[Land O’Spin] New Hire Selection: Fly Blind or Hire Smart – 3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Hiring Effectiveness

With the job scene mostly a seller’s market, a recent lunch with one of my favorite search from one of the blue chips reconfirmed my sense that psychological testing continues to be a hit and miss element in getting hired.

Employers continue to hire psychologists – many with little commercial experience – to poke, pry, question and generally get under the hood of would-be executive placements. Other firms may take the less expensive avenue and run folks through a battery of paper and pencil tests hoping that hiring wisdom will be evident in the shading of colors or the location of diagnostic quadrants. (See my earlier post on testing and its dubious aspects here .) Based on what I hear from HR execs that reluctantly use either method, neither way is as effective as well-run, solid competency based interviewing. Comfort lies, apparently, in having someone else – be it a test or a clinician – give you the hiring thumbs up or thumbs down.

And what would you know if diagnostics gave you great info about the candidates under consideration. Brace yourself: it would not tell you much.

Performance, even with individual contributor roles, involves working with other people: other employees, supervisors, subordinates, clients, or vendors. To get a sense of how a candidate will perform requires a good sense of three or four elements – not just one. To be able to determine the probability of someone succeeding you need to figure out any technical expertise or skills for the role (Assessment #1), how effective the person will operate within a company’s present culture and/or hoped- for future culture (Assessment #2), and how well they’ll relate and work with their boss(es) and other people around them such as clients, peers, vendors or subordinates (Assessment #3).

Sound daunting? It’s not.

When I ran staffing for Chiron Corporation in the mid-90’s we used a simple approach that enabled recruiters to get a quick sense as to who was a more likely fit and who was not such a good prospect. The best way for us to think of the desired interface was the overlapping of three circles: the goal was to find candidates in the intersecting sweet spot of all three circles.

Here are three things you can do to up their likelihood that candidates will stick and perform versus do badly and bounce:

  1. Develop a straightforward sense of the key technical and / or skills someone must have to perform well in a role. One easy place to start if you’ve had others in the job is to identify the common technical / skills qualities of people who have done well, and the qualities of those who have struggled. In the absence of prior incumbents, use analogues – an AP specialist as proxy for an AR specialist, or a contracts attorney for an IP attorney.
  2. Figure out who works well in the current culture. At Chiron, people who were successful in places with clear hierarchy and strong sense of mission  – and struggled in places that were opposite – were often misfits in a culture that was collegial and nuanced. It starts with understanding the characteristics of your department / business unit and/or company culture and applying the filter to your candidate in terms of where they’ve struggled and where they’ve done well.
  3. Last, figure out the types of people who perform well with the hiring manager (and / or board of directors if it’s a senior hire) as well as the other cast of characters in the mix such as peers, clients and customers. Again, not so much rocket science as looking at the interpersonal attributes of people who are successful – or alternately, those that bomb.

With these three assessments you can start to make more effective selections – regardless of whether you utilize solid competency based interviewing for the role or trust your selection to the black box of testing to give you a thumbs up or thumbs down.

While there are other elements of effective staffing – both upstream in the branding / communication arena as well as downstream in terms of onboarding, etc. – if you don’t make informed, reasonable selections you can expect to pay the price in terms of poor performance, a high bounce (turnover) rate, and other related issues.

The goal, in all cases, should be to identify, recruit, and hire people who can perform well. If you’re missing that bar, it’s time to rethink how you make your employment selections.

Land O’Spin is an occasional set of writings focused on best practices in coaching and assessment: how do take what you observe, know what it means, and draw conclusions about what outcomes will occur in the future.