Saturday, November 16, 2013

I’ll Know What I Want When I See It (Part 3)

Now that we’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of thin-slicing, bias, intuition, gut-feelings, etc.; we must ask:

Do we know and understand how, why and when we are “thin-slicing”?

Can we tell when we are being “thin-sliced” and, if so, how do we handle it without becoming totally paranoid?

When does our own intuitive “thin-slicing” work in our best interest and when does it lead us astray?

I’ll look at these questions from the perspective of candidates, employers and headhunters. And since this is “HeadhunterPOV”, I’ll start with headhunters, more specifically this headhunter.

First of all, to a significant degree we just don’t know how, why and when we are “thin-slicing”. Intuition and gut-feel are the result of so many life experiences and so much information, that most of the time we don’t even realize how much they are impacting our thought process. Part of the battle is just knowing they are at work out there somewhere. For example, I acknowledge that a lot of factors influence how I evaluate a candidate. I do my best to focus on those which most closely relate to the candidate’s professional qualifications. I must also consider those qualifications which my client (the employer) values the most. For example, I may consider that for a certain position in sales the candidate’s most important qualification is a track-record of successfully selling complex supply chain solutions. While the client may value that as well, they may actually put more emphasis on what companies the candidate has worked for or how much experience they have selling in a specific industry vertical. So I am always shifting back and forth between how I evaluate the candidate and how I think my client will evaluate the candidate in terms of their professional qualifications and experience.

But, this is actually the easy part of the evaluation process. The hard part is figuring out what my gut is saying about this candidate and even more importantly what my client’s gut is likely to say about this candidate. And just to complicate it a bit more, how many people in the client’s organization are going to be involved in the hiring decision and what’s going on in their gut? How do their thin-slicers work?

For me personally, I acknowledge that a lot of non-job related factors can influence how I view a candidate. And, we all let “personal” factors influence us to some degree. The key is knowing what those are and guarding against them. I know that a candidate’s age, ethnicity, gender, where they went to school, where they are from, accent, appearance, personality, marital status and special interests all influence my opinion. And, yes I know that most of these are things you can’t ask about. But, 99.9% of the time the information is there or just comes out in conversation. I also know that many of my clients are influenced by these factors and ultimately these are the things that will lead them to pick one candidate over another. We may all like to think that we are selecting the most qualified person for the position, but that’s just not how it works in the real world.

So we are juggling the candidate’s professional qualifications, the candidate’s personal characteristics, my biases and preferences and even more importantly the client’s biases and preferences. Forget about making the best decision. You’re never going to know it even if you do. THE REASONABLE GOAL HERE IS TO MAKE A GOOD DECISION AND, AT MINIMUM AVOID MAKING A REALLY POOR DECISION. FOR ME THAT MEANS FOCUSING ON THE CANDIDATE’S PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS. You have to keep going back to the most critical factors which will determine the candidate’s likelihood of success. And the foundation for success is always the candidate’s professional qualifications. In most cases, when a candidate’s hiring is based more on “personal characteristics” than “professional qualifications”, it turns out badly for the client and the candidate.

Does this mean that the best hiring decision is based entirely on the candidate’s professional qualifications? Of course not. As noted above, that’s just not how it works in the real world. This is where thin-slicing, intuition and gut-feel intersect with what you actually know about the candidate, client company, their culture and the hiring authority. At some point, you have to ask THE BIG QUESTION: Is this candidate going to be successful in this position in this organization?

Once upon a time, an old headhunter gave me this piece of really good advice: “Don’t play God.” For the headhunter it is a balancing act between evaluating candidates based on professional qualifications and still making allowance for the “personal” factors while not pushing the client or the candidate too far in either direction. The hiring decision is not mine. The decision to accept the job offer is not mine. I have a responsibility to inquire, inform and guide. That includes making sure that the client and the candidate are both asking THE BIG QUESTION: Is this candidate going to be successful in this position in this organization?

Next time, the candidate and thin-slicing.

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