Employers, managers, and supervisors are pre-programmed to make hiring mistakes, said Lou Adler, author of “Hire With Your Head.” The natural tendency is to decide on a candidate in the first few minutes of an interview, based on first impressions and emotional perceptions. If you like someone right off, you’ll relax and start asking easier questions, ignoring negative data, according to Adler. If you don’t like someone, you’ll tend to hold the applicant to a higher standard, or tune out and not really listen to the responses.
Hiring Secret #1: First impressions are very hard to change. So get emotional control of yourself and resist forming them. The most important secret of hiring success, according to Adler, is: Don’t make any hiring decision in the first 30 minutes of an interview.
“During the first 30 minutes of a job interview, we tend to focus on the candidate’s ability to get the job, rather than his ability to do the job,” said Adler. “But style and presentation should not be more important than substance and performance.”
Hiring Secret #2: Measure performance first, then personality. In other words, first determine if a candidate can do the work. Then determine if you like him or her. “Keep in mind that the personality you’re measuring in the first 30 minutes of an interview is not their real personality,” warned Adler. Real personality and character will be revealed as a person describes his or her accomplishments for you.
Musicians auditioning for the Vienna Philharmonic perform behind a black curtain to prevent judges from being biased in favor of male performers. Adler suggested using the “black curtain approach” with job candidates by starting with a 20-minute phone interview, so you can do your initial fact-finding without being distracted by visual impressions.
Remember the word SMART when you’re hiring, Adler said. Identify the critical success factors of the job to build SMART performance objectives: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Result and Time-based. Before you begin the hiring process, define specifically what superior performance is for that job. Clarify what the candidate must do to succeed on the job, not what experience or skills the candidate must have. Then you can begin looking for superior people.
Past performance is the best predictor of future performance, according to Adler. To assess a candidate’s past performance, you may have to “dig” to get beyond broad generalities and exaggerations. Interviewing is a fact-finding mission, not a popularity contest, reminded Adler. Ask for specific, measurable data you can verify. Example: “I increased sales in the northwest territory by 10 percent in six months.”
Candidates who are just good talkers and can exaggerate and lie about generalities usually can’t fabricate specifics well enough to fool you, noted Adler. On the other hand, a nervous candidate will often open up when talking about specifics — what they were asked to do, what they did, the time frame in which they completed the work. Adler described background verification as “cheap insurance you must have” and also recommended reference checking. Up-front competency or personality testing can “narrow the pool” too soon for high-level jobs. If you have too high a threshold on these tests, you’ll miss some very talented people, Adler insisted.
Use tests to confirm — not predict competency for — upper-level jobs, staff and executive positions. “Raise the caution flag if the results of the test don’t confirm the information obtained during the interview. Use test information as a data point to get further information,” Adler added. However, Adler noted for lower-level jobs, up-front testing is more appropriate. You probably need to narrow the pool for lower-level jobs, because they’re seeking you out. For upper level jobs, you’re seeking them out, so testing serves a different purpose.
Adler recommended using work-type profiling to match candidates with the right jobs, to avoid hiring a great candidate for the wrong job. People apply more energy toward work they like to do, observed Adler. Work-type profile analysis allows the hiring manager to identify these areas and make a good match.
Hiring Secret #3: Use a wide-range of sourcing. Regardless of the economy and the jobs situation, if you have a job opening, it’s critical to hire well so you end up with a good fit. “Forget putting traditional ads in traditional places. You have to be creative — go where the right people are. The response rate to newspaper ads is declining. Employers may use social media, radio ads or put up wanted posters in theaters. Utilize Internet hiring sites. Market your job. Think of candidates as customers.
You might gear your ads to people who are not looking for a job. Describe the opportunity (“grow with…”) rather than the barrier (“must have five years experience…”). Write ads based on what they’ll need to do, not what they’ll need to have. Focus on where they’re going, not where they’ve been — and you’ll quickly upgrade the size and quality of your candidate pool, said Adler. “Too often, really good people are excluded by the advertised job requirements.”