess people on meaningless facts

Brain teasers were always known to have questionable value although it took a huge study by Google before these questions were shown to be worthless and misleading. Since it's hard to know when a hiring manager or someone on the interviewing team will go off on an inappropriate tangent, I suggest using a well-organized panel interview to control these impulses. The best of these panels are those in which the team works together digging deep into the candidate's major accomplishments.

The typical process is too transactional

Filling jobs with those who are the most skilled is much different than hiring the strongest person possible. The former is largely a box-checking exercise with the price determined by supply and demand. The latter involves spending more time with fewer candidates focusing on their past performance, their upside potential and ensuring their intrinsic motivators map to the real job. When people are hired this way there's an instant improvement in quality of hire, an increase in job satisfaction and a huge reduction in unnecessary turnover.

When people are hired based largely on their presentation skills and affability, their on-the-job success is likely to be random and erratic. While it's impossible to assess the invisible cost of not hiring the better person, it's not hard to justify its importance. After you do it a few times, you'll recognize why it's worth whatever effort it takes.