Trevor Punt, managing director of TBG Group, on interviewing pitfalls and the benefits of asking a simple but powerful question.
With the new year approaching there will inevitably be a raft of resignations, which means that the issue of employing and retaining quality staff, in an environment where the talent pool is getting increasingly shallow, will become the focus of beleaguered organisers.
Recruitment is made harder when studies have found that 46 per cent of new hires will fail within 18 months, only 19 per cent will achieve unequivocal success, 26 per cent will fail because they can’t accept feedback, 23 per cent because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions, 17 per cent because they lack the necessary motivation to excel and 15 per cent because they have the wrong temperament or interpersonal skills.
Ever had this conversation?
“I thought the interview went really well. They were terrific during our meeting; charming, knew all about our shows and was very interested in the company and its working environment. They seemed to be organised and focussed, so I was sure they’d make a great employee”.
And, at first, the hiring decision seemed a good one. But, boy did they change. At first, you barely noticed the self-congratulatory yelps. Then bizarre excuses started about how hard it was to sell the event. When they insisted they could only work from a locked toilet you knew for certain you’d made a bad decision. Bad hires are incredibly expensive and can be very damaging to people, teams and companies.
Why does it happen?
Every organisation uses interviews as the definitive assessment tool, believing the combination of the hiring manager’s experience, interviewing and a chat though the highlights in a candidate’s CV will help them avoid hiring bats**t crazy candidates. They’re mistaken!
Most interviews fail to elicit subtle clues that give an indication that a potential employee has the necessary skills because those interviewing are too focussed on other issues, too pressed for time or are deficient in their interviewing abilities.
Most interviewers have heard impeccably crafted reasons why the person sitting in front of them parted, or are considering parting, with the company they work for. But they all share at least one thing in common; although believable and easy to build a story, they’re extremely difficult, if not impossible, to verify.
Hiring employees is no fun to begin with. But certain positions are just worse than others. Possibly the hardest is those involved in sales or business development. Typically, the problem comes down to two things:
• They’re sales people! At interview, they’re talking about themselves – the product they know better than anything else – and they know how to minimise the negatives. It’s what they do for a living!
• Our perception of the successful sales person is an effusive, sharp as a pin, says-what-they-need-to-say-to-close-business personality. Consciously or subconsciously, many sales people are hired based on a stereotype.
Do we always hire the most stereotypical person?
Probably not, but hiring decisions are still based largely on gut feel and our gut feeling typically favours the individual with whom we most closely identify; the person we like the best – us!
Therein lies the danger. Extensive research shows that 89 per cent of bad hires fail due to poor attitude and behaviours. The essential point is, hiring for attitude, competencies, and behaviours is hard.
So, how do you avoid the crazy. How do you ask one question that overcomes generalisations and exaggerations in the interview, reduce nervousness, minimise first impressions, and determine if the candidate is both competent and motivated?
The answer is to ask the candidate one, simple question: “Could you please think about your most significant accomplishment, or failure, and tell me about it?”
The ensuing conversation leads you to discovering the following information:
- A comprehensive description of the accomplishment and its impact, the results achieved, the process used to achieve it and how they compared to the plan.
- When it took place, how long it took, whom it was with, why they were chosen and their role.
- The biggest challenges faced, some of the major decisions made and how they dealt with them.
- Some of the biggest mistakes they made and what they would do differently if they could do it again.
- The environment, the team involved, relationships, budget and resources available.
- What they liked and didn’t like, how they dealt with conflict, the skills learned and how they changed and grew as a person.
Few candidates will give you this information on their own, it’s the interviewer’s responsibility to extract it so it’s the digging that matters. Understand the accomplishment, the process used to achieve it, the environment in which it took place, the candidate’s role, and why they were motivated to do it.
Fact-finding this way will put all candidates on a level playing field and you’ll remove other key source of hiring errors; the tendency of most interviewers to talk too much, listen too little and ask a bunch of irrelevant questions.
Don’t spend time asking clever questions. Real interviewing is about getting the entire answer to one very simple but powerful question. This, along with the follow up, will furnish you with what you need to make a reasoned evaluation of a person’s ability to deliver results and avoid the bats**t crazy.