THE TECHNACIOUS RECRUITER NEWSLETTER

March 16, 2006   view past issues

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Feature: Avoid Dart Board Interviews

Two members of the Harvard community, Nitin Nohria and Thomas A. Stewart, recently wrote, “The raison d’etre for organizations and their leaders has long been to increase control and predictability.” Said another way, the purpose of those who work in organizations is to reduce or, if possible, eliminate risk. Risk exposes the enterprise to unknown and, therefore, potentially negative consequences, so controlling risk is the one sure way to point an organization toward positive results.

How does that apply to recruiting? In a number of ways, but one of the most important is in our execution of interviews. The purpose of an interview-its reason for being conducted-is not to select a candidate. It is to minimize or eliminate the risk involved in bringing a new employee into an organization. The hiring decision exposes an employer to change-it introduces a worker who is unfamiliar to his coworkers into an environment that is unfamiliar to the worker. If an interview is effective, it will reduce the possibility that such change will be disruptive or harmful to the organization.

That’s why interviews so often focus on “fit.” If we can assure ourselves of a candidate’s good fit with:

  • the skills required for job performance,
  • the micro culture of the work team,
  • the macro culture of the organization, and
  • the personality of the work team supervisor,
  • then there is a high probability that the candidate will be a successful hire. For that reason, most interviews focus on questions that will elicit information related to those factors.

    And that’s where the problems begin. Technical and other discrete skills can be accurately tested, so a person’s ability to perform a specific job requiring those skills can be reasonably predicted. That’s not the case, however, with “softer” though often more critical skills such as situational analysis, problem-solving, and even time management. These skills are much more difficult to measure, and the results of such an assessment are more open to interpretation. So too is the probability that a person will feel comfortable interacting with a specific work group and boss or a specific organizational culture. It’s a tough call to make unless you’re a trained psychologist, and even then, there can be significant ambiguity (i.e., risk) in individual assessments.

    So, what happens? Interviewers probe for information, as best they can, on a candidate’s higher order skills and then concentrate on the factors with which they are most familiar and, therefore, comfortable. They base their assessment on how well the candidate will fit in-with them, the team and/or the organization. In effect, they focus, often unconsciously, on trying to answer two questions:

  • Do they like the candidate-do their two personalities “click”?
  • and

  • Does the candidate interview well-do they effectively represent themselves (and the interviewer, if they are selected)?
  • I call such assessments “dart board interviews.” The interviewer’s chances of selecting the best candidate for their employer are about equal to throwing darts while wearing a blindfold. Even more important, skills and cultural fit are one step removed from what we must actually know, if we are to reduce or eliminate the risk involved in a selection decision. These factors are input variables to performance. They’re important to know, of course, but what we are really trying to determine is the output. How will a potential employee perform on-the-job? If we can answer that question, we are much more in control of the risk a new hire represents to our employer.

    How do we acquire the answer? By structuring our interviews to focus on outcomes-what we want the new employee to accomplish within a specific period of time in their new role. The more explicit and detailed we can be about that requirement, the more fine-grained we can make our interview questions and the better we are able to evaluate candidate responses. In other words, a clear statement of performance expectations can actually be two powerful interviewing tools:

  • a basis for interview questions-tell us what you would do and how you would do it to achieve this specific result; and
  • a baseline for evaluation-how detailed and credible was a candidate’s response and how did that response stack up to those of other candidates.
  • The more granular and complete an interviewer’s understanding of the outcome, the better their assessment of the candidate. Indeed, if the outcome an employer desires is clearly described in its online and print advertisements for an opening (as well as in its position description or requisition), the impact will likely occur even before the interview begins. Prospects are much more likely to self-assess critically if it’s clear to them that the organization has a very well defined set of performance expectations.

    To achieve such clarity, the employer must address two key elements of an outcome:

  • What must be accomplished. For example, to be able to handle all customer inquiries without assistance from coworkers or the supervisor or to increase sales by 10%.
  • and

  • When it must be accomplished by. For example, to be able to handle all customer inquiries without assistance from coworkers or the supervisor within 90 days on-the-job or to increase sales by 10% within one year.
  • The more that outcomes can be quantified (e.g., increase sales by 10%) or determined with a Yes or No answer (e.g., could all calls be handled without assistance), the better they will serve as a basis for interview questions, a baseline for evaluation and a template for performance management once a person is hired. And there’s the rub. The more senior a position, the longer it often takes to achieve measurable outcomes (e.g., it could take a year or more to improve sales significantly) and the more likely it is that at least some outcomes (e.g., improve morale and esprit in the accounting department) simply can’t be measured with standard metrics.

    In that case, the organization has at least two options:

    1. It can break down the desired outcome into discrete sub-outcomes that, once accomplished, will produce the larger goal. For example, to evaluate an individual’s ability to increase sales by 10%, interviewers could, instead, assess their ability to (a) hire two additional sales agents within four months, (b) devise a way to identify and follow up on key accounts within 6 months and (c) add 2 major new customers within 8 months.

    2. It can use one or more surrogates-alternative, but related factors-that will serve to indicate performance. For example, to evaluate a candidate’s ability to improve a unit’s morale, interviewers could probe their ability to (a) reduce attrition or absenteeism and/or (b) raise employee satisfaction scores by a measurable amount.

    The key, of course, is always to stay focused on the end you’re trying to achieve. That goal is to minimize the risk any new employee represents to an employer by maximizing your certainty about their ability to get the job done.

    Thanks for reading,

    Peter

    P.S. Don’t keep WEDDLE’s to yourself. If you like our newsletter, please tell your friends and colleagues about it. They’ll appreciate your thinking of them. And, we will too!


    This Issue’s Sponsor: IEEE Job Site

    This issue of WEDDLE’s newsletter is brought to you through the generous support of the IEEE Job Site.

    The IEEE Job Site connects you with the world’s largest targeted technology talent pool. More than 1,400 leading corporations in fields ranging from ASIC design to aerospace and defense system development use the IEEE Job Site.

    Find senior-level managers, engineers and technology experts, and make job offers to these top-notch candidates before your competitors know about them. Register an account and you can begin posting positions within minutes! Click here for a special offer available only to WEDDLE’s Newsletter Subscribers.

    For more information or to place a posting today, contact Deb Grant at d.a.grant@ieee.org or call +1 732 981 3420.


    Section Two: Site News You Can Use

    JobTurkey.com launched as a new general purpose employment site. Sadly, the site is true to its name; there are misspelled words on the home page and this claim: “More Jobs Than Anywhere Else.” Not exactly. The site does redeem itself a bit, however, with a sense of humor. Also stated on the home page is this observation: “We primarily serve the Canada & United States job markets. If you are in the Country of Turkey and would like you post your jobs here, you are more than welcome too.”

    Monster.com and Development Dimensions International (DDI) introduced a suite of candidate assessment products integrated with Monster job postings. Called the Monster Performance Assessment System, the new feature will be available in May of this year. It will initially provide a validated tool with which to measure candidate competencies for postings that typically solicit a large number of applicants, including those for sales, service and non-clinical healthcare positions. To use the system, the employer views a list of assessment tools and selects the one it wants to use; those job seekers whose application for the employer’s opening meets its specifications are automatically sent the assessment instrument via e-mail. Upon completion, the job seeker returns the instrument the same way, enabling employers to score and rank order each response. Unlike traditional per applicant pricing for such services, the Monster product will be offered at a flat rate which the site believes will bring it within the reach of employers of all sizes.

    Swat Recruiting and its proprietor, Mark Berger, released Applicant Tracking Systems: Identification, Evaluation and Selection. Berger is the long time Internet columnist for The Fordyce Letter and has compiled a document filled with useful information. It includes:

  • an Introduction by Paul Hawkinson, publisher of The Fordyce Letter;
  • essays on how best to select applicant tracking systems by industry leaders;
  • a methodology for evaluating alternative systems; and
  • detailed information on and reviews of almost 40 different applicant tracking systems.
  • The spiral-bound book is geared toward search and staffing firms, but can also be a helpful resource for small-to-mid-sized employers. It retails for $89.00 and is available through WEDDLE’s (please call 203.964.1888) or Swat Recruiting.

    The U.S. Army is using peer-to-peer interactions to support professional development among its junior leaders. It established a community site and discussion area called CompanyComand, enabling young officers grappling with the challenges of day-to-day leadership to seek advice and support from their own. Why would such an approach be potentially more effective than traditional learning from senior-level experts? According to an analysis in Harvard Business Review, “Knowledge accumulated by experts over many years may no longer be relevant in a rapidly changing battle environment like Iraq.” In my view, the same could be said about the rapidly changing business environment. Indeed, peer-to-peer learning provides a number of key benefits:

  • the community environment delivers emotional as well as practical support;
  • the learning is context specific-in this case, by junior officers for junior officers about junior officer issues; and
  • the experience is much more engaging because it is highly interactive and personalized.
  • To work, however, such initiatives must be available immediately-when problems are actually unfolding-and be free of organizational control-a challenge for most senior leaders.

    WEDDLE’s announced a new series of training programs for recruiters and employers. Delivered by audio conference (with accompanying course materials), the topics and dates are as follows:

  • April 26th: Best Practices in Sourcing Passive Prospects Online
  • May 4th: Optimizing the Candidate Experience for Top Talent
  • May 23rd: The Sum & Substance of a Great Employment Brand
  • June 13th: Building a Corporate Career Site for Top Talent
  • June 22nd: Staffing Metrics for All the Right Reasons
  • July 11th: HR Leadership-The Antidote to Management By-the-Numbers
  • All programs begin at 11:00 a.m. EST, 8:00 a.m. PST and last for one hour.

    You can take the courses individually or invite as many colleagues as you would like to listen in. Even better, the enrollment fee is priced for every budget. Just $129 per program! That’s hundreds of dollars less than comparable programs elsewhere. In addition, if you:

  • sign up for two programs, the fee drops to just $119 per program.
  • sign up for four or more programs, the fee drops to an unbelievable $99 per program.
  • Registration is limited, so reserve your seats now. To sign up, please call WEDDLE’s at 203.964.1888.


    Section Three: Site Profiles

    Site Insite … how well do you know the Web’s 40,000+ job boards?

    1. The new season of The Sopranos has provoked an outbreak of petty crime in your area, and the mayor wants to add several new police officers to the force. Which of the following sites would arrest the progress of your search for qualified prospects?

  • TheBlueLine.com
  • LawEnforcementJobs.com
  • 911HotJobs.com
  • Badges.com
  • 2. Rain storms have weakened the infrastructure of local bridges, and your engineering firm has won a contract to oversee repairs. Which of the following sites would help you build a strong foundation of prospects for your search?

  • ConstructionExecutives.com
  • BridgeBuilders.com
  • ENR.com
  • EngineerJobs.com
  • 3. Your company is working on environmental projects along the entire Gulf Coast, and you need to hire experienced ground water treatment specialists fast. Which of the following sites might help you build a steady stream of prospects for your hiring managers to consider?

  • EcoEmploy.com
  • WEF.org
  • EnvironmentalCAREER.com
  • EcoJobs.com
  • (answers below)

    Site Spotlite … from the pages of WEDDLE’s 2005/6 Guides and Directories

    Lisjobs.com

    http://www.lisjobs.com

    Post full time jobs: Yes

    Post part time, contract or consulting jobs: Yes – All

    Distribution of jobs: International

    Fee to post a job: None

    Posting period: 60 days

    Can posting be linked to your site: Yes

    Resume database: Yes

    Number of resumes: 15

    Source of resumes: Direct from individuals

    Top occupations among visitors: Librarians, Information professionals

    Other services for employers: Banner advertising, Status reports: Not specified

    Member, International Association of Employment Web Sites: No

    Answers to Site Insite

    1. Badges.com, the site of a software services and consulting firm.

    2. All but BridgeBuilders.com, the site of a custom timber bridge building company.

    3. All of them.


    Support Our Sponsor: IEEE Job Site

    This issue of WEDDLE’s newsletter is brought to you through the generous support of the IEEE Job Site.

    The IEEE Job Site connects you with the world’s largest targeted technology talent pool. More than 1,400 leading corporations in fields ranging from ASIC design to aerospace and defense system development use the IEEE Job Site.

    Find senior-level managers, engineers and technology experts, and make job offers to these top-notch candidates before your competitors know about them. Register an account and you can begin posting positions within minutes! Click here for a special offer available only to WEDDLE’s Newsletter Subscribers.

    For more information or to place a posting today, contact Deb Grant at d.a.grant@ieee.org or call +1 732 981 3420.