Delivering the Systems and Expertise You Need to Confidently Make Great Hiring Decisions
Conor Neill, a close friend of mine and a prominent Entrepreneur in Spain, wrote this short story below for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s blog. It’s a great reminder of just how important attitude is in hiring.
Two men, Bill and Frank, begin working at a hotel the same day. They are intelligent, educated and ambitious. The manager of the hotel greets them and hands them both doorman uniforms. They are to begin opening and closing the doors, helping with bags, flagging taxis, etc.
Bill thinks “Doorman? I am worth more than this! I could manage this hotel better than the current guy.” But he doesn’t have an alternative offer and he needs the money, so he does the job anyway. He maintains a pained grimace on his face and deals with customers and other staff in a negative way because he is “better than this.”
Frank, in contrast, thinks “Okay, doorman. It’s not what I had in mind, but hey, I get to spend some time outside, get to meet the customers, and I’ll learn about how this hotel works.” He sets to work with a smile on his face and finds that he quite enjoys the small challenges he faces as a doorman at such a prestigious hotel.
After six weeks, a position at the front desk opens up, and the hotel manager immediately thinks of Frank. Frank is promoted and immediately brings his positive attitude to the front desk of the hotel. Several years later, Frank is the hotel manager. He leaves late one evening and there, opening the door with a hard-wired grimace, is Bill.
Is it luck, or is it fate? Bill will spend forever in a job that he hates and Frank will love every job that he is given. This story is such an inspiration, because it encourages me to always stay positive about my responsibilities and to find the reward in every remedial task. When hiring staff I spend more time exploring attitude and self-motivation than I do exploring capabilities. I also spend time looking to direct my employees toward challenges that are motivating for them.
When it comes to running a business, I’ve learned it’s not just about the results, but the work you put in. That’s where successful people thrive.
In addition to blogging here I also contribute content to Recruiting Blogs. A slightly modified version of my recent post “How to Prepare for a Topgrading Interview” drew quite a few comments but there was one in particular that I felt deserved some additional attention.
I really believe in the principles of Topgrading, and have cited it along with Brad Smart many times in my own writing, but the candidates I’ve seen subjected to CIDS interviews have NOT had wonderful or even fair experiences. I have three issues with CIDS:
1. It doesn’t apply context. The behaviors analyzed in a CIDS interview can be from 20 years ago, and don’t get asked in a way that aligns with the current goals for the position. I advocate performance objective based questions that elicit the specific skills and experience needed today from the candidate, in the context of the specific job, not in a vacuum.
2. CIDS provides too much ammunition by which to DESELECT a candidate. Not every behavior or lack of behavior from someone’s past is relevant to what is needed today.
3. CIDS interviewers are often inexperienced, and don’t know how to really use the tool to best advantage.
Here are my thoughts in response to Mark:
1. The behaviors analyzed in a CIDS interview may be from 20 years ago but it’s the interviewer’s fault if they allow the discussion to drift into conversations that don’t necessarily align with the current position. On top of that, the basic questions that are used in every position are critical information that you’d want to know about someone – regardless of if the experiences are 20 years old. Example: What was the #1 thing you regret about not accomplishing in that role?
2. At HireBetter this is a discussion that we have a lot. Recommending someone for hire takes courage. It’s nearly always easier for a Hiring Manager or outside consultant suggest that inaction is better than action. Roosevelt nailed it in 1910 when he said [paraphrasing] “It is not the critic that counts. The true credit belongs to the man in the arena.” With that said, if a Hiring Manager has done their homework, they’re clear on what they need someone to do and they conduct a proper CIDS interview, they’re going to be more prepared to make a hiring decision than with any other kind of interview that I’ve seen conducted.
3. It doesn’t take much for someone to learn how to conduct a CIDS interview. However, as I shared in my response to #2, from what I’ve witnessed a poorly conducted CIDS interview is still significantly better than an “on the fly” interview that doesn’t have a structure, purpose or plan.
Bottom line: Mark brings up some good questions and CIDS interviews do have some shortcomings but, in my opinion, there’s not much else out there that will give you a better understanding of if the person you’re interviewing is right for the role you’re looking to fill.
I found this interesting: in the past couple of months the top keyword search strings that lead people to this blog were often about preparing for a Topgrading Interview. The irony is that you can’t really “prepare” for a Topgrading interview. Yes, journaling about your career history, reflecting back on the praise you received or the criticism that challenged you, thinking about your Boss and what you liked or disliked about them – these are all good ideas.
Author’s Note: A couple of months ago I blogged on the dumbest interview questions that people ask and pointed to some of the websites where you can review those questions (and read the canned answers that make candidates sound really sincere).
What’s so different about the Topgrading interview is, from my experience, that it not only inspires candidates to be honest but forces them. My mother taught me that lying is really tough because you have to always remember what all of your previous lies were. As those lies pile up you really end up in a tough place.
That early lesson has proven itself to be very helpful. When I’ve worked with some clients directly and helped them conduct a 4 Hour Interview, I’ve picked up a few things that seem to apply across all industries:
- Executives can easily dupe you in a 30 minute interview
- They can often lie their way through a 1 or 2 hour interview because they’ve likely been on the hot seat before
- In hour 3 it’s fairly easy for the Interviewer to recognize if the Candidate is lying or has a track record of blaming others, not delivering on commitments, etc.
- By hour 4, the Candidate is “naked”. They’re either (a) being honest and feel more trusting of the non-judgemental atmosphere or (b) they’ve lost track of the fabrications they made up 2 hours prior and are wrapped up in a web of lies so large that they’re exhausted from trying to keep up with themselves.
With all this said, the Topgrading Interview is also the fairest and most objective interview I’ve ever conducted or observed. Its structure (Comprehensive, In-Depth, Structured or CIDS) is straightforward, no questions come out of left field (“Why are manhole covers round?”) and it gives the Candidate the chance to brag about themselves as equally as they reveal their mistakes or times of regret.
Wrap Up: If you’re being asked to take part in a Topgrading Interview, go in with a clear conscience and a willingness to show vulnerability. But above all: BE HONEST.
P.S. Just in case you have ever been asked the question “Why are manhole covers round?” and you want to be argumentative, you might use this picture below to build your case. — JD
Derek Jeter is one of the most well-known and well-respected players in all of Major League Baseball. This year, at the age of 36, his contract is up for renewal. As the Captain of the Yankees, many fans expected the Front Office to give him whatever he wanted so that he could finish out his Hall of Fame career in pinstripes.
But there’s a fly in the ointment: the Front Office does want to keep Jeter but Derek’s Agent is suggesting that he be paid $23-25mm per year for the next 5 years. His agent has said that Jeter can’t be valued the same way as other shortstops because of his leadership qualities. Why is that a problem?
- A Player is “in their prime” between the ages of 29-32. They’ve got more maturity, they understand how to keep their bodies healthy through 162+ games and they have enough youth still in them to match up against the strength of a 25 year old.
- There are only a handful of players making over $20mm per year – the list gets even smaller when you add the filter of being 36 years old or older. Oh, and the stats of Derek don’t come close to matching those of the players who are at this altitude.
- The 2nd highest paid shortstop in the Major Leagues is Hanley Ramirez who is 10 years younger, hit 30 points higher and hit 21 home runs to Jeter’s 10.
How does this situation possibly impact you?
More and more I’m seeing Business Leaders who are making what I believe to be a major mistake: they’re hiring people who are currently unemployed and offering them significantly less than what they were previously making. They Leaders are feeling quite proud of themselves because people are accepting the positions. Karl Scheible is a close friend of mine and a Sales Guru. For years he’s pounded into my head that people make decisions for 2 reasons:
- To run TOWARDS pleasure
- To run AWAY from pain
The pain of unemployment is more prevalent than the pleasure of waiting for the perfect role for many people today. Here my words of caution to the people hiring the unemployed at drastically reduced rates from 12, 18 or 24 months ago: THEY WON’T STICK. Why? Because people place a perceived value on themselves that is based on both reality (their top pay throughout their career) and their distorted sense of what they think the market should pay them. As an employer, if you’re not within 10% of what they have previously earned, I don’t think they’re going to hang around because we live in a hedonic society that encourages us to live beyond our means. If that new employee is accepting a 20% pay cut, it’s unlikely they’re going to be able to reduce their lifestyle costs by that same amount. They’ll live in pain and will want to run away from it the second they believe the economy has turned around or someone calls them and offers them even $1,000 more per year to change jobs. Don’t believe me? Check out this survey that was conducted 14 months ago (and the trend is going up). It suggests that 67% of people will look for a new position as soon as they think the market shows interest in their skills.
Bottom Line: While you may think that someone is only worth $X, if that person has earned $Y before and takes your job, expect them to be gone within 18 months or less.
In the Davis Household, the start of the NFL Season is always a momentous time for our family. As we’ve been watching HBO’s Hard Knocks (I’m a huge Jets Fan) and reading about the players’ reactions to having the coaches’ critiques of them being aired for everyone to see as well as how hard the coaches push the players to perform, it got me thinking about how this kind of situation applies to businesses that don’t employ professional athletes.
Specifically, a few months ago, in advance of the NFL Draft, there was a situation where a Wide Receiver from Oklahoma State was being interviewed by the Miami Dolphins and a General Manager stepped over the line. While interviews with management are very common before these Teams make their decision to spend millions of dollars, the reason this particular interview received so much press was because the GM asked Mr. Bryant, “Is your mother a prostitute?”
I’m not interested in debating whether or not this was a fair question.
Rather, I’d like to offer the following thoughts for you to ponder as a Business Leader:
One of the common complaints I hear from Business Leaders is that the process of Topgrading is too arduous to implement or, even more common, they question why an A-Player would allow someone to put them through filling out a Career History Form or go through a 4 Hour Interview. They challenge me by saying, “Other companies that want that person won’t ask them to go through all of these steps – won’t we lose the best talent if we ask them to do so much more than our competition?”
My belief is that this a simpler situation than many would make it out to be: it’s Economics 101 where you learn about Supply and Demand. However, it’s not supply and demand from the perspective that these aforementioned Leaders would think [that A-Players are in short supply and thus have high demand]. Rather, it’s whether or not your COMPANY is in demand and the SUPPLY of positions available are limited.
Everyone is aware of those companies that have such a great culture and reputation that they have thousands of people who want to get considered for each role – Companies like Google, Oracle and DELL back in the 90′s, Bazaarvoice here in Austin a couple of years ago.
With the NFL, so many young Athletes want to have a shot at “working” for a professional team that they are more than willing to subject themselves to the Combines where they are poked and prodded and then stripped down to their underwear and asked to sprint and lift weights. They take mental acuity tests (remember Vince Young 3 years ago?). Even in the college ranks, there are young men across the country who pay hundreds of dollars to attend “camps” at major universities where the instruction that they receive is secondary to their dream of getting “noticed”.
The ultimate question I would pose to you is: What are you doing to make your Culture and your Organization one where people people WANT to get in and they’re more than happy to go through an extensive Assessment Process (like Topgrading) with a smile on their face because they know that there’s a brilliant career opportunity waiting for them on the other end if they make it through?
I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to evaluating talent and Topgrading is about the best way that I’ve ever seen to do it. It’s objective, gives you a structure to follow and makes it easy to judge prospective employees without a lot of emotion.
To keep up with the latest and greatest tips for Topgrading better, I’ve subscribed to Brad’s newsletter. You can sign up here.
His most recent newsletter was fantastic – it was titled “The 5 Best Ways to Judge People”. The most significant parts of that newsletter can be seen below. Enjoy!
When people are just learning Topgrading, it’s easiest to use the A, B, and C categories, to show the dramatic differences. Topgrading professionals are able accurately put people in the right categories. In doing this they actually have three slightly different categories – A Player, A Potential, and Non-A. We define A player as someone in the top 10% of talent for the pay, in your location, in the industry, and reporting to you.
Following are 5 of the best ways I know of to judge people in a fair, objective, legally defensible way:
1. How A, B, and C players differ on key competencies. The following chart is a bit simplistic because not all A players are that great on all competencies and not all C players are that bad on all the competencies. Indeed, in real life C players usually are A players on some competencies.
2. Look for patterns of success. The “magic” of Topgrading comes from understanding, bottom line, how successful a person was in job 1, job 2, job 3, etc., with the greatest weight given to the most recent jobs.
Last year I interviewed a smooth talking executive who had clearly been a superstar in the industry, but the guy had not worked hard for years. He had peaked years ago, was on a decline and frankly the pattern showed he was “over the hill,” someone who had lost his energy, drive, resourcefulness, and passion.
3. Recruit a replacement. This really is the best way to see if your employee is truly among the top 10% of talent available.
After you have argued with your employee, complained about unsatisfactory performance, and heard 1,000 excuses, the simplest way to see if there are better people is to actively recruit them. This can be done secretly, but go through all the Topgrading hiring steps including talking with former bosses.
Over the years I’ve heard it hundreds of times: “It became very easy to replace my employee after going through the Topgrading hiring steps, because I became absolutely certain my excuse-making employee was a C player, and I had three A players very willing to join me at exactly the same salary as my C player.”
4. Never stop building your recruitment networks. As a Topgrader, you know the best way to recruit is by staying in touch with 40 A players you’ve worked with and also stay in touch with 20 “connectors,” people who know a lot of A players.
But in addition to using your networks to recruit, staying in touch helps you figure out if your team consists of A, B, or C players. As you chat from time to time with A players you’ve worked with in the past you hear about their accomplishments, what they pay people, the standards they set … and when you share your frustrations with a certain employee, your network will give you feedback that your expectations are too high or too low.
5. Assess employees using Topgrading methods. You might already know that my first consulting engagement with General Electric was to improve their success promoting people. They improved from 25% to well over 90% success, and the internal assessment methods are almost identical to Topgrading hiring methods. Two trained interviewers conduct the tandem Topgrading interview and instead of talking with outside references (for hiring) they talk with bosses, peers, and subordinates in the company.
Tags: A-Player, A-Players, Brad Smart, career history, chris mursau, Fame, Family, Fortune, Fun, hire better, hiring, Interview, recruit don't absorb, Recruiting, Scorecard, smarttopgrading, talent acquisition, Topgrading, topgrading methodology, TORC, virtual bench
Doing a quick search in Google for “common interview questions and answers” will yield you 25,100,000 results.
I’m not sure what’s more surprising: the results or the questions that people typically ask in an interview?!
A few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to join an organization called EO. One of the first things they require you to do upon joining is go through a full day of “Forum Training” in which you get interested to a bunch of fellow Entrepreneurs and you also learn how to no longer offer opinions or advice. It really messes with your head – even today, after 5 years of practicing, I still find myself struggling to avoid hearing a challenge a fellow member is having and not offer feedback based on my opinions. As a society it’s present in our lives from the moment we can crawl and reach out for things like power outlets, hot stoves, etc. ”Don’t touch that!” we yell as parents. Yet, as our children get older and ask, “Why not, Daddy?” it’s sometimes hard to justify why we told them not to do something.
…focuses more on process (what is happening) than content (what is being discussed). The emphasis is on what is being done, thought and felt at the moment rather than on what was, might be, could be, or should be.
Gestalt therapy is a method of awareness, by which perceiving, feeling, and acting are understood to be separate from interpreting, explaining and judging using old attitudes. This distinction between direct experience and indirect or secondary interpretation is developed in the process of therapy.
Put more simply, by sharing my experiences and how I reacted to a situation that previously happened to me is much more valuable to a colleague than what I would do if I were in their shoes at that moment. In other words: opinions are worthless.
Mary Schmich wrote an OpEd piece in the mid-90′s titled “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted On The Young”. In that was a very appropriate quote:
Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
To bring this idea back to the focus of this blog, how to help you HIRE BETTER, I’d offer the following random questions from that Google Search of 25,100,000 results:
- What’s your biggest weakness?
- What motivates you to do a good job?
- How are you when you’re working under pressure?
- Are you a team player?
- How long would you expect to work for us if hired?
Can you guess the common theme in every one of those questions?
The answer: EVERY ONE OF THEM CAN BE ANSWERED WITH AN OPINION
One of the ways that we’ve made our process so consistent and effective is that we don’t allow people to share their opinions in interviews. Opinions in an interview are, simply, worthless. As a hiring manager you’ll find that you’ll have a LOT more success if you are asking questions that require someone to share with you how they behaved in a situation. We actually use a lot of the questions from the book Topgrading to assist in our evaluation of talent. Here are some examples:
- What are a couple of the best and worst decisions you have made in the past year?
- Describe a situation or two in which the pressures to compromise your integrity were the strongest you have ever felt.
- What are examples of circumstances in which you were expected to do a certain thing and, on your own, went beyond the call of duty?
- Describe a complex challenge you have had coordinating a project.
- When was the last time you missed a significant deadline?
Upon review, what do all of these questions have in common?
They require the candidate to answer based on their experiences.
The Bottom Line: if you’re asking questions in an interview that allow for someone to offer their opinion, there’s a high likelihood that they’ve been to a lot of the 25,100,000 websites that Google returns when you go hunting for common interview questions and how to answer them so you sound like a superstar. But for job-seekers, there isn’t a single website they can go to that will give them the answer to a question that requires them to share their past experiences.
While there are a lot of people who will argue that past experience is NOT the greatest indicator of future success, you, as a hiring manager, often have the choice of either relying on those past experiences or listening to someone’s rehearsed answers and opinions instead.
Tags: A-Players, advice, Advice is a form of nostalgia, behavioral-based, Brad Smart, career history, chris mursau, EO, hire better, hiring manager, Interview, Scorecard, smarttopgrading, talent acquisition, Topgrading, topgrading methodology
I’m a HUGE St. Louis Cardinals (and baseball) fan. It struck me with a huge amount of disappointment when the Redbirds announced that they had voided a contract that they signed with a 16 year old from the Caribbean who they had been working to sign for quite some time.
Why would they void a contract after beating out a dozen other teams and offering $3.1mm (a record for the Cardinals in signing an Amateur)?
Because, as it turned out, his Agent lied about the fact that the young man had a degenerative eye disease that was robbing him of his vision. They hid it in the hopes that he could get signed fast enough to just start playing and put the money in the bank.
Yes, I understand that most business owners and hiring managers aren’t dealing with salary numbers anywhere near the millions BUT, if someone’s been unemployed for a period of time, has a mortgage that’s overdue and has bill collectors calling every day, how honest do you think they’re being during their interviews?
Some things that you should be closely evaluating to be sure that you’re getting as close to the truth out of prospective employees during the evaluation process:
- Do your Job Descriptions give away too much about the job? In other words, if it was a personal ad, does it explain too much about your likes and dislikes so that someone could “fake it” on a first date?
- Are your interviews structured and planned in advance? If you’re making up your interview questions on the fly based on the answers you’re getting, are you getting to the meat of what you need to learn about a prospective employee or are you having great discussions about all of their strengths and letting them withhold their weaknesses?
- Are you conducting INTENSE Reference Checks? I’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback from a blog post from a couple of weeks ago about how to dig in during the Reference Process. Without really pushing to talk with previous hiring managers, are you getting the truth from candidates or just their half of the story?
- Are you running Credit History Reports on candidates to evaluate if they’re in such dire straights that they are more likely to tell you whatever you want to hear?
People in tough situations will often be pushed to do things that they normally wouldn’t do. Many times, we’ve seen that this includes bold-faced lies during their interviews and on their resumes. A prime example: just this past week we had an applicant suggest that she had 10 years of Business to Business Marketing Experience. She had such a good story that an inexperienced interviewer probably would have ‘bought’ it. Because the Hire Better Team Member who was interviewing her knew how to dig in further it was discovered that her 10 years were really only 9. And that B2B experience: working as the Office Manager for a Flower Shop that had a local relationship with 1-800-FLOWERS and a $500/month budget for Google AdWords.
Bottom line: expect the best from people but, especially in this kind of economy, don’t just accept what you’re hearing as the truth.
There aren’t many blogs that I read on a regular basis but when Chris writes on the Topgrading Blog it’s worth a read. On April 10th, he tried to do something that has always intimidated me. He sat down and looked at the thousands of Topgrading Interviews he’s personally conducted as well as those that the company has been involved in and come up with a list of absolute “must haves” for someone to be classified as what the book Topgrading considers an “A Player”.
Here’s the list. To read the whole blog post you can click here.
- Smart (raw intellect and business savvy)
- Driven to succeed
- Consistent high performer
- Able to adjust to many different personalities
- They Surround themselves with High Performers (Topgraders!)
- Very hard workers
- Resourceful, overcome obstacles
- Effective leaders, inspiring commitment to a clear vision
- Tough-minded, they hold people accountable
- Down-to-earth and well-grounded, self-aware, humble
What I like the most about Chris is he’s always willing to go even further and make a point even stronger by saying that one thing that drives the point home. The statement he used on this blog post that did that (because let’s face it, this list shouldn’t shock you) was:
“Use this list of characteristics as a ‘rule of thumb’ when creating scorecards and analyzing the data during each step of your assessment process. If a candidate is weak in even one of these areas, consider it a major “red flag” and question whether that person is really an A player candidate.”
What do you think? Would you add anything else to this list? Anything on here that you don’t believe should be?
Tags: A-Player, A-Players, Brad Smart, career history, chris mursau, competencies, competency library, hiring, Interview, Recruiting, Scorecard, Smart & Associates, smarttopgrading, talent acquisition, Topgrading, topgrading methodology