Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Get the Right People on the Bus - Without Crashing

“What was the last book you read?”

What?!  I thought. I was a member of a panel interview and a colleague from another department asked the candidate that question. I was caught off guard by this left-field question, but the interviewee handled it with aplomb. I don’t remember her answer, but I remember wondering that since the last book I had read was a fantasy novel, would I share that or tell them about a weightier tome I had recently finished? And then I thought, if I considered fudging that question, how would we ever know if our candidate did too?

Most of all I wondered: Why did my colleague waste our time by asking that question? What does that question have to do with her ability to handle the position we are hiring for? And since it has nothing to do with the job, what will the candidate think of us for asking that question?

And then I thought, we should have prepared better. And since the new hire would be working directly for me, I blamed myself for not prepping the members of our panel on the questions and information that were most important for us to discuss.

Luckily that was the only inappropriate question asked at that interview. I’ve learned a lot about interviewing since then, from both sides of the table. And I know that a lot of hiring managers are not well-prepared to conduct interviews.

I recently heard from a client that was experiencing a panel interview that the interview was delayed fifteen minutes since one of the crucial panel members (a senior manager whose okay was required for the hire) got lost trying to find the conference room. Once there, he was woefully unprepared, not having taken the time to review my client’s resume. Needless to say, my client was not impressed with the organization and was not surprised by long delays in the hiring process. He decided to look at other opportunities which were available to him.

Please, hiring managers, present yourself and your organization in a good light by preparing well for the hiring process. Preparing thoroughly will help prevent poor hires too. Those are the people who make managing difficult, who don’t deliver as promised, and who may leave before you’ve reaped your initial investment and now have to go through the hiring process all over again.

As Jim Collins says, “If you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away.”

And not insignificantly, hiring mistakes are costly; I’ve seen estimates from twice to fifteen times the person’s salary. Calculate the cost of a hiring error in your organization with this  "Sales Hiring Mistake Calculator" .

These are common hiring pitfalls that not only present a poor impression to your candidates but will increase the odds of a making a bad hire:

1. Not knowing clearly what you want or need. What are the results you expect from someone in this position? Based on the results you want, what are the competencies and attributes that you require? Think through the scope of the position thoroughly. If some skills and attributes are more important than others, be prepared to prioritize your interview questions and weigh them differently. Don’t change your requirements in mid-hiring; as in any project changes are costly and cause delays. Of course things in your organization change constantly, but don’t try to hire someone for every eventuality. Know what you need most and prepare your interview questions around those requirements.

2. Asking interview questions that don’t pertain to the job description.  Ask questions that help you determine if the candidate has the experience, knowledge, attributes, and skills necessary for the job. All other questions are a waste of time. A Kansas State University study determined that behavioral-based questions are five times more accurate than a more traditional interviewing style for choosing the right candidates. Those are the questions that insist on the candidate drawing from past experience to tell a story and usually start with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Describe a situation in which you…”

3. Not preparing adequately for the interview. Did you study the candidate’s resume and prepare some questions specifically for them? Do you have insightful behavior-based questions all ready with follow-up questions to help you probe in more depth? Do you have your business cards with you? Do you have paper for taking lots of notes? Do you know how to answer the questions that the candidate will ask you? Have you made arrangements not to be interrupted? Do you know where the interview room is?

4. Falling into the trap of hiring people just like you. It’s natural to feel most comfortable with people who look like us, talk like us, and act like us. Be aware of your behavior style and be on the lookout for your unconscious discriminations to play out. We all have them and you are not exempt. But if you are aware of them, you can re-focus yourself on their suitability for the job, and not whether they are too young or too old, too thin or too heavy, too fast- or too slow-talking, or whatever. Be careful of your “gut feelings” as research shows hiring based on that and first impressions can have a 50% failure rate. Use the data and analyze your candidates - many interviewers create a “scorecard” using the positions’ competencies.

5. No follow-up. No doubt at the end of the interview you told the candidate what the next steps are in the process, and gave them a timeframe. I’ve never known anyone to keep to the timeframe, however it is just good manners to let the candidate know what is happening and where they fall in the process, especially if there is a delay. It’s fine to delegate this to other personnel, but please do let them know in a timely manner. How one is treated during the hiring process is an indication to the potential employee of how the company treats it’s employees in general.

When constructing interview questions, be wary of treading in the danger field of not only inappropriateness, but illegalities. In addition to the opening question in this blog post, here are some more examples of inappropriate interview questions:

What kind of activities do you do in your spare time?
How would your family feel about relocating?
How are you involved in the community?
You have an unusual last name. Is it Polish?
What year did you graduate from college?
You mentioned you are pregnant. How much time are you planning to take off after the delivery?
If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?  (Really?)

Remember, all questions must be job-related and relevant to the goals and responsibilities of the position. In the United States, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( “it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” So interview questions and job postings must be screened so that there is no indication that there could be a legal violation.

Since I do quite a bit of career coaching, I coach my job-seekers on how to be prepared for poor interviewers. There are certainly a lot of them out there. It makes sense to treat hiring just like any other project you manage. Be methodical and plan well. If you are haphazard in your hiring, it shows poor project management skills. And unfortunately, like any project poorly managed, you will pay for it.

So what’s the last book you read? If you are planning on doing some hiring soon, I recommend it be Hire With Your Head: Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Great Teams by Lou Adler. As the author states: “There is nothing more important - to your personal and company success - than hiring great people.”

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