How to interview someone for a job
Most interviews of job applicants have less chance of choosing the right person than sticking a pin in a telephone directory. That is partly because they focus on facts already known, some of which are probably invented. They also rely on experience as a criterion of success. I was taught a definition of experience when young which I have always remembered: ‘It lends precision to the craftsman’s tool, and confidence; but leaves a fool, a fool.’
As is often revealed by market research, the smoker usually goes on smoking. Learning the hazards associated with tobacco is seldom enough to break the addiction. I once knew someone who made a career of being fired as a CEO. He did very nicely on the compensation, using his experience to write cast-iron contracts that then had to be paid out. His CV looked like an HR Manager’s dream come true. He had been CEO of most of the big companies in a former British colony. His ‘experience’ was solid.
Clearly a Left-handed Widget Turner needs to know how to turn left-handed widgets. To that extent his record may help to show that he has the basic skills required to do the job. The validity of his record will be more securely established by getting him to turn a widget. Managerial jobs require more emotional intelligence than is demanded by a widget. And you can test-run a soft skill.
Time spent reading through a CV at an interview is time wasted. What we need to know are the candidate’s attitudes. What is his or her attitude to the organisation they aspire to join? Have they done their due diligence? What questions has this triggered? What conclusions about the culture of the business has the candidate reached? What is their attitude to work generally and to the question of work-life balance? How do they rate process, KPIs and success?
Attitude extends beyond these obvious needs. Attitude to products / services sold by a business, to the customers served, to colleagues who the candidate will have to work with, to subordinates and, most importantly, to bosses who the applicant will have to handle, are all important indicators of whether the person fits the job. I go further and say it is an organisation’s responsibility to ensure that the job fits the person. You do not climb Mt Everest with equipment that doesn’t suit you.
How do we discover these attitudes?
The most effective way is by role-plays. For these to work they have to be tailor-made to fit the candidate and the scenario at the time. This requires some creativity. Role-plays can be quite pressurising and while some pressure is good too much destroys the exercise. The scene has to be correctly set and carefully handled and developed if it is to maintain the right balance between collaborating and bullying. But if you are doing a role-play with ‘the mob’ it needs to be fairly robust or it won’t simulate real life.
Two heads are better than one and best of all when they are separated. Joint interviews may work for the military but committees are notoriously bad at selecting bravely. Two or three separate interviews yield the best results. I also find that very long interviews are counter-productive. Good judgment is a matter of attention not protraction.
Getting and keeping talent is today’s top priority when change is so fast and unforgiving. Let’s hope 2016 will see a big improvement in interviewing candidates for jobs.
They deserve nothing less.