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This One Change Will Change Everyone You Hire

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Assess Ability Before You Assess Likability

Bias permeates everything we do. Politics is the best example of bias at its worst. The big problem with bias is that we ignore information that conflicts with our preconceived notion of correctness. This is especially true when it comes to hiring people.

For example, just last week I was training a group of hiring managers as part of an executive search project. Within seconds of looking at one of the candidate’s resume, one of the hiring team members instantly rejected the person due to too much turnover. He wasn’t aware the turnover was minimal since all the roles were part of the same private equity group. Even knowing this, the person was unconvinced. This is the negative power of bias: People will rarely change their minds once made up despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Put Bias at the Bottom of the Recruiting Funnel, not the Top

Just think how many strong candidates get excluded before it’s even determined if they’re capable and motivated to do the work required. When hiring, this should be the dominant selection criteria yet it’s rarely the case unless the person is someone referred or personally known to the hiring manager. More often, candidates are excluded based on subjective criteria posing as objectivity. For example, who has validated the laundry list of skills and generic competencies described in your company’s job postings as strong predictors of performance? It’s obviously suspect when 100% of the people who get promoted into the same job have a different mix of skills and competencies than those listed on the public job posting.

A more objective approach is to define the job as a series of performance objectives. For example, if you’re hiring a product designer it’s better to state the person must upgrade the durability of the product by 20% in six months rather than say the person must have a degree in product design, be results-oriented and have 10 years of industry experience. You can prove competency by asking the person to describe his/her best product design accomplishment. This a lot more accurate than box-checking skills.

You’ll also be able to attract stronger people at the top of the funnel and weed out the weaker ones by asking interested candidates to submit a write-up of their best product design effort before applying directly. As part of the research for The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired I asked a top U.S. labor attorney to evaluate this two-step approach. Here’s his “two thumbs up” review and why he considers it more objective.

Use the Sherlock Holmes Interviewing System for Eliminating Mid-funnel Bias

The Sherlock Holmes deductive interview approach involves looking for evidence the person is a top performer based on the recognition he/she has received for his/her work. This is based on the idea that most managers assign their strongest people to the most difficult tasks, stretch assignments, the most important project teams or to handle the most important or difficult clients. So ask people why they got assigned to certain tasks, if these tasks were above or below the person’s skill level and what happened after the work was finished. If positive, use this evidence to prove to the biased interviewer your candidate is a top performer.

Conduct More Panel Interviews

Over the years I learned that a well-organized panel interview eliminates bias due to its “just the facts” approach. However, a poorly organized panel in which everyone interrupts each other asking their own pet questions is worse than a waste of time. A good panel interviewstarts with the leader asking the candidate to describe a major accomplishment most comparable to real job needs. During the detailed questioning process that follows, the other panel members (aka, the fact-finders) ask only clarifying questions. The advantage of the panel interview is that it allows everyone to hear the same evidence. Then you can use this evidence to measure quality of hire as a means to assess and compare candidates.

Your Biases Will Reveal Themselves When You Assess Ability Before Assessing Likability

One way to minimize bias to is assess competency and potential using the above techniques before determining affability and fit. When the candidate leaves the interview objectively ask yourself how the person’s style and first impression will impact on-the-job performance. Then good or bad, compare this assessment to your initial emotional reaction to the candidate. Your biases – the cause of the positive or negative initial reaction – will be revealed after you do this a few times. From then on you’ll be able to control these biases by recognizing their cause.

One of the biggest problems with bias is not hiring the best person for the job. While you’ll never be able to eliminate bias entirely, by proactively addressing it as described here you will overcome its impact at least during the interview if not the ballot box.