The best applicant isn’t always the right one for the job

June 25, 2013
June 25, 2013

This originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can follow Lou Adler here 

The number one reason not to hire someone who has all of the skills is lack of motivation to do the actual work required.

However, motivation to do the actual work isn’t easy to measure during the course of the traditional interview for three big reasons. First, the actual work is rarely defined in enough detail, and most people won’t be fully committed unless they find the bulk of the actual work appealing. For example, system architects aren’t going to be too excited to perform detailed coding if they thought the job involved more complex work. That’s why clarifying expectations before the hire is so important. Second, many interviewers assume motivation to get a job and extraversion are predictors of motivation to do the job (of course, they’re not), therefore they think they can skip the part about figuring out actual job needs. Third, there are a number of other factors that have been shown to affect motivation and on-the-job performance that are generally ignored or superficially assessed. These include team skills, problem-solving, the coaching style of the manager, and cultural fit, among others.

By ignoring these factors managers frequently hire people who are competent to do the work, but not motivated by it. Worse, they don’t hire people who are a bit off on the skills, but highly capable people. Here are some techniques you can use to minimize these problems as part of the fact-finding when using The Most Important Interview Question of All Time.

How to Avoid Common Hiring Mistakes

  1. Talent and Technical: Seek out evidence of the person doing exceptional work, learning rapidly, influencing others on technical matters, or successfully handling comparable technical issues similar to actual job requirements. Be concerned if they’re not present. For those a bit light on the skills, ask about the biggest problem they’ve handled with the least amount of skills and how they were learned.
  2. Management and Organization: Few managers evaluate a person’s ability to meet schedules and deadlines or properly handle multiple priorities. Be concerned when you hear too many excuses for tasks not being met, if the planning is reactive, or if the person does not have a track record of consistently committing and delivering.
  3. Team Skills: People with strong team skills – whether they’re affable or quiet in the interview – are assigned to important teams, they coach others and/or they are asked to lead important projects. Be concerned if you don’t see this type of evidence.
  4. Problem-solving and Decision-making: Ask candidates how they’d solve realistic job-related problems. As part of the discussion get examples of similar problems they’ve handled, and how they were solved. Be concerned if the logic isn’t sound or if the stories don’t match.
  5. Job Fit: You need to assess more than technical competency to determine on-the-job performance. Get multiple examples of the person getting excited and motivated by doing similar work to what’s actually required. That’s why preparing a performance-based job description ahead of time is so important. During the interview make sure the examples are from the recent past, too. A candidate who is highly motivated to get the job might not be as excited by doing it for long if they don’t find it challenging or interesting.
  6. Managerial Fit: The hiring manager’s coaching and leadership style are a key aspect of job satisfaction and motivation. Ask about the candidate’s past managers to see if and how this affected performance. Then make sure there’s a style fit with the new hiring manager.
  7. Culture and Environmental Fit: The pace of the organization and the degree of structure define a large portion of a company’s culture. This is why people from larger more mature organizations struggle in start-ups, and why start-ups sometimes have difficulty growing past a certain point. Be concerned if the candidate’s success don’t match up on an intensity, resource availability, or decision-making standpoint.
  8. Motivation: During the interview find out what drives or motivates the candidate. It could be the challenge of the job, the hiring manager, the security the company offers, the people on the team, or that the person is naturally committed to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Be very concerned when the source of motivation doesn’t match what you’re offering.

From what I’ve seen, after participating in thousands of interviews and debriefing sessions, is that there is too much emphasis during the typical interview on technical competency, personality, first impressions and presentation. Little of this predicts on-the-job performance or job satisfaction. It’s pretty easy in a 45-60 minute interview to tell if someone clearly won’t make the team, or if the person has the potential to be a star. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of great people in the far larger middle group who aren’t hired, but should have been, and many competent, but unmotivated people, who are. Taking this extra steps above in the next 45-60 minutes is how you make sure the right person is hired—one who is both competent and motivated.

Now for a radical idea to address this problem head-on. What about measuring technical competency last, or at least minimizing it’s importance, rather than using it as up-front filter? This would open up the door to more high potential diverse candidates, returning military veterans, younger people who want to launch their careers, and those more seasoned people looking for more than just another job. Of course, this would mean rewriting job descriptions, redesigning the application and assessment process, and incorporating fast-track training programs into every job. But consider the impact: hiring more highly motivated, high potential people of diverse backgrounds with fewer technical skills, who are able to rapidly learn and grow. Now that just might be a hiring mistake worth making.

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