Interview questions and structured interviewing
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Blind Man's Bluff

Wendall Williams

Can you name one thing that is as misunderstood as the benefits of hiring highly skilled people? I am not talking about finding and screening people. I am referring to understanding thoroughly what the job requires and putting applicants through hoops to see if they are qualified.

Learn From the Professionals

Take a professional sports team. There is a very good reason why talent scouts only recruit players based on observation and competition: it screens out marginal players. There is also a very good reason why teams are quick to fire poor coaches. They mess up athletes supplied by the scouts.

There is a very good reason why some teams win more games than others: they hire players with skills, provide good coaching, deliver the right training, and management does everything it can not to screw it up! No coach can take credit for building a winning team without a staff of talented scouts sending him or her the "best of the best." Contrast that with business practices.

Managers (i.e., coaches) are promoted based on their ability to perform as individual contributors, not coach others. Once promoted, they tend to move into a "circle of protection" where management is considered more of a "reward" than a responsibility. Estimates of managerial incompetence are between 55% and 90%. Problem #1.

Business talent scouts (the recruiters) position themselves as HR experts and professionals, but rely on interviews to screen and "disqualify" applicants. They seldom accurately evaluate applicant skills (e.g., give them tryouts). Responsibility for hiring is either diffused through team interviews or passed on to a hiring manager who uses the same low-tech approach. Problem #2.

How To Be Best of the Best?

The DOL published a list of recommended best hiring practices in 1978 in response to Tile VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, its various amendments, and executive orders. These practices outline how to establish thorough competency lists, use trustworthy tools, and evaluate the most qualified applicants, with minimum impact on protected groups (i.e., how to maximize diversity without minimizing performance).

However, the Uniform Guidelines On Employment Selection Procedures is the least-read professional practices document in the world. In fact, the vast majority of HR staff and recruiters are either totally unaware of it, flagrantly ignore its provisions, or pass it off as "too much work" (a strangely dismissive attitude for a professional to take). Problem #3.

Professional teams know what each player is worth because they keep performance statistics on every team member. They are not quick to fire someone in whom they made a heavy investment. They work with that player, watch the numbers, and take action only after training and coaching fails.

Organizations, on the other hand, measure employee performance based on "games won" or "games lost." Some organizations make a practice of cutting the bottom 10% each year, as if that makes up for poor recruiting practices. Basically, organizations often have no idea what a good or poor player is worth — only games won or lost. Problem #4.

This kind of shabby, unprofessional behavior is more than a commentary on the sad state of the profession. It is a commentary on why HR and recruiting does not have (and will never get) any respect from senior management.

In fact, a recent SHRM survey confirmed that senior management had about as much respect for HR as cats have for people. It sagely suggested that HR "get better." That's like telling a cancer patient to get better without a major medical intervention. Odds are neither will survive very long. So what does it take to get better?

1.Get management to realize and calculate the cost of performance.

2.Raise questions about why any manager "who knows 'em when he sees 'em" continues to have 20/80 employee productivity.

3.Develop ways to calculate the cost of employee performance.

4.Stop arguing for a place at the management table and start earning it.

5.Become an expert in (or hire someone to teach you) job analysis, validation, and applicant evaluation methods.

6.Stop defending gut decisions with single instances of success. Everybody gets lucky occasionally. Instead, look for at least 50 examples where "gut" was 90% correct (good luck).

7.Realize that, although everyone thinks he or she is a people expert (as in, "I am a person. Therefore, I must be a people-expert!"), experience tells an entirely different story.

8.Abandon the silly idea that HR can develop its own competency list. This field is deeper that it looks and "learn as you earn" works poorly, if ever. People who insist on doing it themselves can plan to lose face (again) within three years. Once again, HR says "sayonara" to management respect.

9.Stop trivializing employee performance problems. Poor performance costs from 20% to 50% of base payroll every year. That means a 500-person organization with a $40,000 average salary wastes about $6,000,000 each year! This is often the difference between Chapter 11 and the front page of CEO Magazine. Why not do more with less or more with the same?

10.Argue how HR benefits drop right to the bottom line in terms of turnover, productivity, payroll, mistakes, and quality. Just because it is not measured, that does not mean it is not there. We all know it is, but few do anything about it.

11.Professional recruiters and internal recruiting departments should wake up and smell the coffee. If they have trouble recruiting and staffing their own positions, what kind of benefit can they offer to a client? What makes them think clients want to buy a service that does little or nothing for their own business?

Most importantly, learn to think like a professional. Be willing to spend a buck to make a hundred. A company that puts in a legitimate hiring (and internal placement) system recaptures its total investment by saving one or two hiring mistakes. Who can name one other investment that provides the same ROI?


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