Delivering the Systems and Expertise You Need to Confidently Make Great Hiring Decisions
I’m always hunting for ways hiring managers to more accurately determine who to hire that DON’T involve the requirement of being a better interviewer. In the past I’ve suggested that you should look at obvious traits like obesity and smoking addictions. I recommended that you look at the credit history of someone to determine if they know how to stay true to their word.
With that in mind, I found the most interesting article the other day about the Ivy League Advantage. It was the summary of work completed by a young Sociologist from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. She concluded, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. Here are some of the highlights:
- “Elite professional service employers” rely more on academic pedigree than any other factor. For recruiters, it’s prestige that counts, rather than “content” like grades, courses, internships, or other actual performance. That’s because if you got into a “super-elite” school — which essentially means Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), and Stanford — you must be smart.
- Why spend effort looking for “that one needle in the haystack” at a “safety school” like the University of Michigan or, heavens forfend, Bowling Green, when the run-of-the-mill Yalie’s still a prince. Even “second-tier” Ivies like Brown, according to Rivera, are suspect for the top firms.
- While going to a super-elite gets your penny loafer in the door, that isn’t enough. Rivera says it’s leisure pursuits that seal the deal. Employers use these as “valid markers” or “proxies” of a candidate’s “social and moral worth,” all the more so for time-intensive sports that “resonate with white, upper-middle-class culture.” Think lacrosse, squash, crew, and field hockey. Skip football, basketball, and soccer. And no sport at all suggests “nerd,” which correlates to future “corporate drone.”
The story told of Icarus was his attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. He ignored instructions not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax caused him to fall to his death.
What in the world does this have to do with making better hiring decisions?
Simple: in order for Icarus’s wings to melt there had to be a sun. And in hiring, the sun means a lot more than you can possibly imagine.
I grew up in the Northeast (AuSable Chasm to be specific). Summers were exceptional! We had long days where the weather hovered around 80 degrees and the sun wouldn’t set until about 9pm. My sisters and I would play for hours in the river behind our house. I’d compete in baseball games that would start at 6 and end at 8:30 but there was never any need for the fields to be lit because the sun hadn’t set yet. The way I’m describing it you’re probably thinking to yourself, “that sounds like paradise.” For those couple of months a year, it was.
But with every ray of light there’s usually a dark tunnel.
For us, that was winter. It was dark when we woke up, dark when we got on the school bus and then dark again when we got out of school around 5pm. We’d literally never see the sun except through some windows as we walked from classroom to classroom. Add to that it was often so cold and overcast that you couldn’t go outside anyway. This kind of environment became oppressive to a lot of people (my Dad, for one). It wasn’t until just 25 years ago that people started recognizing what was happening. Wikipedia has this to say:
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression, winter blues, summer depression or summer blues, is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or summer, spring or autumn, repeatedly, year after year.
Once regarded skeptically by the experts, seasonal affective disorder is now well established. Epidemiological studies estimate that its prevalence in the adult population of the US ranges from 1.4 percent (Florida) to 9.7 percent (New Hampshire).
The US National Library of Medicine notes that “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.” The condition in the summer is often referred to as reverse seasonal affective disorder, and can also include heightened anxiety.
How can this knowledge help you as a Leader and Hiring Manager? Simple: Behavioral-based interviewing, when conducted properly, means you should avoid questions that allow someone to answer with their opinions. Whether or not someone has lived and thrived in “the North” or “the South” before should absolutely be part of your interviewing process. Just because someone says they’ve “Always dreamed of living in Seattle because they’ve heard great things” doesn’t mean they’ll be able to survive the lack of sun. The same goes for Austin – the summers are brutal and we don’t go outside much at all from late June until early September.
SAD is real. Accept that and use the knowledge to your advantage when making a critical hiring decision that will involve moving someone from one latitude to another.
Sure, there are some experts out there who will tell you that you can always hire A-Players, but I’m not one of them. Considering 54% of all hires are mis-hires (according to a 2000 Fortune Study) we clearly have a problem in America.
The content for discussion today comes from Global Learning Resources CEO Kevin Wheeler. He suggests that great performers tend to emerge over time, rather than appear fully formed at the interview. According to Kevin, there are four ways to improve your hiring and development systems.
1. Don’t look for “A” players, because you don’t really know who they are. Those that you think are the best, the brightest, or the smartest may not be. The problem in looking for the best is that you are always using criteria that are suspect. The fatal flaw inherent in all competency systems is change. What has been successful or what is successful in a particular place may not be in another.
2. Provide development opportunities broadly for everyone and reward and promote those who take advantage of the opportunities. If we believe that talent often emerges where we least expect it, we cannot afford to limit development opportunities only to certain levels or types of employees.
3. Have recruiters aggressively monitor and source internally. Most of the very best talent comes from within and from below. We are all enamored with the outside “guru,” and frequently pass on the person right in front of us who is equipped with the skills, the cultural understanding, and the motivation to excel.
4. Look at selecting people for broad-based competencies. We should be looking to hire people with motivation to learn, with team experience and success, with cultural compatibility, and with a basic technical skill set that can be developed by experiential opportunities and good mentoring. We need to move away from rigorous narrow competency definitions and reliance on experience as an indicator of performance.
Do I disagree with anything that Kevin has shared up to this point?
If you’ve read this blog for awhile and have implemented even 10% of what you’ve learned, you SHOULD have an issue with this last statement of his: “A” players are hard to define and impossible to recruit consistently.
In case you haven’t noticed, the hiring freeze that seemed to overtake the our nation over the last 14 months is thawing, just in time for Spring.
Here are a few of the articles that I’ve noticed in the past few days that suggest it’s time for you to pay attention and get your act together because it’s going to be time for you to start RECRUITING instead of ABSORBING…soon.
- Upstaged by Younger Rivals, Google aims to Get Hip again [LINK]
- Demand for Programmers has returned and Start-Ups are out of luck [LINK]
- Microsoft is spending 10x that of Apple to Recruit and still struggles [LINK]
- There are more than 1,000 Job Postings with the word “Java” in them on Monster [LINK]
- The same keyword results in >8,000 on CareerBuilder [LINK]
The next BLS survey isn’t due until February 4, 2011 but the statistics will continue to hold true, while there is a nationwide unemployment rate of between 9-10%, the unemployment rate for college graduates is around 5% and about 2% for married college graduates.
It’s time to get your game faces on or you’re going to be forced into hiring people in the very bottom of the barrel.
And if you haven’t checked it out GlassDoor yet, you should. Your current and former employees are talking.
You’ve been warned.
Last week Major League Baseball was rocked by an incredible story that screamed “Blog About Me!”. Cliff Lee, an 8 year veteran pitcher who’s had the chance to play in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle and Texas, was the most sought after free agent of the off-season. The Rangers, who had his services for a mere 15 starts (plus the post-season) were so enamored with him that they attempted to “break the bank” to keep him in Texas. The Yankees, who have more money than any other team and like to throw that money around, offered him the second most lucrative contract for any pitcher in the history of the league (second only to their other starter, C.C. Sabathia). Lots of other teams had visions of sugarplums as well thinking that they had a chance.
In the end, Cliff Lee shocked everyone and returned to Philadelphia. A “dark horse” that didn’t even show up on the radars of any of the sports writers, Lee accepted LESS money ($50mm less to be exact, from the Yankees) to come back and play with the teammates that he really liked.
“You can definitely sense the fact that these guys step up and are up for a challenge and rise to the occasion and come up big when they need to,” Lee said before the 2009 World Series. “It’s not just one or two guys, it’s everybody. It’s a special team. To win the World Series (in 2008) and be back just proves that fact. There’s a lot of confidence here. Everyone expects to be successful.”
His former (and now current) teammate Raul Ibanez did a nice job of reinforcing what Lee was saying:
“We have a bunch of guys who are not concerned with getting attention,” Ibanez said. “They just want to win and they don’t care if they get the credit for it. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have that mind-set, and that’s not by accident.
No one doubts that Cliff Lee is a special, special talent. What else can you deduce when a single guy shows up and changes a team’s entire track record? Some examples:
- In 2008 Cliff arrives in Philadelphia and they win their first Championship since 1983. They returned to the World Series in 2009.
- In 2010, after a mid-season trade, he arrives in Arlington and helps the Rangers reach their first World Series in Team History.
What can you learn from Cliff Lee, Philadelphia, Baseball and the Yankees? Culture really does make a difference. Below, I’ve included a video (one of many) that were created by people who LOVE this guy and are so excited to have him back in Philly – quite a different story from a place like NYC where the money’s great but the egos are huge, the spotlight is brighter and the pressure is exponentially stronger.
One other thought: Jack Daly shared with me that people who make a Career Change typically regret their decision twice in the first 30 days of being in the new role. If you had someone great who left your organization recently for more money or for more spotlight, you might consider calling them and taking them to lunch just to catch up. You just might be surprised how many times the grass wasn’t greener for them on the other side of the fence and, with just a bit of urging, they’d happily come back.
Author’s Note: The song that accompanies this video is explicit – and I’m not going to apologize.
I’m on vacation with my family in Boston this weekend (Go Jets!) and so I thought I’d go digging for some “old fashioned” blog posts that might still have a lot of validity in today’s market.
-The World Trade Center in NYC had its 2 towers
-We didn’t need to take out/off our laptops, belts, hats or shoes at the airport
-George Bush was sworn in as President
The year? 2001
What I found truly remarkable about this one, single post was how applicable it was back then (when no one had really heard of Topgrading®) and how it is even MORE applicable today. Enjoy!
Over the course of the past 20 years, I’ve been searching for — among other things — the single best question to ask in an interview. What I wanted to create was a One-Question Interview, a stand-alone query that would pierce through the veneer of generalizations, overcome typical candidate nervousness, minimize the impact of the candidate’s personality on the interviewer, eliminate the exaggeration which many candidates adopt as an interviewing ploy and actually determine if the candidate is competent and motivated to do the work required.
Through years of trial and error, I finally hit upon one question that did it all. If you were allowed to ask only one question during the course of the interview, this would be it: Please think about your most significant accomplishment. Now, could you tell me all about it? Imagine you’re the candidate and I’ve just asked you this question. What accomplishment would you select? Then imagine over the course of the next 5-20 minutes that I obtained the following information from you about this accomplishment:
- A complete description of the accomplishment
- The company you worked for and what it did
- The actual results achieved: numbers, facts, changes made, details, amounts
- When it took place
- How long it took
- The importance of this accomplishment to the company
- Your title and role
- Why you were chosen
- The 3-4 biggest challenges you faced and how you dealt with them
- A few examples of leadership and initiative
- Some of the major decisions made
- The environment and resources available
- How you made more resources available
- The technical skills needed to accomplish the objective
- The technical skills learned and how long it took to learn them
- The actual role you played
- The team involved and all of the reporting relationships
- Some of the biggest mistakes you made
- How you changed and grew as a person
- What you would do differently if you could do it again
- Aspects of the project you truly enjoyed
- Aspects you didn’t especially care about
- The budget available and your role in preparing it and managing it
- How you did on the project vs. the plan
- How you developed the plan
- How you motivated and influenced others, with specific examples to prove your claims
- How you dealt with conflict with specific examples
- Anything else you felt was important to the success of the project
Just about everything you need to know about a person’s competency can be extracted from this type of question. Most people would agree this type of question is very revealing. But the real issue is not the question: it’s the information that’s given in response that’s most important. Few people are able to give this type of information without additional prompting from the interviewer. This is what real interviewing is about: getting the answer to this very simple but very powerful question. Don’t spend time learning a lot of clever questions to ask during the interview: spend time learning to get the answer to just this one question. The key: understand the accomplishment, the process used to achieve the accomplishment, the environment in which the accomplishment took place and the candidate’s role.
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
I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a while thinking that its efficacy would get better and better as the economy and job market failed to recover at the pace that the economists thought (hoped) it would. It looks like my hunch was right.
Nine months ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article called “Only the Employed Need Apply“. The premise of the article was that many employers were only interested in talking to people who were already employed – even if the candidate who had applied had lost their job even after performing at a high level.
Bobby Fitzgerald, a partner in five restaurants in three states, says these days he gets two dozen or more unsolicited résumés each day at one of his Phoenix restaurants, the White Chocolate Grill. But Mr. Fitzgerald says his top candidates, for jobs ranging from servers to management, usually are people who are employed elsewhere. He currently has 50 openings across his five restaurants and has told recruiters to bring in only people who are working.
When you consider that in March 2010 our unemployment rate is still on the precipice of 10% and the average time that someone is unemployed is still over 1/2 of a year, it would appear that Business Leaders like Bobby Fitzgerald aren’t alone.
At Hire Better, we’ve seen a significant up-tick in the number of clients who want us to assist them in hiring salespeople. For those salespeople who we see as applicants, the statistics are NOT in their favor if they’re applying for a role in which Hire Better is involved. Here’s what we’ve found:
In a typical hiring cycle, assuming that we have 100 people to consider for a role:
- 82-85 will be Direct Applicants
- 12-15 will be People who are “headhunted” or from our Network
- 1-3 will be Referrals from internal employees at the client company
When we get down to the Top Three Finalists, they’ll look like this:
- 1 Direct Applicant
- 1 “headhunted” Candidate
- 1 Referral
And when the finalist is hired: The chance of the Direct Applicant goes DOWN exponentially as the salary and responsibility goes UP.
For a Sales role, the prospects of a Direct Applicant are even WORSE. The same statistics will apply to the Candidate pool as before but I have to expand the pool to 5 people when you look for Finalists:
- 1 is a Direct Applicant
- 3 are “headhunted”
- 1 is a Referral
And when this is the case, the Referral has more than a 50% chance of getting hired and the Direct Applicant has less than a 10% chance. In the case of sales candidates – I believe these stats are just about right. And they’re justifiable! If you’re considering hiring an unemployed salesperson or sales manager, you should be asking yourself “Why would a good salesperson be unemployed?”
If you have a 12 month sales cycle and an 8 month learning curve, it will take nearly 2 years to get your new salesperson producing consistently. In that 2 years, maybe you’ll pay out close to $150,000 in subsidies.
Using your average margin, how much revenue must be gemerated to offset that subsidy?
How much revenue must be generated to produce a satisfactory ROI?
How long must the salesperson stick around in order to produce that ROI?
To bring it all back together, if a prospective sales candidate (who, for the sake of this blog post is unemployed) has found him/herself in a new sales role every 2-3 years, what are the odds that anyone who is hiring them is going to experience a positive ROI?
When we look at candidates through this lens we find it’s a lot easier to not find ourselves getting “sold” during an interview by someone who has all kinds of great excuses for why “things just didn’t work out” at that last job they were in…
Tags: A-Player, A-Players, bad hires, Baseline Selling, challenges of hiring salespeople, Dave Kurlan, hire better, hiring, hiring manager, Interview, Kurlan, mediocre salespeople, Objective Management Group, recruit don't absorb, Recruiting, recruiting salespeople, Salespeople, talent acquisition, unemployment, unemployment rate, virtual bench
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.