The flip of a coin
What do you think? You need to fill an open position, and you’re given a choice: either follow your established methods for making a hiring decision or scrap it — all of it — and flip a coin. Heads, we make the offer. Tails, we don’t. It’s a 50:50 chance. Would you take it?
I’ve yet to have a leadership team or workshop group take me up on it. Sadly, research suggests they should. How can that be? The reason is that many of our hiring practices introduce noise into our decision-making, false signals, that lead us toward bad decisions. So much so that it can take our success rate below our coin-flip option.
Our dilemma is this: Why do intelligent, experienced, high-capacity professionals routinely make bad hiring decisions?
In the end, we need to have confidence that our process for making hiring decisions is reliable. In my experience, this reliability is a function of two things: the validity of the tools used and the consistency at which they’re applied. The good news in all of this is that effective selection is an acquirable skill. The even better news is that there are resources within reach that can help you develop this skill.
What I continue to find in companies (and these are good companies with really smart people) is that they need to give more thought to three questions before they even arrive at a point where they need to make a hire. Because of this, they’re relying on a job description laden with HR lingo, resumes, LinkedIn profiles and Indeed hits. Here are the questions: What do we care about? What do we mean by that? How can we get a candidate to demonstrate they possess the things we care about?
What do we care about? This is different from the job description which typically contains whom the position reports to, a list of responsibilities and a list of credentials. The things we care about are ultimately traits that enable a person to carry out the responsibilities successfully. Think flexibility, tenacity and willingness to learn. I have one client that has a “figure it out factor.” These attributes can and should be demonstrable. They can and do show up in real-life work contexts.
What do we mean by that? “We” is the operative word. A company needs to personalize these traits. Flexibility, for example, in one work context will look very different than another. This is where a company’s DNA, culture and role come together for a specific trait expression. This piece also begins to show us indicators of how a candidate might show us whether they possess it, which is the next step in our structure.
How can we get a candidate to demonstrate they possess the things we care about? Over 20 years ago, I was first trained in behavioral interviewing at my corporate job. Some snub their nose at this methodology, and some may have just stopped reading. I strongly advocate for it as I agree that “past behavior predicts future performance.” I don’t want to deal with hypotheticals. I’m not interested in what a candidate would do. I am deeply interested in what they did do. The proper structure and sequence of interview questions help draw these out. I also believe in auditions — exercises designed to put a candidate through the paces to draw out these traits in ultra-high def. As on American Idol and its sister shows, put the proverbial microphone in their hands and find out, “Can you sing?”
Whenever I talk about it, some inevitably reject this, others are skeptical, others are open, and a few can’t wait to start. As I tell them, if it sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. I am convinced it’s worth it. But if you are not, remember you always have an alternative — the coin flip.
Chuck Hyde is the founder of C3 Advisors, a firm focused on executive development and talent optimization. He can be reached at www.c3adv.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.