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Use the Job Interview to 1st Convert Strangers Into Acquaintances

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Good or bad, hiring strangers is far riskier than hiring acquaintances. The problem can be avoided by using a performance-based interview to hire anyone.

Over the past few weeks I led two hiring manager recruiting and interviewing programs. Some interesting things happened.

To start, I asked all of the managers how they got their most recent job. Of the 50 or so people only one applied directly. The others were either promoted to the position or referred by someone known to the hiring manager. This alone suggests  an important principle about how to get a managerial position.

However, it was the next point that was more interesting.

I asked the hiring managers given the choices below whose on-the-job performance was more predictable:

  1. Those who were personally known to the hiring manger.
  2. Those who were highly referred by someone personally known to the hiring manager.
  3. Candidates who were total strangers.

Their responses are shown in the graph with those known to the hiring manager the highest and those unknown the lowest.

But things soon got even more interesting when I asked what was the primary criteria the hiring managers used to hire or promote someone who was well known or was highly referred. In both cases the criteria was some understanding of the person’s past performance as it related to the performance requirements of the open position.

But most interesting of all:

A Fundamentally Different Process is Used When Hiring Strangers

To get hired, strangers undergo a far different hiring process than acquaintances. First they’re filtered on their skills and experiences before they’re even considered viable. Then they have to agree to a title and compensation range before they can even talk to the hiring manager. During the interview the assessment is made on their depth of technical skills, first impression, personality and how they answer a few behavioral questions about motivation, values and team skills.

It didn’t take long for the 50 managers involved to see that hiring based on the person’s past performance is far more predictable than hiring on skills and experience. This is represented by the “X” gap in the graphic and the sharp drop in interviewing accuracy.

Bridging this gap was the purpose of the training program. In fact, bridging this gap is essential for any company that wants to improve the quality of the people it hires.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Define the job before defining the skills and experiences required to do the job. Every job in the world can be defined and clarified by 6-8 SMARTe performance objectives. These are Specific and Measurable with the Action required defined, the Results and deliverables clarified, the Time to complete determined and the environment described.  Acquaintances and strangers will both be assessed against this criteria. The idea is that as long as the person has done comparable work he/she has the skills and experiences necessary.
  • Advertise the challenges in the job and their importance to the company’s success. Jobs are more compelling when they’re tied directly to some important initiative. This is called job branding. For example, one post for a cost analyst prepared by the McFrank and Williams ad agency highlighted the need for attention to detail as essential in building the company’s quality products. Traditional job posts typically offer boilerplate and lateral transfers.
  • Delete the apply button. Instead of applying, have candidates submit a write-up of some comparable accomplishment. There is no law that candidates need to apply directly to an open job. Instead, ask interested candidates to submit a video or a short write-up describing a major comparable accomplishment.
  • Go slower. It takes time to convert strangers into acquaintances. Add a phone screen and an exploratory conversation into the process at the front end and an additional interview and lunch at the back end. This is how you get to know people.
  • Put your biases in the parking lot. Here are nine simple things you can do to minimize interviewer bias due to first impressions. Acquaintances don’t face this problem so it’s an essential first step for leveling the playing field.
  • Conduct a series of pre-hire performance reviews. Forget the behavioral and trick questions. Instead, over the course of several meetings and with different people, ask the candidate to describe in detail a major accomplishment for each of the performance objectives listed in the performance-based job description. Peel the onion by asking SMARTe questions and use a pre-hire quality of hire talent scorecard to evaluate each candidate and compare all of the candidates against each other.

Predicting on-the-job performance more accurately is not hard. But you need to know what you’re looking for, go slower using a consultative recruiting approach and focus primarily on the person’s ability and motivation to do the work you really want accomplished. If you do all of these things you will first turn strangers into acquaintances. More important, you will hire stronger people and make fewer hiring mistakes.