Published in September 1999
Looking good by hiring right
Flip a coin before your interview. And skip the interview altogether. Heads the candidate's hired, tails they're not. Chances are you'd make the right hiring decision 50 percent of the time, nearly the same odds as if you'd seriously interviewed them.
Of course, no one would approach hiring like this, but the accuracy of traditional hiring methods is only slightly better, according Lou Adler, author of Hire with Your Head: A Rational Way to Make a Gut Decision (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1998). At an hour-long seminar in Cape Cod, Mass., Adler cited a sobering 1991 Michigan State University study that reported interviewing practices are 57 percent accurate. In other words, hiring is darned near a random act, contends Adler, with nearly half the decisions wrong.
"Everyone has hired someone who hasn't worked out," says Adler, who helps people up their odds. His presentations and book present a scientific hiring method, one that'll have you hiring the right employee 89 percent of the time, says Adler, a headhunter for more than 30 years and founder of California-based CJA - The Adler Group.
Adler's strategy starts with understanding the job you're trying to fill, writing compelling ads and candidate-friendly Web sites, and taking a new approach to interviewing.
Understanding the job
Without a clear understanding of your needs, you'll rarely write a compelling job description, advertisement, or chose the right candidate.
The first step is defining superior performance. "Managers have to ask themselves, 'What do I want this person to do? What does a person need to do over the next year to be considered successful?'" says Adler. One of three methods typically accomplishes the task. At the end of the process, if you have more objectives than you need for an ad, simply pare them down to an essential two or three.
The macro approach
If the job has multiple projects, break out the top three, define the deliverables, a time frame, and the key steps toward meeting those deliverables. Doing so creates a foundation for measuring the job seeker's suitability and sets expectations.
This approach is great for companies looking for someone to launch a new product. Sometimes you don't know the exact duties of the position, but the job description can clearly identify a planning process the person will have to lead and set a timeframe and required leadership skills.
The micro approach
The micro approach identifies how a candidate's skills will be used on the job. "For example, rather than saying the candidate must have strong personal computer skills, it's better to state that the candidate must be able to upgrade the performance reporting package using personal computers," says Adler in Hiring with Your Head. Hiring managers can describe personality traits in the same manner. Rather than look for someone who "can work well with engineering," think someone who can "deal with a very technically oriented engineering manager."
The benchmarking approach
Best for administrative or entry-level positions - jobs that follow a set routine - the benchmarking approach requires hiring managers to document successful characteristics of people who are already doing the job. For example, if the best employees have an eye for detail, include that trait in the job description.
Transforming the job into a compelling ad
Most employers use ads to solicit potential hires, highlighting three elements: skills, duties, and responsibilities. Instead of taking this approach, Adler recommends using the ads as a tool for marketing the job. "A boring ad will attract boring people," says Adler.
Boring ads might only attract people who are desperate for a job, the unemployed or underemployed, not the Grade AA eggs your company needs. If you're trying to pry someone out of their current job, the ad has got to speak to their desire for growth and challenge.
Most ads look like a shopping list: five years of database administration work, a degree in computer science, and experience in Unix environments, please. Instead, Adler says ads should highlight outcome-based goals, performance needs, and make a promise for a bright future. You pull this data from the job description you've created.
On the Internet, effective ads are equally important. If the job listing is off the mark, managers will get a stack of poor quality applicants.
Interviewing strategies that work
"Ninety percent of the people tend to be biased by first impressions," says Adler. "Personality doesn't predict performance. But personality does affect your judgment. If you like someone, I can guarantee that you'll make the wrong decision. Wait 30 minutes before you ever decide if you like or don't like someone."
Interviewers commonly evaluate candidates based on personal style, personality, experience, gut reaction, and prejudice. Some hiring managers like candidates who dress well, show up on time, and are articulate. Others dislike candidates who smell like smoke, speak with an accent, or are overweight. Acknowledge how you've previously evaluated job seekers by writing down three things that turn you on and off about an interviewee.
Beware the candidate who slides through interviews like a Ski-doo. "There's no correlation between competency and good interviewing skills," says Adler. "Past performance is the only indicator of future performance."
If a candidate can do the work, has high energy, and can manage, motivate, and persuade others, they'll likely be a great hire. To find out, Adler probes along these lines:
- Give me a quick overview of your current position and the impact you've made. Adler predicts most people will give you the wrong answer out of nervousness. So he follows that question with three others.
- Tell me about your prior position and the past impact that you made there. This question gets candidates to reveal their success stories.
- Draw an organization chart and explain who your peers were, who you managed (if anyone) and who you worked for. This question helps you understand their place within the organization, with whom they interacted, and their sphere of influence.
- Tell me about your biggest team project and your success.
After you've got the answer, ask the same four questions in reference to their prior positions. "You'll discover that no one can lie when you pull back the layers of the onion. You just ask enough questions about the same thing to get to the point," says Adler.
When you're through the questions, anchor their experience with the job you're trying to fill. Explain the job and have the jobseeker give an example of something they've done that's similar. Ask them to visualize how they'd accomplish certain tasks. "There is a group of people who can tell you exactly how to do it, but haven't done anything like it in their life. You want someone who can visualize and execute as well," says Adler.
Getting to yes
How do you convince somebody to take the job if you think they're the right hire? "If you give it to someone, they don't want it. If you take it away, they want it," says Adler. You want 100 percent acceptance.
Make a trial offer. "Ninety-nine percent of the time when we make an offer, it's accepted. Say, 'We're thinking of making an offer, what would you think about it. If I can get you the money you need, the scope and the assignment you need, the equity you need, would you accept the offer?'"
The same methods of evaluating potential employees also work during reviews or when you're considering promoting someone within your organization. Though the process takes time, Adler contends that the work you do up front will save your company time and money in the end because you'll have made the right hiring decisions.