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Hire Better, Fire Less

A suit was bemoaning his fate: “The Boss wants me to try to hire more diversity, but how can I do that if they don’t apply?”

Anyone that says such things - and there are many - is a poor performer. Waiting for talented people to come to you and then being disappointed that they are not quite what you’re looking for is the mark of a lazy, mediocre manager.

But there is another problem with mediocre management: managers who don’t even do a decent job interviewing the talent that does apply for vacancies.

It is sadly amusing how people in charge of talent identification - i.e., hiring people for jobs - are so mediocre at it. These folks like to think they do a wonderful job, but in reality they ask poor questions, focus on irrelevant issues, and let really talented people walk out the door because they handled they interview poorly. Research shows that most interviews are conducted the same way they were conducted 40 years ago. It’s as if we are hiring candidates for the world of 1980. Even worse: many of these folks work in HR!

How an initial interview is handled goes a long way to break deals that could, with time and effort, turn an organization around. Here’s a primer on seeing initial interviews differently and how gold can be mined if they are structured in a fresher, more relevant and useful way.

Optimizing Interview Practices

Some ways to interview candidates that are better than others. The most crucial goal is to interview a candidate in a way that yields the desired result: a great match for both parties - the candidate and your organization - wherein both parties are a fantastic fit so that collective efficacy is created. Collective efficacy is best defined as the combination of multiple contributors that exceeds the contributions they would make individually. Collective efficacy requires intra-organizational TRUST and takes both time and practice. That can only occur if appropriate and successful interview techniques are employed to set the stage for the creation of collective efficacy.

The three questions that get to the heart of whether a candidate is qualified for the vacancy

Question #1: “ What is your greatest passion?”

Job satisfaction is not strong in the U.S. : last year, 54% liked their job. And that was up 3% from the year before. Barely half of American workers are satisfied with their work. Many of them claim to feel burned out. But to be “burned out”, don’t you have to be “on fire” first? I contend that they are not “burned out” at all. Rather, they feel that way because they are being asked to have a passion that they never had in the first place. Organizations thrive more - and workers like their work more - if they have some level of passion in their work.

I equate being “on fire” as having some passion which takes some shape in the workplace, so it is incumbent upon the interviewer to see if there is passion somewhere in the candidate. Understanding a candidate’s greatest passion helps you understand the core of that person - what makes them tick and drives them to do their best in spite of obstacles.

This question usually takes the candidate by surprise since it is so rarely as asked yet speaks to the most fundamental of urges: doing something you love no matter what since it is the most key factor for motivation. Sharing one’s greatest passion also requires the candidate to be vulnerable which in turn requires the interviewer to build trust very quickly with manner and questioning techniques.

One way to immediately relax the candidate in an inherently anxious situation is to say something at the very beginning like, “Please relax. We are here to talk about you and you are the most knowledgeable person about you there is!”

Question #2: “Some people say that there are two kinds of people: those who pick fruit and those who plant seeds. Which one are you?”

Employers should always be in the business of hiring people for a career, not a job. The distinction is that a career requires a personal commitment of self, time, and energy for the work, whereas a job requires only time at the work. Clearly the answer to this question is a person who “plants seeds”, but in reality you need someone who can do both. It takes time to see how a planted seed grows, after which it is time to pick fruit. You want someone who wants to nurture the work and make personal commitments to stay around long enough to pick the fruit that grows from the seeds they planted.

Question #3: “Tell me of a time where you worked hard on a project and it failed badly.”

The goal of asking this question is to reveal two things: humility and recovery. The first, humility, is revealed in the answer to this question by the admission that they screwed up to someone (the interviewer) they are trying hard to impress. Everyone makes mistakes, so to pretend otherwise is folly. Besides, if a candidate has an interviewer who expects perfection or an unwillingness to admit inevitable error, that candidate needs to look elsewhere.

The second, recovery, comes from the candidate having the capacity to acknowledge the mistakes and then take action to learn and recover from them. Any candidate that struggles with coming up with an answer to this question is someone who either hasn’t tried very hard at their work or is unwilling to admit a mistake - both of which are undesirable characteristics of any new hire.

How many interviews?

Any position in any organization should have at least three planned steps in the interview process. There are good reasons to have at least four steps, but the minimum steps are:

1. An initial interview with the “boss”. The person who is in charge of the team sets a tone and culture for the team. If there is bad chemistry from that first step, then there is no need to proceed with further interviews.

2. The second step is an interview with the person who would be the immediate supervisor of the candidate. At this step, the future supervisor brings in other members of the team to determine the chemistry among them.

3. The third step is twofold: the first component is a lunch or breakfast with a few team members to determine the interaction in a social environment. Typically, people relax during some meal and reveal themselves. The second component is where the candidate has an opportunity to actually be in a work setting, even performing a task, to determine how much they know and how well they perform under pressure, which is inevitable.

Candidates should interview the employer as much as the employer should interview the candidate.

Snoozing alongside the dinosaurs are managers who delude themselves into believing that there are lots of qualified people lining up to apply for their vacancies. That paradigm of thought is ancient history. To create teams for today and the future, you need to recognize that it is best to hire attitude first and qualifications second. That is, the person who is bright, learns fast, and has great chemistry with the organization is a better catch. The candidate who has strong qualifications-on-paper, but a poor chemistry will almost always fail. I will write on this particular topic in a future post.

Therefore, it is imperative that both candidate and employer recognize that this is a mutual process since no one party holds all the cards. I advise the employers that they take the time at the very beginning of the interview to openly admit this mutual relationship. Candidates should be empowered and encouraged to ask pertinent questions of the employer. The one-sided interview is a thing of the past. There simply aren’t dozens of candidates waiting to be interviewed by a stuffy, arrogant employer.

the data supports this assertion: the average time any employee stays with any employer in the U.S. is less than five years. And the time a worker aged 25 to 34 is just over three years. This lack of tenure is for a number of reasons. Chief among them is poor interviewing and retention practices. Loyalty comes when team members feel valued, take supported risks for innovation, and are encouraged to be creative in their outside-the-box thinking.

If you play a role in handling interviews, you can start by following these improved practices!

©️Copyright by David Samore. Excerpts in part or whole may not be used without the expressed permission of David Samore.

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