Talent Acquisition – The Accidental Competency

I was having a conversation with a client last week during a kickoff meeting and he asked, "Where did you learn how to interview so well?"  I had to stop and think about this for a few minutes.  I have spent my entire career in the recruiting and human resources sector so I guess I am - in fact - a professional interviewer.  Go figure!  

So I've been pondering this topic for a few days and I have a question for you all.  Did you have any coursework during your MBA that pertained to interviewing, selecting and hiring?  I'm not talking about the legal gates to navigate so you don't get in trouble, but rather how to screen, evaluate and select the right person for the job based on their skills, character and experience.

I haven't heard of any, and honestly, some of the most educated and experienced executives I know do not know how to manage this process competently.  There are a bunch of books and methods that you can adopt to help you and your company do a better job, but most of the time interviewing is a "necessary evil."  It's the only thing that stands between you and getting someone in the door.  I would assert that you spend way more time preparing to have a developmental meeting with an under performer than you do preparing to interview a potential star employee who will have a tremendous impact on your business.  Am I right?

Here are some ideas for how to prepare and evaluate candidates.  This is a primer obviously, but perhaps will help you evolve your talent selection competencies.

  1. Select your team. Everyone you interview for a position in your company should be interviewed by a minimum of 3 people - you, someone at your level or above and someone at the candidate's level.  A few more folks would be better - maybe someone from another department or another functional area in your business.  If you have the luxury of an internal HR person, then include them as well!
  2. Prepare in advance. Everyone on the interview team should be provided with the position description, the candidates resume and any supporting material.  The expectation is set that all interviewers will make sure to review the material in advance and be prepared to actively participate in the interview.  After all, this is their opportunity to weigh in on who they will be working with!
  3. Spread the information gathering responsibilities.  Make the interview an exchange of information by giving each member of the interview team an area to focus on - technical skills, cultural fit, critical thinking, problem solving, work style and
  4. Predetermine the evaluation criteria.  Yes, I know the role description has an entire volume of requirements that are your criteria but let’s get real – that particular individual doesn’t exist within the confines of your salary budget.  So, take time to define the 3 most critical skills – those that are essential in order to do the job.  Then build a profile of the character qualities and personality that will work well in your team.  Outline 2-3 questions about each of these and assign them to your team.  The responses to these will be discussed during your debrief following each interview.  A template or evaluation form is useful here.
  5. Blend objective and subjective feedback.  Some of my clients absolutely believe in their personality or competency tests.  While I don’t think this is wrong I will caution you – don’t make a hiring decision solely on the results of a non-human test.  The evaluation can serve as input, but should not be the only determining factor.  If that is the case you are essentially passing blame on any hiring failure and not holding yourself accountable for the decision.  Cowboy up!
  6. Check your work. This means do a thorough job of checking references.  Talk with a minimum of 3 people with direct experience working with your candidate.  I prefer 2 managers and 1 peer.  If he will be client facing, then at least one client.  Develop a template for your reference call to guide the discussion.  Ask the typical questions, but also drill down on any areas that you identified during the interview process that you may want validated or invalidated.  Keep your template to 8 questions which should be a 10 minute phone call.
  7. Negotiate with grace.  Just because you could get your hire for a lower salary doesn’t mean that you should.  Please consider your candidate’s skills, experience level and ancillary characteristics in your decision.  If you’ll need to invest in training then balance that with the hard salary costs.  However if the candidate already has that certification then you would reward that with some additional base salary – right?  The bottom line: if you lowball the salary for your new hire then you are delivering the message that you won’t mind if they jump ship for a market salary in the near future.
  8. Onboard them using the buddy system.  You may not have a formal on-boarding program – although this should be on your short list of things to do.  At the very least use the buddy system.  Couple your new hire with one of your rising stars.  Let your employee know that the expectation is that this new hire will be as competent as they are.  This is an opportunity for your employee to try out their leadership muscles – you’ll need to guide and mentor him – but let him do it – the result will surprise you both!

Interviewing and hiring is one of the most important skills for you to develop as a manager.  Think about how easy your job would be if you had a team of top performers!  By spending time developing and defining your skill in this area you set yourself and your team up for success, better margins, more revenue and happier customers. 

For more information on hiring great talent – and getting hired – visit us here.

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