How To Hire Someone You Won't Regret In A Month

Success hinges on finding great people, but killer candidates can be nightmare employees, and duds can morph into your biggest stars. Here are the 3 biggest hiring mistakes to avoid.

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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--Corey Weiner is cofounder the COO of Jun Group and designed its mobile and social video systems. He currently oversees the company’s internal systems, ensuring a culture of consistent innovation.

[Image: Flickr user César Astudillo]

Add New Comment

22 Comments

  • Jon Tucker

    I appreciate the comments here. The start of the new year is a good time to question traditional hiring practices & scripts taught to us in our university days. 

    It's time to shake off the complacency of hiring teams (as shown by the lack of preparation by the interviewers of  GTanner212 in his previous company). 
     
    I would also like to quote: @rwfw74's comment bec. it offers a helpful perspective on how hiring executives should approach interviews:"dig in specific experience of the candidate and have a REAL conversation--AND challenge them. It's not a test--but a conversation- a dry run of what this person is going to be like as a member of your team." 

    I would also like to share @johannarothman's articles on hiring to give us another perspective:
    http://blog.vistage.com/hiring... http://www.jrothman.com/blog/h...

    Thank you @fastcompany for giving us the platform to voice out our current issues & challenges with hiring!

  • Guy1922

    My gut tells me more about a candidate than anything. If he or she has the resume regarding past success... and gut tells me this is a good,honest person that is motivated and can blend in with the others...it's a go.  Too many Bs'rs out there even the interviewer... can have a smug attitude... I told one Company in the interview process ( a medical company ) that I think we should stop the interview right now. They looked shocked.... They asked why? I said, There is no way i could or would work for you because of your smug yet insecure presence and quite frankly, any company that promoted you as a Reg. Mgr, is out of touch. Thank you for your time... and I walked out.

  • Gtanner212

    RWFW my friend you are dead-on with your comments!
    I recently applied for a transfer in my company and during the interview for a trainer/developer found to be questioned with questions of an electrician or technician-appears the position needed to be an SME (subject matter expert), I was ok with this, talking experience is one thing, actually having it may be another. Funny thing is, of the three interviewers, they asked no training questions, and no development questions. The placement was for a Sr.Training Supervisor, yet I felt like I was be interviewed for an Electrician position or a Technician position; not a trainer/developer position. Worse interview I have ever sat through and when the interview was over; I did not want the position and removed myself from the list of candidates.

  • fustian

    What a colossally asinine article.  Be wary of people who may be good interviewees, use scripted questions and score them on their answers.  Ignore relevant experience.  Don't trust your gut.  Sounds like a recipe for hiring someone good at answering questions that may or may not be directly relevant to YOU and what you're hiring them to do.  More bullsh!t HR doublethink. 

    Want to hire great people?  Look for history of intense passion and hard work.  A foundation of entrepreneurialism.  Unquestionable creativity.  Look for the ability to think quickly and with depth.  Look for mental toughness.  Most importantly, be sure they will add something to the culture of the team -  something that will enhance dimension and push the members to think about things freshly.  No assholes.

  • DBRem

     
    I think you (and others) are making a mistake in distinguishing between "structured interviews" and "properly structured interviews". I don't see anywhere in the article where the author proposed asking question that aren't relevant to the role, yet you, and many others, mistakenly jumped to that conclusion. Asking someone questions, structured or not, that aren't relevant to the role are a waste of time.

    What the author proposed was "Using a structured format, an interviewer asks the same job-relevant,
    behavior-based questions of each candidate in the same order" - I don't see that "job-relevant, behavior-based questions" are incompatible with trying to understand a candidate's passion, hard work, creativity or ability to think quickly (if that is what you are looking for).

    What I am starting to see is that commentators on Fast Company articles lack basic reading comprehension skills and are too quick to load their own personal biases onto what they "read" without actually absorbing what they read.

  • fustian

    I lead a team of 18.  I've hired many and (unfortunately) fired a few FTEs in my time.  Who here is advocating asking "questions that aren't relevant to the role"?    I'm not interviewing a Project Manager and asking them how fast they can throw a baseball. 

    The point is that different HUMAN BEINGS bring different degrees of experience, established skills and potential to a conversation.  They have a CV - not a Job App.  You're hiring someone to THINK. 

    Structured, consistently rigid interviews with asinine questions like "Tell me a time you've failed.  What did you learn?"  or "Tell me how you resolve conflict" are EXACTLY the kinds of questions a "good interviewer" can prepare and weave a story around.  A REAL conversation where you go through someone's specific experience - specific for them, on their CV - and challenge them about relevant elements is going to tell you a lot more about them.  They may have a story prepped but they can't anticipate what you'll ask about.  It's not a test, it's a conversation - a dry run of what this person is going to be like as a member of your team.  Can you trust them?  Do they think clearly? What do they REALLY know? 

    You think you're being original asking how someone would determine how many pounds of glass are in the Empire state building?  That's some entry level BS.  If you're hiring leaders, especially as a hiring manager, you need to drop the script and dig in as a person.

  • Michele Galloway

    Recommend reading the "No Asshole Rule" by Robert Sutton.  Will help you avoid them.

  • Gold007

    Absolutley disagree with the second point  - an instict and a gut feeling is very important. I had interviewed people who were great interview-ees but my gut told me that somthing was off and once an HR directo insisted we hire a person my gut told me not to. 6 months later we needed to let go of that person.

  • Steve Levy

    Fine – so perhaps Corey hasn’t run a progressive recruiting function and yes, it appears as if he might just have started shaving (www.linkedin.com/in/coreyweine... but his points are spot on, albeit thinly described. My guess is the naysayers are guffawing simply because of his age and experience…

    Yes, MBA programs cover the successes of the heavyweights who typically hire in spite of themselves; the leading-edge of recruiting simply isn’t covered in post-graduate programs so there are bound to be some gaps here. But look how he wrote the conjunctive clause: “Read on for the three insights I’ve found the most valuable.”

    Practice doesn’t make perfect.  What’s missing from Corey’s assertion that structured interviewing is the way to go is the collaboration between the hiring manager and recruiting/HR to develop the interviewing format ahead of time. This isn’t copying questions from a blog post that some “career expert” wrote – it’s creating and “testing” questions that address performance and personality issues important for success in the role. This step is simply tossed aside by most EVERY company – in the name of “I’ll know it when I see it.” Why? Because it’s really hard work to come up with an assessment format that is as objective.  What happens then?

    Your ESP simply doesn’t work. How do I know this? Well, the same people who believe they’re the next Amazing Kreskin have been divorced, had bad personal and professional relationships, and if you prod them enough will admit to all the bad decisions they made based upon a “feeling.” As Corey noted, most people on both sides never learn how to be effective interviewers and interviewees. Heck, it’s no different than resumes: How many great people do you know have ridiculously bad resumes?

    Relevant experience is misleading. How often do hiring managers assert that only someone from a competitor can be successful in a specific role? How many recruiters practically wet themselves when they get someone from a competitor on the hook? I like how Corey writes, “relevant experience [is]…seductive…and it can cause you to overlook candidates who posses stronger core traits that will lead to success at the position.” More often than not, someone who possesses “relevant experience” is run through a less aggressive initial recruiting gauntlet; questioning tends to be superficial.

    The only way to mitigate bad interviewing is to focus on the short and longer term performance issues – and these issues must be defined by the specific hiring manager. Further, concepts such as intelligence, conscientiousness, integrity, et. al.  must also be discussed and question to ascertain them must also be agreed upon prior to interviewing.

    There’s no such thing as “easy recruiting.”

  • Dorothy Douglass

    I try to pull unique perspectives & ideas from Fast Company.  This one wasn't anything new.  Agree with many - while I do counsel my hiring managers to be structured in the interview process, it is about creating a relationship and having a dialogue.  As well, we (HR) seek to partner with our hiring manager and understand what the position is about, and what is needed.  I'm afraid this article didn't give me a new viewpoint or perspective to consider.  I too, have made brilliant hires based on both gut and process, and have hired some absolute mistakes doing the same.  Determine your needs, and partner with HR to form interview questions that help you see if the candidate's "wheels are turning" in their head.  Don't marry (hire) the candidate after one date (interview).  Seek to understand, and ensure they understand the position. 

  • Spark Hire

    Interesting article! Using a structured interview can be a great way to quickly and efficiently compare the answers of multiple candidates. But personality and cultural fit are also really important key components you should be looking for in the interview process, whether that interview is in person or through online video. While structure is important, if the candidate is great but doesn’t fit into your organization you’ll be unlikely to retain this talent for long. While it can be hard to walk the middle line, it’s important to factor in fit as well as skills.

  • Ravinder Matte

    Very well said, To add, sometimes we unconsciously make biased decisions based on how the candidate looks. It is good idea to interview the candidate over the phone first to avoid or minimize this bias.

  • Steve Levy

    Fine – so perhaps Corey hasn’t run a progressive recruiting function and yes, it appears as if he might just have started shaving (www.linkedin.com/in/coreyweine... but his points are spot on, albeit thinly described. My guess is the naysayers are guffawing simply because of his age and experience…

    Yes, MBA programs cover the successes of the heavyweights who typically hire in spite of themselves; the leading-edge of recruiting simply isn’t covered in post-graduate programs so there are bound to be some gaps here. But look how he wrote the conjunctive clause: “Read on for the three insights I’ve found the most valuable.”

    Practice doesn’t make perfect.  What’s missing from Corey’s assertion that structured interviewing is the way to go is the collaboration between the hiring manager and recruiting/HR to develop the interviewing format ahead of time. This isn’t copying questions from a blog post that some “career expert” wrote – it’s creating and “testing” questions that address performance and personality issues important for success in the role. This step is simply tossed aside by most EVERY company – in the name of “I’ll know it when I see it.” Why? Because it’s really hard work to come up with an assessment format that is as objective.  What happens then?

    Your ESP simply doesn’t work. How do I know this? Well, the same people who believe they’re the next Amazing Kreskin have been divorced, had bad personal and professional relationships, and if you prod them enough will admit to all the bad decisions they made based upon a “feeling.” As Corey noted, most people on both sides never learn how to be effective interviewers and interviewees. Heck, it’s no different than resumes: How many great people do you know have ridiculously bad resumes?

    Relevant experience is misleading. How often do hiring managers assert that only someone from a competitor can be successful in a specific role? How many recruiters practically wet themselves when they get someone from a competitor on the hook? I like how Corey writes, “relevant experience [is]…seductive…and it can cause you to overlook candidates who posses stronger core traits that will lead to success at the position.” More often than not, someone who possesses “relevant experience” is run through a less aggressive initial recruiting gauntlet; questioning tends to be superficial.

    The only way to mitigate bad interviewing is to focus on the short and longer term performance issues – and these issues must be defined by the specific hiring manager. Further, concepts such as intelligence, conscientiousness, integrity, et. al.  must also be discussed and question to ascertain them must also be agreed upin prior to interviewing.

    There’s no such thing as “easy recruiting.”
    www.recruitinginferno.com

  • Joe Wadsworth

    I have to chime in here as well. I disagree with structured interview as it doesn't allow you to see the true individual you are hiring. I look for the personal traits that I think will be an attribute to the position. The only way to get to that is a personalized interview. As for gut feelings, someone that makes me a little uncomfortable is usually the better hire. Ask the employee that you avoid the most how to improve your company and you will at least get one great idea out of a uncomfortable conversation. 

  • David

    I regret that the substantive wisdom contained in this article is meeting with such a negative response and I support the comment from DBREM. Even a smal amount of reflection will likely reveal that we can all use the focusing comments of the author to enhance our own hiring/selection practices. After all, as my sainted Scottish aunt would say, "Everyone can teach you something!"
    David Huggins

  • Bill

    Another disappointed reader. The old "structured interview" approach is efficient, but it gets you rehearsed responses. I've developed a different approach called "Authentic Dialogue". You want to engage the candidate in a genuine conversation. We're hiring people (not robots).

    I agree it takes practice - but, that doesn't mean memorizing your ten favorite questions. The ability to develop effective follow-up questions based on the candidate's answers is what great interviewers do... Bill K

  • Nikhil

    Initially, I disagreed with the article, as most of the techniques i have employed are being discouraged by the author. Nevertheless, i feel somewhere there is a middle path. A path between "GUT" and "Process". As i have succeeded on "gut" and also on a "process", and failed on both as well.

  • Alan Halford

    I am so disappointed by this article and it took me a while to realise why. It's another shallow article by an MBA who bases his/her" wisdom" on case studies he/she studied at some prestigious business school. Life has moved on - what is 'taught' in MBA courses is centred on dead processes which didn't work then and have no relevance in 2013
    Again on this website - another infomercial in the guise of an inspiring, informative article..
    Fast Company you can do better
    Alan Halford