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Three Objective Measures for Hiring the Right People

Heather Mier

Some years ago, I hired a person on a referral who turned out to be one of the worst team members I ever managed. We ended up terminating him 10 days later and almost lost a client as a result. I couldn’t believe it happened to me, as a recruiter (though, still early in my career) who had done over 3,000 interviews. I stepped right into a classic mistake. How?

The candidate, let’s call him Mr. X, came highly recommended. He had led teams of more than 60 people at a major company. He had an excellent resume and notable achievements. Because my colleagues had interviewed him, the clients had interviewed him, and my boss referred him, I made the mistake of hiring him without interviewing him myself. The client was leading a global project, flying in international teams for an entire day of workshop interviews. Requirements for the project were gathered over the course of a 10-hour day, which encompassed several sessions. As the day drew to a close, Mr. X had taken just one paragraph of notes. When our client reached out, my first thought was that Mr. X simply didn’t know he was tasked with note-taking. But, as it turns out, he did.

The next step was to reach out to Mr. X. I asked him to explain the lack of note-taking. His response? “I didn’t know how to use MS OneNote.” That was it! There were several alternatives he could have used, of course (good old pad and paper being one), none of which he did. So, it really wasn’t as simple as a software knowledge gap. Over the next few days, we worked with the client to ascertain if we could resolve the issues with Mr. X so we could continue with our work together. Ultimately, we could not. And in the end, we made it right— we got the client what they needed, and didn’t charge for Mr. X’s time.

What this situation did was raise an increasingly prevalent issue. More and more job seekers are using unscrupulous practices, such as padding their resume and LinkedIn, claiming credit on deliverables they didn’t create alone, and more. The Mr. X situation also called out something else— the challenge of objectively measuring the skillset of candidates and of employees. Knowing where there are gaps, or where there are strengths, is important to staffing teams and for ensuring knowledge and skills remain strong.

The good news is that there are objective measures that help navigate these tricky waters effectively. Here are three:

1. ASSESSMENTS. Early in their careers, job seekers are often asked to complete these. The more senior a position is, the less they are used. Surprisingly, I’ve encountered many leaders that don’t know how to use Excel, have rudimentary PowerPoint skills, and can’t dial into a Skype call. In these cases, team members usually support them. In turn, the leaders get so far away from the actual work that their technical skills suffer, and eventually vanish. Ultimately, it’s an issue that results in lowered productivity and decreased employee engagement, as team members rarely like covering for these deficiencies.

Assessments come in a range of categories, including software skills, analytics, graphic literacy, and personality indicators. There are many reputable companies that are demonstrating a significant ROI, such as ACT (through the National Workplace Readiness Certificate), which reports a 23% increase in workplace productivity, 95% reduction in workers’ compensation expense, 92% reduction in turnover, and increased safety.

2. PROBLEM-SOLVING. My interviews consist of not only behavioral interview questions (e.g. tell me about a difficult person you had to work with…) but also problem-solving, live in the interview. What I love about these types of interviews is that candidates can’t prepare for the questions. It requires them to think through a problem, listen and ask questions, be creative, have tenacity, and respond to feedback. More than a correct answer, I am looking for how they think. Do they approach a problem logically? Do they think about the customer? Do they ask questions to understand the need? Do they make assumptions? Candidates that do well on my problem-solving questions often end up being top performers in the long-term. More than once, candidates that seemed perfect on paper have completely failed at problem-solving. This exercise gets beyond their resume (what they have purported they achieved in the past) and gets to the heart of how they will perform today.

3. BUILDING INTERVIEWS. A surprising number of companies will hire an individual based on only two interviews, without those interviewers even collaborating on the candidate. Instead, they each interview the candidate, ask similar questions and get similar answers before they move to hire. Interviews really need to build on each other. A best practice is to have each interviewer share not only their feedback, but also the questions they asked. Highlight where there are concerns, and the subsequent interviewers can dig into those areas. By having multiple interviews, there is an ability to drill down and really understand the candidate. It also means you’ll *see* the candidate a few times (either via phone, in-person, or via video chat), and candidates can show up differently at each step along the way. You should come out of the process with a solid understanding of how the candidate presents themselves, how they relate to varying personalities, and a full picture of their weaknesses. And everyone has them; we’re only human. I never hire someone if I don’t know at least one challenge they have, otherwise they are performing, and not being truthful.

Ultimately, bringing the right people into your organization is key to achieving project and business success, and building the right culture. There are clear costs in both hiring and terminating employees. Mr. X was a reminder to me that less capable people can get through even the most tried and true recruiting processes. Take the intuition out, and use objective measures whenever possible for the best results.