Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Make Sure the Person You Hire is the Person You Interviewed

I have wanted to write this for a long time.  Everyone hires someone at one point or another.  How many of you have made bad hires?  The answer should be that we have all done it.  We have all hired someone and once they started work, we discovered all the flaws in their abilities and personality. And then we second guessed ourselves on how it could have happened.

One reason this happens because jobs are not specified correctly.  Most job specs I receive are pap. They are a wish list of personality attributes which have very little to do with the actual job that needs to be accomplished.  Job specs must spell out the truth about the job, pluses and minuses, the personality of the person you want to hire and it must detail the issues to be handled and resolved.  This is true of very senior people as well as account executives.

But that aside, there are things which can be done during the interview process to insure the success of candidates once they are hired.  Most interviews last between half an hour and an hour.  That is obviously not enough time to determine all you need to know about the person you are seeing.  It is probably enough time to determine if someone’s personality is a fit, but not necessarily their skill set.  However, assuming that they will meet with three or four other people, that works out to be three to four or five hours of total interviewing time. If played right, that should be enough time to make a proper determination of their fit and qualifications. 

Each person in the process should have a specific function. The hiring manager, who is generally the first person to interview, should do general screening – interests, experiences, preliminary abilities to do the job.  Subsequent people should be a double-check.

Most interviews take the résumé for granted.  If someone is looking for a package goods account director and you are interviewing someone who was trained at a major agency, worked on J&J, P&G and Lever, it is very easy to accept that their skills are appropriate.  But are they?  It is critical to determine what their roles were vs. what their supervisors (and even subordinates) did.  It is important to explore candidate's motivations, interests, ambitions and management styles.

Everyone in the interviewing process should have agreed to the job specs and be totally familiar with them. Assuming that multiple people will meet this candidate, with each successive interview, it is essential for the group to sit together and actually discuss the candidate.  This is rarely done.  What I know happens, is that the first interviewer says to HR or the second person to be scheduled, “I saw someone I liked who you should meet”.  That is often the end of the discussion. A meeting among those in the interview cycle is an important component so that the pros and cons of the candidate can be discussed and an agenda for the next interview agreed upon to determine things that need to be covered or double checked. If this is followed, many flaws will be uncovered.  And if a candidate is “iffy”, both positives and negatives will emerge.

All too often, after the first interview, which is generally with the hiring manager, the subsequent interviews become merely a personality check.  This leads to poor hires.

It is essential to determine if the candidate has the actual skill set that is necessary (that is where job specs come in) for success.  In one famous case, a potential head of an agency was interviewed by a number of senior holding company executives, but they failed to determine if the candidate was capable of solving the agency’s issues (maybe they didn’t know, but if so, shame on them). 

All too often the hiring manager finds a candidate he or she likes and the subsequent interviews are simply a rubber stamp, but the other people in the process know that the hiring manger has a specific management style which needs to be screened for.  If a supervisor is difficult or needs a person who is a counter-balance, those attributes need to be spelled out in the job specs.  I can think of another case where a newly-wed who loved to travel was hired.  She was not told the account was in production virtually all month, every month.  After six weeks on the road she resigned because she had only been home three nights.

If someone leaves a job quickly, the original job specs have to be reexamined. An honest exit interview is essential to determine if there were issues which need to be covered in a revised job specification.   All too many executives don’t know how to write an actionable and realistic job specification.  I always say that if a candidate is rejected (or accepted ) for a reason that is not in the job spec, the job spec is incomplete and must be rewritten.

Too often I hear of someone failing in a job because neither the candidate nor the company defined the expectations clearly.


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