I contend that the biggest reason companies struggle to hire outstanding diverse, non-traditional and high potential talent is that they continue to use job descriptions that require a skill set that puts a lid on quality of hire since most of the best people have a different mix of skills and experiences. Just as bad, the best people with the required skill-set aren’t interested in what appears to be an ill-defined lateral transfer. In essence the use of these types of job descriptions guarantees the company will hire people exactly like those they’ve already hired and not improve the quality, or the diversity of the people hired.
These problems can be avoided by asking the hiring manager, “What does this person need to do over the next 6-12 months to be considered an outstanding performer?”
The top labor attorney in the U.S. agrees that by defining work as a 6-8 performance objectives is not only legally sound but also superior to listing skills and experiences for attracting and assessing diverse candidates.
While it’s best to prepare these performance objectives during the intake meeting, sometimes it can be done moments before the interview starts. This story is a case in point.
Take a Tour of the Factory and Call Me in the Morning
Several years ago I was contacted by a business owner who had heard me speak at a business leader’s conference. He was clearly desperate. He implored me to tell him the two questions I had said were all you needed to ask to fully assess competency for any position. He was looking for an operations VP, and being a full-time executive recruiter at the time, I told him I would be happy to reveal my “secret” assessment technique, but we needed to meet in person and discuss the actual job first. He continued to protest, demanding the questions on the spot. Sensing panic, I relented. Before proceeding though, I asked him what was so urgent that he needed the questions instantly. “The candidate is in the waiting room,” he quietly confessed.
After getting some sense of his business and the position he was trying to fill, I told him to follow these instructions without compromise.
- First, do not meet the candidate in the office. Take the candidate for a tour of the manufacturing facility instead.
- As part of the tour, stop at each area that clearly demonstrates some of the biggest operational problems the person taking the VP job would have to address right away. These turned out to be poor factory layout, too much scrap, outdated process control measures, and excess raw material inventory.
- After describing each problem for a few minutes, ask the candidate, “If you were to get this job, how would you fix this?” Then have a 10-15 minute give-and-take discussion around his ideas. The purpose of this conversation is to understand how the candidate would figure out the problem and develop a reasonable solution. Based on this, evaluate the candidate on his problem-solving skills, the quality of the questions asked, and his general approach for implementing a solution.
- When you’re done with this line of questioning, ask the candidate to describe something he has already accomplished that’s most comparable to the problem needing fixing. Spend another 10-15 minutes on getting specific details about this, including names, dates, metrics, type of equipment used, how vendors were managed, how labor problems were solved, who was on the team, how these people were managed, and the results achieved.
- Ask the same two questions and follow up the same way for the other operational problems.
- It should take at least 90 minutes to complete the tour. When done, tell the person you’re impressed with his background, and will get back to him in a few days after seeing some other candidates. Then call me and we can discuss your reaction and figure out next steps.
The call came three hours later. The owner’s insight was profound. He said the candidate aced the problem-solving questions but didn’t have any evidence of achieving comparable results. Given this he concluded the candidate would make an excellent consultant but a poor operational executive. He didn’t hire the person but gave us the search assignment. We placed a very talented person in about 30 days who went on to meet all of the performance objectives of the job in the first year.
Moral: If you know what you need done it only takes two questions to figure out if a candidate is competent and motivated to do it. If you don’t know what you need done, take a tour of the factory and call me in the morning.