Right Person, Right Time?

Job interviews, it turns out, are not good at predicting what kind of employee the candidate will be, notes a column by Jason Dana, “The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews,” which appeared a couple weeks ago in The New York Times. Personal bias affects the process so much that even when interviewers are warned ahead of time that the candidate is not qualified for the job, or has some other serious flaw, they still will base their judgment according to their personal perception.

Personal bias is never going to disappear, but the article says one safeguard is not to let the conversation be freeform, but, rather, to keep the conversation structured, and even to ask each candidate the same questions. That way, you have more of an objective basis of comparison. Since it isn’t human, or warm and inviting, to read set questions from sheet of paper, or a tablet, it’s more realistic to allow for maybe five minutes of unstructured conversation before launching into the questions.

One idea is to make sure the responses count by giving candidates the questions ahead of time, so they have time to think about what their responses will be. That gives each candidate a fair shot of answering the best he or she can, in a meaningful way, and, also gives you a glimpse of how well he or she does in meetings and in public speaking. You’ll be able to see if they took time to prepare and think carefully about what they wanted to say, and then how skilled they are at taking their thoughts and putting them into words. You’ll see if you have a potential employee who is a reflective, critical thinker, who can articulately express his or her thoughts.

From what I’ve seen of the workforce so far, an important function of job interviews is to separate those who are substantive from those who are just good talkers and self-promoters. The greatest danger of the job interview is getting conned into hiring a friend of one of the executives, or a friend of an employee, or simply a very self-confident person whose self-confidence exceeds his or her abilities. Sometimes these individuals are intelligent and talented people, but they are intelligent and talent about self-promotion and showmanship, rather than getting the work you need done.

When you train your Human Resources representatives and hiring managers in the job application and hiring process, including interviewing job candidates, what lessons do you pass along?

If I were training managers on how to effectively conduct job interviews, I would ask them to compile a list of all the people who have joined their department since they joined the company, including both those they personally hired and those another manager hired. I then would ask them to note, on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best, and 1 being the worst, how well each of these hires turned out. For the ones that didn’t turn out well, I would ask the hiring manager what characteristics the low-performing employee had, or lacked, that created a poor performer. I then would try to work with the hiring manager on interview questions designed to identify another potential employee with that same problematic profile.

Do you have any exercises you ask hiring managers to complete in training to help them separate the genuinely qualified and likely to succeed from the skilled braggarts?

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As I was editing this issue’s cover story on non-traditional Learning and Development (L&D) teams ("Creating an L&D A-Team"), I realized Training magazine’s small team is a case in

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