Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Caveat Emptor - Hiring Lessons Learned


We have all done it at some time in our careers. You have a position opening, develop a slate of qualified candidates, interview, select the ideal candidate and then find out that everything was not as it seemed. I did an informal survey over the last couple of weeks asking trusted colleagues if they had ever made a bad hiring decision. If they had (and they all had), the thing that caused a problem later would have been discovered during the due diligence and selection phase.

I was quite surprised how many colleagues admitted that their error was as simple as not talking directly to the prior manager when hiring an internal candidate. Others shared stories of not evaluating past performance reviews, development plans and salary adjustments. Of course it is somewhat more challenging for external hires, but the best interviewers I spoke to felt far more confident than those that treated the interview as a “meeting” to get to know the candidate. The Wall Street Journal stated that “thirty-four percent of all application forms contain outright lies about experience, education and ability to perform essential functions on the job.” (Source – Wall Street Journal). Today, there are thorough background screening companies to assist with this (yes, a shameless plug for HireRight).

What techniques have you successfully used to improve your candidate success rate?

19 comments:

Oleg Dulin from Linkedin said...

Actually, I find that talking directly to the prior manager is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the time the issues come up because the newhire's personality is incompatible with some member's of the team. That can be far more damaging to all parties involved than small lies on the resume.

Simon Besteman from Linkedin said...

Beware of rushing to judgment. There are several aspects to consider here. 1. There's the interviews and what they can reveal about your candidate. Richard is right to point to techniques such as behavioral interviewing. Useful too in my experience is to organize a second or even third interview during which the candidate will speak with future peers or future reports. A revealing question is always: "which are the parts of the job that you think will really challenge you in the beginning?". If the answer is none either the candidate is b***hitting you or he's applying for a job that will bore him/her to death. 2. Then you've got the resume. I think the WSJ estimate is much too low. Ask around you: who hasn't omitted something, deliberately obfuscated something, maybe claimed as an achievement of his/her own something they were only a part of? And (making a big exception for professions like medical doctor or airplane pilot), does it matter? At a certain level, hardly. Within a short time you will be in no doubt about whether you're talking to someone knowledgeable or not. 3. You. Yes. You. You and no one else has made a choice for someone to strengthen your team. If you're a responsible person you know that you've committed yourself to at least seriously try to make it a success. If you're disappointed by some behaviors of your new hire: talk about it. If you sincerely believe that during the recruiting process you were misled about your new report's qualifications or experience: bring it up. Find out the real cause. And if it can be corrected with your help: do it. At the very least you will find out whether you've been cheated. At best, your support has helped someone raise their game to the level you need, and you'll have their loyalty.

Richard Platt from Linkedin said...

John - Excellent stuff you have here. I would point out that there is an assumption in your analysis though, you asked trusted friends what they thought, likely they share similar values as you, and are stand up gents /. ladies & that are fair and reasonable managers. However not all managers are fair and reasonable. Let's face it some managers have been known to be self serving narcissists, that treat their stewardship responsibility of the individuals in their group like a joke and in fact look at their people as their own personal chattel to use and abuse as they see fit. I have been fortunate enough to have had a variety that have run the spectrum. I even had one manager attempt to steal my 2nd patent and pass it off as her own project, but she was later spanked down for that misbehavior. I think we need to be careful about our own bias', here these are the things that can bounce around us and we can miss the point that there are some good people out there who would not get a positive review from such a poor manager, since they would have rebelled against such managerial thuggery, and thus we in turn end up missing a potentially good or even excellent employee because of the assumption of the value of a previous manager's negative review. One of the most proven methods that I have used, besides following the suggested methods and recommendations of looking at a person's performance is to use "Behavioral Interviewing" - that way I don't delegate out to others for a decision that I and or my team need to make about someone who we are going to have spend a fair amount of time working with this person. See More on Behavioral Interviewing @: [http://jobsearch.about.com/cs/interviews/a/behavioral.htm|leo://plh/http%3A*3*3jobsearch%2Eabout%2Ecom*3cs*3interviews*3a*3behavioral%2Ehtm/9CSX?_t=tracking_disc] All the best. - Richard Platt

Gary Miller from Linkedin said...

After thirty years in executive search, I know this...anyone can be more diligent and most should, but hiring will never be perfect. I know companies that use multiple tests, interviews and other assorted hoops to jump though, and they still make errors. Look at it this way, couples get engaged and sometimes cohabitate for years, then get married. The divorce rate is over 50%. Interviews typically involve 2-6 hours...should the stick rate be higher? I recommend three interviews at three different venues. Involve as many co-workers as possible looking for fit. Try working with the candidate in a real life situation and/or role play some problems....see how it feels to actually work with the person. Ask for at least 5-6 references early in the interview process and emphasize that you want to talk to EVERY former boss they ever had. The good ones will be glad to...they are proud of their work. Mediocre and poor performers will squirm away when this topic arises. I also suggest a standard interview template asking lots of questions about perfomance, responsibilities, success and failures at each job they've had....and ask the same questions all the time. Good luck."

Matt Cobb from Linkedin said...

John - You and your company may need to explore utilizing LinkedIn in a more "active" capacity. Some of the companies I've been associated with look at the "recommendations" to further understand candidates, their backgrounds, etc. There is a lot to learn by viewing someone's LinkedIn profile. Background checks are effective, but sometimes the free tools are just as effective. I have seen many profiles where the level of responsibility they claimed in their summary was not consistent with the recommendations from their bosses or peers. Its amazing what a little research will tell you about someone. Another aspect that is interesting is when people claim to have held "c" level positions, but all of their contacts are in mid-level positions. I've enjoyed the LinkedIn experience and hope to find that one day it will be used as more of a tool (especially in candidate selection).

Bob Churchwell from Linkedin said...

I agree with the personality part. That is why before final decision, I actually allow part of the existing team conduct an informal interview and value their opinion. Compatibility is just as important as ability, sometimes more. As far as the resume "little while lies", I put the responsibility on them in the interview. I inform them that I must trust what they say they can do, they will. If they can’t perform to their resume, I will figure it out within a couple of weeks, and that will be most disappointing to both of us. I have still made mistakes in hires, but only a few times in over 25 years of hiring.

Caren Goldberg, Ph.D. from Linkedin said...

Using interviews as a "getting to know the candidate" meeting can be a slippery slope. I've written a bit about structured interviews (I'm a big fan), wherein every candidate gets asked the same questions and every interviewer (I'm also a big fan of panel [either synchronous or asynchronous]) interviews) is given the same scoring instructions. Doing so forces hiring managers to really think about what it is that they want in a candidate and what questions are likely to elicit that information. Asking, "what is your greatest weakness?" will most certainly not elicit any useful information. Asking the candidate to give an example of a time when they made a mistake at their previous job (what led up to it, what others' reactions were, and whether/how it was remedied) will generate more useful information than will a canned response to an expected question."

Angeline Lim from Linkedin said...

It's difficult enough to know a person in real life. In a reverse situation, a candidate can get to know "the interviewers", the company cultures, working ethics...etc... learned to project the ideal candidate image to the interviewers and the company ... and in the end got the job offer! It's definitely a skill that your successful candidate has. An internship is also a good way of evaluating whether the candidate can adapt his/her working ethics to the company or not. If not, then whether he/she can be trained to do that. my 2 cents,

Carolann Jacobs said...

John,
There have been several studies that have shown that assessments such as the Winslow and Birkman are more accurate than interviews in producing a good hire. That said, as a coach who routinely uses assessments, I think they are one tool of many.

Teaching people how to conduct interviews would also reduce that rate.

Understanding the competencies needed for the position and further growth would also help. Many times, companies think they need one person only to hire someone else. When I managed people, I used to laugh at the competencies listed in our job descriptions, but those were the criteria that were going to be used when it came time to promote. Sad.

What improved my success rate were two things. The best was using Linked In to gather informal references. Many people put their contact information in their summaries, so that's easy.

I also like contract to hire; this gets any personality conflicts and work ethic issues out in the open. I have observed people who perform very well in one environment crash and burn in another. When I did contract-to-hire, I was very up front about the try-before-you-buy approach, and I made sure that the candidate was well compensated for the risk on their side.

As a coach, I would now use that training to explore how the candidate handles conflict and do much more with emotional intelligence. I think that's the key missing factor in most interviewing processes.

Be Your Best You Today,
Carolann Jacobs
President, Vivid Epiphany

Larry Lacy said...

Hi John: The number one reason individuals give for leaving a a company is for more money. That is not reality. They give this reason because they do not want to "burn bridges". Most individuals leave a company because they do not feel fulfilled. This happens because they have bad management, their skills are not utilized, they do not feel important to the organization, etc. So the bottom line, if someone does not want to "burn bridges" you just say I have a great opportunity, once in a lifetime opportunity, I am getting a hugh pay increase, etc. This does not necessarily hold true if someone is transferring internally to a new position.. A substantial number of transfers I witnessed was to enhance their [career.in|leo://plh/http%3A*3*3career%2Ein/SO1J?_t=tracking_disc] one fashion or another. Larry

J Wong said...

I would say, give ample time for the interviewing process. Many times companies or organizations wait to last minute where they are forced to make a decision because they have to fill the spot ASAP. You end up settling with the best of what you had to choose from. Well, if the choices were not that great to begin with then you should just continue the search. I appreciate it when the team has a voice in who gets hired on as a new member. Allowing the team to help in the interviewing process and provide feedback is rewarding for the team and may generate better results as a whole.

Michael Lyubomirskiy said...

"John, why don't you just hire a highly competent guy to interview candidates? I mean, as a programmer I have no trouble telling an incompetent programmer from a competent one after 15 mins of talking. I might find it hard to differentiate different levels of competence (is he solid, or is he brilliant?) but I can certainly diagnose incompetence easily. Well, an expert in your field could do likewise for you. And if all the experts are too busy, someone like me could just work with an expert for a short time, pick his brains and develop a scripted questionnaire/oral exam for competence. This exam could then be administered and scored by any generally smart guy whose brains were not addled by emotional intelligence and other such myths. Cheers, Michael"

Matthew Canterbury, MA said...

"EQ is important as well as having the people doing the hiring know what they are hiring for instead of using a cookie cutter template that a competitor had on their website. For example, most HR people that I have met have a very basic understanding of what 6S is, yet they see it as this needed certification. A person with an Economics degree has to take courses involved in Econometrics. These courses delve into variances in a way where 6S may not make economic sense, where TQS standards usually 3S or 4S are going to be appropriate and actually more profitable. As a person that has done hiring in the past and now am currently looking for opportunity, I am wondering how to efficiently explain to a hiring manager that the latest buzz words that the CEO has heard at some conference or read in some book is going to place the company at an advantage. They place this or some other competency on their list and a person with this certification will be interviewed because they know how to do the work that they were taught, yet do not always understand the methodologies behind it."

Ira Wolfe said...

We recommend an approach called "the whole person approach" ( www.criteriaone.biz ). It's a balanced approach using a structured behavioral interview, experience/reference/background checks and assessments. Most important is that the entire selection process focus on the requried competencies or potential to grow...or both. In addition, managers need to assess more than just job ability but team and culture fit. We've all seen mediocre employees thrive in a business because they are so well like and aligned so well with the culture that co-workers and even customers refuse to let them fail. But hire to the job only and ignore team and culture fit and the you can just watch everyone waiting for the employee to trip.

Alex Kersha said...

"John, Great discussion topic! I think Angeline points out one of the best ways I've found at hiring the right people. We use a 6 month internship for every position that requires more than basic typing/phone answering skills. Each person comes on as a contractor paid hourly and is then transitioned to a full employee at ANY point during the 6 months. This applies equally well with "C" band employees. They are paid as business consultants until a time when both the company and candidate are comfortable with each other. This way there is no "rush" to get the wrong person to fit in. Cheers, Alex Kersha

Jonathan Harris said...

"Smith from UMIST proved some years ago that thoroughly assessing candidates at interview and assessment centres, in tasks related to the position, which the individual was expected to fulfil increases predictability of success in the role, once appointed. Reference checks are included as part of this, but the validity of the referee must be checked too, especially if this sounding is taken without the applicant's consent. Thorough recruitment processes should avoid the worst pitfalls. Detailed research from the UK's leading HR organisation (CIPD) has often shown that discontent in roles most often emanates from a mismatch in expectations; blatant overselling or miscommunication of expectations to the candidate by the employer is often more significant in these mismatches occurring in the first year of a employment. Richard Platt raises very apposite points above, too. Indeed there is considerable evidence, including from the UK's Professional Management body; the Chartered Management Institute of exactly the type of behaviour that Richard describes being far too common in many workplaces. The publication Bullying at work 2008: the experience of managers (November 2008), by Patrick Woodman and Dr. Vidal Kumar ISBN: 0-85946-486-5 summarises one of the issues thus: "Bullying in the workplace is a serious problem for employers. It can have a devastating effect on the individuals involved and impacts on those around them, affecting employee wellbeing, organisational productivity and costs. Building on research published in 2005, Key findings of the 2008 study included: - 70 per cent of managers have witnessed instances of bullying in the past 3 years - incidents are not just ‘top down’: 63 per cent of respondents observing bullying between peers and 30 per cent witnessing subordinates bullying their manager - 42 per cent of managers report having been bullied themselves of those experiencing bullying, more than 1 in 3 (38 per cent) report that no action was taken by their organisation. The report is based on self-completion questionnaires from 867 managers and leaders across the private, public and voluntary sectors." Few referees will self certify to bullying in a reference call, especially if unsolicited and the person they are commenting on does not know about it. Bullies will typically have absolutely no compunction whatsovever, with further damaging a bullied individuals' future career prosects, especially if they will not be held accountable, or attributable for it. The ability of some managers to perform appropriate performance appraisals has been challenged for some time. Sometimes they are used just to reinforce the behaviours Richard refers to above. You only have to read Rosabeth Moss Kanter on change agents and the experts on innovation to know that organisations often react negatively against the most entrepreurial and innovative members of the team, no matter how good they are at what they do. If other team members feel jealous of their ideas, creativity, abilities and achievements, or that their own career prospects may be threatened then all bets are off on the reliability of others' testimony, given without the subject's consent. The CMI has been working to improve standards of leadership and management in the UK for the last decade, to improve the productivity of the economy, but the study of November 2008 suggests there is still more work to do. In view of the importance of innovation to renew the economy and the focus for this group's discussion we should do well to promote the challenges of the innovators in organisations."

Jonathan Harris said...

Hi John

Some really thoughful and interesting comments are made on the board.

Adding to my earlier comments: There was an annoucement today in the UK, widely reported in the national media, by the Information Commissioner; the public body set up to safeguard data protection. A company specialised in providing information on construction labourers. This information, or data was used for screening for recruitment, by firms and was held and obtained, without the potential employees' consent. Its existence, use and contents were repeatedly denied! The Commissioner closed the company.

Caveat emptor indeed!

Your site addresses leadership. Advice for people in the leadership community to use LinkedIn to find out about potential hires, from others that have worked with, or for them, largely without them knowing could lead to legal difficulties, if they are not careful. I wonder, if the advice to users of LinkedIn should be refined to recommend requesting the subject's consent before seeking out this information?

Best wishes.

Richard Platt said...

"Jonathan et al, Right on with the data mate, at least I am not the only one looking at it. Hadn't heard of the Nov 2008 findings, thanks. I had read some of Rosabeth Moss Kantor stuff on Change Agents, I needed to since it was my job to push for, and professionally advocate change as Intel's global senior instructor for innovation methods and its program manager. Quite an education, one that you don't get in a Master's or Phd program and books only go so far in telling the whole story. It was a good thing, no more delusions / illusions about other's agendas or the corporate world. Instead of the negative side of it turning me off or away from corporate world as I have seen it do to many, it catalyzed me, into a tougher, smarter and wilier individual than my obstructionist and narcissistic opponents could comprehend or appreciate. In fact, despite some of my references to the contrary about me being a great guy I do have the well developed reputation for being just the sort of SOB that obstructionist / narcissists don't want to tangle with. I actually prefer their dislike and disdain for me, they are my proof that I am doing the right thing for the company, my colleagues and myself. As for hiring someone like me, not all would say that I shine in their eyes, but then again I'm not everyone's cup of tea, nor do I want to be. Self approval is required, but not necessarily others approval in such a job as the head guy in charge of proliferating innovation. Not to say that one shouldn't be diplomatic or tactful, but you get my point I hope In fact I would reasonably propose that someone who wants a corporate change agent to do the necessary shake up, would need someone who isn't a "yes man", when you would need a "Hell No man" for the job, at least that is what I would want if I was a CEO of a company. I do like and prefer the differentiation being the guy that challenges the sacred cows and then goes out kicks ass and still brings home the bacon. If done professionally it works out quite well for everyone concerned (in the long run). Although for sure there will be my detractors, as Jonathan stated above, I;ll say it differently that when you're the young turk in amongst the old schooler's and I was, then you can bet they'll challenge you. We have choices in life, you can either take a beating or you can pull up your "big boy (or girl) pants" and step up to the plate and challenge the way things are being done, it's an integrity thing. It is as Einstein said, to do things over and over again and expect different results is the definition of insanity. I count myself fortunate to be one of the people who attempts to do things differently. These type of people won't always be getting the stellar reviews from all of their previous bosses, those people are proudly different and have something intelligent to offer and contribute are harder to find since they don't act like everyone else in the hiring queue. -- Just a thought to add to the deliberations of hiring one candidate over another."

Dave Mason, MBA, CSSBB said...

I see the topic from an entirely different view, that of an interviewee and now employee in a dysfunctional group. During the initial interview, the manager was concerned about me being able to work with "eccentric" employees. As an employee, I found out that "eccentric" translated to openly bigoted, exhibiting racist and homophobic comments publicly within the group.I raised the issue with ethics, and they've given the proverbial hand slap, but the behavior continues. The manager was promoted from within the group, so he both dismisses and overlooks their behavior as "that's just the way they are".
In terms of your article, I understand the need to try and get the "full picture" of employees. But not all that previous managers say is based on the performance and capabilities of the employee but of the biases that the manager says.
I am desperately trying to get out of the group, because it is beyond the pale of a professional working group, but I can't seem to get an interview for the 100+ positions within Boeing that I have applied for in the three years since I hired on.
The point is that while talking with previous managers may help expand your perception, the reason that the applicant is coming to you is that the relationship with the previous (current) manager or the group was a bad fit, hence bad information from the previous (current) manager.

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