Ask any executive to give you a list of his or her greatest business challenges, and most will put finding talented people right at the top. After three years spent running my own startup, I can tell you it’s one of the things that keep my cofounders and me up at night.
As an MBA candidate at Wharton, I’ve been fortunate enough to learn some of the hiring and interviewing methods used by the world’s most successful companies. These methods have been tested, refined, and proven effective over decades. But I didn’t have to take Wharton’s word for it. I recently implemented what I learned at my own company, and we immediately saw results. Read on for the three insights I’ve found the most valuable.
1. Practice doesn’t make perfect.
The job interview is the cornerstone of the hiring process, the last barrier to employment after a candidate has been identified and recruited. If you’re like me, you probably assume that, like most everything else in the professional world, interviewing skills improve over time. As it turns out, however, this isn’t the case. Research proves that experience does nothing to improve one’s interviewing skills, and that the average hiring manager often does no better than random chance.
Structured, pre-scripted interviews are one of the best ways to make your process more efficient. This minimizes human subjectivity and bias, such as how a question is worded and the chemistry between candidate and interviewer.
Using a structured format, an interviewer asks the same job-relevant, behavior-based questions of each candidate in the same order (Give me an example of a time when you couldn’t get everything accomplished on time? What tools do you use to keep yourself organized?) Each interviewer uses the same script, and then rates the applicants independently in order to form an aggregated score.
2. Your gut instincts can get you into trouble.
Most executives and hiring managers pride themselves on their instincts. When it comes to hiring, however, relying on your gut can be a mistake. It can result, for instance, in hiring individuals who are adept interviewees, rather than rock star employees. It can also have the reverse effect, making you dismiss someone who’s talented and capable, but with whom you don’t immediately connect on a personal level.
A few weeks ago, I conducted a phone interview with a candidate who came off as smug and ill prepared. He misfired on a few personal anecdotes, and blew a few easy questions. Though the overall first impression was poor, I stuck with the process and reviewed my notes after the call. Although some of his personal traits seemed off, I realized that the candidate had scored well in the key areas. I ignored my initial qualms and scheduled another interview. The second time around, he was more relaxed and confident, and ultimately became a finalist for the position.
The experience drove home the importance of following the process. Begin with a clear picture of what an excellent employee looks like. Then, put together a list of questions designed to determine whether or not the candidate has those traits. Sticking to the facts and ignoring personal affinities takes the subjectivity out of the equation, thereby sharpening the analysis.
3. Relevant experience can be misleading.
When comparing multiple candidates for the same position, it can be tempting to give weight to the individual who has the most relevant experience. On the surface, a candidate who has worked for similar companies or competitors seems like an attractive option.
The problem with this approach is that relevant experience doesn’t always equal success. It’s seductive, and it can cause you to overlook candidates who posses stronger core traits that will lead to success at the position. Industry knowledge and strong business contacts are nice to have, but Wharton’s research shows that intelligence, conscientiousness, and integrity are far more important to long-term success. Employers are well advised, therefore, to design questions that measure these traits, rather than falling in love with someone just because they’ve been in familiar territory.
Hiring the right people is always a challenge, and today’s crowded job market makes this particularly difficult. A successful, long-term hiring process is anything but intuitive, and the things that seem like no-brainers can often lead you astray. Taking the guesswork and intuition out of the process has helped my company dramatically. Ultimately, by applying these methods, we were able to turn something ordinarily considered an art into a science. The most important point is to know exactly what you’re looking for, and to establish a process to help you get there.
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[Image: Flickr user César Astudillo]