Who You Gonna Hire to Run at Full Power?

Getting hiring right requires getting interviewing right

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Oct 17, 2014
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Too many companies’ interviewing tactics are hurting their chances of rooting out top performers, said Geoff Smart and Alan Foster during their keynote session at the Staffing World 2014 conference, held Oct. 13-15 near Washington, D.C. But a multitude of common hiring mistakes can be corrected if staffing professionals and hiring managers simplify their interviewing process.

Smart and Foster asked conference attendees what kind of interviewers they were.

The “art critics” hire people because “they just feel like [the candidate] is the right one,” said Foster, principal consultant with the executive management assessment firm ghSmart & Co. The “sponges” allow for mass interviewing of every candidate, though the lack of coordination of such efforts often yields less than satisfactory results.

“Prosecutors … who just love feeling smug about themselves,” aggressively drop trick questions like, “How many balloons can fill a 747?” to trip up candidates, and “fortune tellers” ask those annoying hypothetical questions like, “If I were to hire you, how would you perform on the job?”

“Will the answers to these questions really indicate you how well one will perform on the job?” Foster asked.

Instead, said Smart, ghSmart founder and chairman, staffing professionals should adopt a process to ensure companies hire the right people not 50 percent of the time (as research shows is typical), but 90 percent of the time.

The first step is to create a scorecard, said Foster. “The scorecard should describe exactly what you need the person to get done,” by defining outcomes and competencies not often clearly described in standard job descriptions. “The formula for writing outcomes—from ‘X’ to ‘Y’ by ‘Z’—helps you move from writing job descriptions to writing aspirational goals,” which helps you move from “gut feelings to outcomes-based hiring,” Foster explained.

Next, hone the questions you’ll be asking at the interviews of finalists for the job, said Smart.

The planning of these interviews should “take a couple hours” to complete, and questions should be of the “what” and “how” variety. For example:

  • What were you hired to do in your previous job?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What were your low points?
  • What was your boss’s name?
  • What was it like to work for [boss’s name]?
  • What made you leave?

“Don’t ask ‘why’ questions; they’re too judgmental,” Smart said. Also, “asking people about their early years and the chapters of their careers can help you start to connect the dots, which can help you better [understand] their true capabilities.”

Next comes the “threat of reference check” question, said Smart. “If I get to do a reference check, what will your boss say your strengths and areas for improvement are?”

He also said, “Use a tone of intense curiosity, which gives you carte blanche to keep asking ‘tell me more’ questions.”

It’s important to hone your active listening skills too, the speakers said, noting that interviewers with the highest level of this competency can reflect back to candidates’ emotional state as they answer performance-related questions. Questions about performance, Smart said, should include:

  • How did you perform versus others in your peer group?
  • How did you perform in your last year on the job versus the previous year?
  • How did you perform compared to your intended performance?

And finally, he offered questions that can help determine a candidate’s developmental needs:

  • Knowing what you know now, what coaching would you give yourself now to do [the job] differently?
  • What would you say you’ve improved on over the last five years?
  • What have you done differently based on what you’ve learned?

“These questions will help show people’s natural talents and weaknesses and help you determine if you want to pass on the hire, or how you might want to onboard, train or handle the employee once hired,” Smart explained.

The speakers closed by asking the audience to think about the teams they’re running and to what extent the team is focused on the priorities that have been set.

“Ask yourself, ‘If I want to accomplish everything expected, who would I have on my team?’ ” said Smart. “Do you have the right people in the right roles focused on the right priorities? Do you have the right relationships working, both internally and externally?”

Companies that answer yes to these last two questions are running at full power, he said.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/content manager for SHRM.​​

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