How many interviews should a company conduct to find the ideal job candidate? What role does “gut instinct” play in hiring? Is there a perfect applicant screening process? These are the questions that HR directors and hiring managers grapple with every day.
The answer is discouraging, yet unsurprising: it’s a lot more complicated than you think.
I get phone calls from people in charge of hiring who want to know, “what’s the best way to avoid making a hiring mistake?” These HR professionals, small business owners and hiring managers in large companies know that the hiring process is a lengthy, expensive proposition. They want to minimize their exposure to costly hiring mistakes.
Although there isn’t a perfect solution, there are a few hiring practices that can help you find a “sweet spot” between super-elaborate systems and winging it. Derek Thompson, Senior Editor for The Atlantic, writes that even smart people sometimes get hiring wrong, in his article The Science of Smart Hiring. Among their mistakes: conducting too many interviews, relying on their “gut,” and looking for attributes and credentials that aren’t correlated to actual job success. Among the hiring processes that Thompson reported, one successful system stood out for me: Google’s “Rule of Four” interviewing process. Google, the master of analytics, has finally hit upon what they see as the “magic number” of interviews that prospective new hires must go through—four. Too many more than that and you’re not getting much additional value. Less than that lowers the ability to make a successful selection. And it’s not the actual number that is so magical, it’s the careful orchestration of who does the interviewing.
This makes sense to me. When I was a hiring manager, we had a similar system in place in a couple of the organizations where I worked. We didn’t know about the data that said four interviews were ideal, but we did use some of the same tactics highlighted in The Atlantic piece. Here are some key points to consider if you want to create your company’s version of The Rule of Four.
Begin with the end in mind. Before you do even one interview, get very clear about the attributes and skills that will make a person successful in this job. The more specific you are about what this person needs to do on a daily basis, the better chance you have of communicating that to your HR team. Prioritize what you want. Yes, we all want fabulous candidates with perfect track records, at a very affordable salary. That’s not realistic; you’ll need to decide which skills are the most important and look for those skills first.
Carefully select your interviewing team. Choose people who are adept interviewers and represent a diverse set of skills and opinions. Also choose people who understand the job well enough to accurately gauge if the job candidate is well-qualified. Most importantly, choose interviewers who will honor your interview questions and not ask random, unhelpful questions that won’t glean you useful information.
Use a systematic interviewing process. I’m a big fan of the behavioral interviewing technique. Years ago, I learned about behavioral interviewing from DDI’s Targeted Selection program. When you conduct a behavioral interview, you ask interviewees to describe what they’ve done in past job situations that would demonstrate their ability to do the job you’re interviewing them for. Here’s a great article on behavioral interviewing from the ERE Recruiting blog to get you started.
Compare notes. One of the most overlooked parts of the interview process is what happens after the candidates are interviewed. Make “data debrief” part of your process. Here’s how it works: after all the interviewers have talked with the candidates, gather in a room and discuss each interviewee, one by one. It’s important to do this because every interviewer sees slightly different elements to each candidate. When you get together in room (or on the phone, if you are in different locations) to hash out your impressions, you can more easily discuss the pros and cons of each candidate’s track record. You also eliminate certain biases such as, “I really liked her because she went to the same university as I did.”
There is no magical formula for hiring the ideal job candidate. But there are things you can do to improve your odds of adding the most talented team members who will best fit into your organization. Take a page from Google’s Rule of Four to help form a solid foundation for your hiring practices.
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