Monday, December 9, 2013

I'll Know What I Want When I See It (Part V)

‘If you think hiring professionals is expensive, try hiring amateurs.’ – Larry Bossidy

We now come to the final installment of this series and look at the impact of “thin-slicing”, intuition, gut-instinct, bias and first impressions on hiring decisions. In Part II of the series, I told of how orchestral musician candidates now audition behind a screen in order to minimize bias. It was noted that when it’s all about one thing, in this case the music, it makes sense to structure the audition (or interview) in such a way as to eliminate the impact of “non-music” related factors such as the candidate’s gender.

But the reality is that for most employers it’s about more than just “one thing”. It’s not just “the music”. For example, our firm recruits executive, managerial and sales professionals. A major key to success in these types of roles is how well the candidate “relates”. Most would agree that the ability to establish, develop and manage relationships is an absolute necessity if one is to succeed in an executive, managerial or sales position. Headhunters understand this. Employers understand this. And candidates understand this.

So if we cannot put blinders on when it comes to interviewing and evaluating candidates for these types of roles, how do we minimize the potentially negative consequences of things like “thin-slicing” or first impressions. As mentioned previously in this series, employers would do well to know what they really want in a candidate. A meaningful job description that speaks to experience requirements, skills and accomplishments is a great first step. Secondly, interviews should include considerable discussion about these subjects. It doesn’t do much good to have a great job description if you’re not going to use it. And, lastly, verify the candidates experience, skills and accomplishments. Again, it doesn’t do much good if you have a great job description, cover all the bases in the interview and then just take the candidate’s word for it when it comes to their experience, skills and accomplishments.

This really brings us to the biggest problem I see with employers when it comes to “thin-slicing” or first impressions or bias or whatever you choose to call it. The fact that sometimes an employer decides not to hire a highly qualified candidate “just because” is certainly frustrating for the recruiter and for the candidate. And maybe there was bias involved or a bad first impression. It is what it is. But the bigger problem for employers and candidates and, ultimately for the recruiter; is when the employer ends up hiring the candidate primarily based on those first, thinly sliced impressions. Missing out on the right candidate for the wrong reasons is a mistake, but it may not cause much pain. Hiring the wrong candidate for the wrong reasons is a bigger mistake and is always painful, for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with hiring someone you like as long as they can do the job. In fact, life is too short to work with people you don’t like. So “liking” is a good thing. But hiring someone you like who cannot do the job, never turns out well.

So Mr. Employer, I do not expect you to hire a qualified candidate whom you do not wish to hire “just because”. I can accept that outcome; even though you’ve just thin-sliced yourself out of a good employee, the candidate out of a job and me out of a fee. But, Mr. Employer I do expect you to hire a candidate who can do the job. Don’t let your personal biases lead you to hire someone based on looks, or where they went to school, or where they’ve worked, or if they grew up on a farm, or their hobbies, etc. etc.; IF they are not actually qualified to do the job. It is the quickest, most direct route to building a totally dysfunctional organization. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at Washington.

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