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Change Your Hiring Manager’s POV to Eliminate 50% of All Hiring Errors and Have a Happy Holiday Season

by Dec 17, 2010, 5:51 am ET

I have a brilliant nephew — Harvard grad, etc., — who is, shall we say, a bit left of center. He has an executive position in the California state government, which is enough to further pinpoint his political persuasion. While I love him dearly, during the holiday season we have some rather contentious discussions regarding the politics of the moment, given I’m his somewhat right-of-center uncle. While civil, at least in most cases, these discussions involve a bit of one-upsmanship on both our parts, but never involve ad hominem. At least for me, this Thanksgiving was a real hoot and I looked forward to it with glee, given the recent election results, and all. However, all did not go as expected. Which gets me to the point of this article. Decisions with respect to hiring candidates occur long before any evidence the candidate is capable of doing the work are made.

This seems like a rather odd conclusion to draw from what on the surface appeared to be nothing more than traditional inter-family holiday banter. So to elaborate, and in an attempt to prove my point, let me get back to the Thanksgiving repartee and how discussions involving turkeys relates to how hiring decisions are made.

While my nephew made convincing arguments about the worthiness of the President and his policies, these were from a point of view (POV) that the President was exceptional, and all liberal policies, whatever the source, are worthy. And while the evidence he presented was convincing, in-depth, and insightful, it was sought out with the intent to prove the worthiness of the main argument itself. The factual data I had to prove the opposing POV paled in significance. The only winning point I could make was to suggest that his initial bias was the driver behind his evidence gathering. With this bias, any counter-arguments or disproving evidence was overlooked, ignored, minimized, or not considered. Some minor agreement in the form of nodding and chin-rubbing was made on this point, at which time the turkey was served, at which time all arguments ceased — at least until Christmas.

Now for the link from holiday discourse to hiring. I’m going to suggest that most hiring decisions are made in the first few minutes of meeting a candidate, with the balance of the interview used to gather evidence to prove the interviewer’s initial biased judgment. There is real science and research to prove this point, but I know if I sought it out and presented it here, I would be accused of the same “POV drives the evidence gathering problem” I’m accusing others of — e.g., only seek out evidence that proves your point, while ignoring anything that refutes it.

If doesn’t take much more than casual observation to suggest that when you meet a candidate you like, you ask softball questions, rationalize away wrong answers, and accept minimal proof of competency. Then you boast about your interviewing prowess.

On the other extreme, if you are instantly turned off by a candidate, you ask hardball questions, amplify wrong answers, and seek out proof of your initial first impressions. Then you boast about your interviewing prowess.

Worse, in either case, you believe you’re blessed with some inner wisdom that allows you to determine competency and fit within five minutes. Unknowingly, your POV drove the evidence gathering, incorrectly validating your first impression.

If you want a more honest assessment, here’s a big interviewing secret that anyone can use to increase their assessment accuracy and eliminate 50% of all future hiring problems: stop doing the above. Instead let the evidence gathered objectively form the POV and the ultimate hiring decision. Following are some ideas on how to implement this rather quixotic idea of letting evidence drive the decision-making rather than the POV of your gut.

First, if you, or any of your hiring managers, are prone to this “POV drives evidence” gathering during the first interview, you might want to try out the exercise described in this 3-minute video. It’s pretty simple, and if done before every interview, you’ll uncover your POV and squash it into oblivion, or at least until the next interview. Even better, you’ll stop hiring underperformers who only make good first impressions, and hire a few more top people who were temporarily off their game.

If this doesn’t work, here are some other things you can try.

  1. Reprogram yourself in real time. When you first meet someone, note your immediate reaction, positive or negative. I use plus and minus signs on a yellow sticky pad to do this, but the point is to become aware of your reaction to the candidate’s first impression. Then do the exact opposite of what you would normally do. For example, if you like the person, ask tougher questions, going out of your way to prove they can’t do the work. If you don’t like someone, ask easier questions, going out of your way to prove they can do the work. This will help you make a much less-biased assessment.
  2. Don’t interview alone. Emotional reactions due to first impressions are diluted when there are more people in the room to absorb the impact. Also, structured panel interviews using one leader and multiple fact-finders tend to be more businesslike than unstructured one-on-one conversational interviews.
  3. Conduct a phone interview first. I personally never meet a person in person unless I’ve conducted a 30-40 minute phone screen first. This way I already have a sense if the person demonstrates the achiever pattern and has handled projects comparable to the real requirements of the job.
  4. Ask everyone the same questions using a structured interview. A structured interview — even one with dumb questions –minimizes the impact of first impressions, good and bad. A structured interview with behavioral questions is better, and one with performance-based questions is better still. The key is to ask the same questions whether you like the person or not. As Ben Bernanke said, even a bad plan is better than no plan. The same holds true for interviewing.

The key to all of this is to understand how your POV determines your approach to evidence gathering. This is not restricted to just interviewing. It happens when you’re conducting any type of analysis where you’re trying to justify an outcome you believe to be the correct one. This happens in business, politics, sports, and life in general. Developing a POV based on the evidence seems like the best approach, but somehow we’re innately programmed to do just the opposite. Of course, if this weren’t the case, think how boring family gatherings would be.

Happy Holidays!

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

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  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Lou. You’ve alluded to some of challenges which the developing area of *Behavioral Recruiting (not Behavioral Interviewing) addresses- the fact that we all have hard-wired biases which can’t be eliminated, but can be acknowledged and worked with.

    Cheers,

    Keith

    *The application of Behavioral Economics to recruiting

  • Martin Snyder

    Lou, your faith in determinism is heartwarming, but you are a victim of your own bias; your thinking does not extend to non-deterministic facts of life such as the effects of leadership, skill, and timing.

    Bill Belichick will beat you with his guys, and he will beat you with your guys, and you won’t be able to chalk your shellacking up to hiring errors.

    Now there is major truth to the fact that a key qualifying decision is made in the first few seconds, but it’s hardly final, and I think in more successful people, it’s notably a more provisional decision.
    It’s also not a decision about the matter at hand either; it’s more of a decision about which cognitive filters to employ to fulfill fundamental human drives, and those are deeply wired.

    We all know the differences between trying to qualify something v. trying to disqualify it. It sort of extends to the mindset difference between HR and Recruiting: a qualification view v. a market view.

    I do like how political this site is getting- it’s fun to practice arguments and help change minds that can be changed.

    Lets take a crack at yours Lou: here is how I stopped worrying and learned to love Obama- I simply realized that he is a conservative, and not just rhetorically, but actually, as in the man is a onservative, not a liberal. It would be funny if your filters fool you into seeing him exactly as he is not.

    What does is mean to be “conservative”  Digby says that conservatism can only be failed, but can never fail, but she does not say what it actually means to be conservative.

    To me, conservatism means defense of entrenched interests, no matter where they may be found.  Religion, business, law, politics, culture, sex, sports, you name it; if it’s gone before and espoused by the powerful, conservatives are for keeping it that way.  If it’s new, exotic, or changing, they are against it, except via extreme incrementalism and plurality when instant payoff is lacking.

    Conservatives would rather have “most” people happy, even with some people getting the shaft. Of course, “most people” are people like themselves- the poor and brown can never really have full standing because they never have before.      

    President Obama is a conservative.  As an enemy of change, he understands it well- so well that the very word is identified with him .  So why is the Republican party of 2011 his natural enemy ?  Because they are radicals.  He is disturbed and suprised by that fact, because that’s not the Republicanism that he believes in.  

    What does it mean to be liberal?  It means you are for change, that you know that when left to themselves, affairs tend strongly to turn out badly for the poor and voiceless.  So Obama’s other natural enemies are Progressives, because they want major changes, right now.  That’s not the kind of Democratic political change he believes in.  

    Digby thought that yet another essay by a liberal urging Obama to “fight” was just a a dandy insight, but Greenwald has his man.

    The “fight” over the Public Option was never a fight at all. Greenwald proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt.  The PO was radical change, and if the goal (or some goal) could be achieved without radical change, Obama was all for it.  He remains in that exact mold.

    Look at Elizabeth Warren.  To “fight” for her as head of the CFPB would have meant a recess appointment and then hardball with the new Senate.  But since she represents radical change, the fight was not FOR her, the fight is AGAINST her.  In that lens, here is more skilled fighting from Obama, although even ‘mainstream’ blogs are barely aware of it.  Yet even in fighting against her brand of change, he vetoed a bill she was against (interstate notatrization), because that veto held the status-quo (of course).  That kind of nuance throws almost everyone off in seeing his true axis.

    Progressives MUST ADAPT themselves to the reality that Obama is a conservaitve.  He always was. Obama “likes Republicans” and wants nothing more than to accomplish some worthy goals while leaving as much intact as possible, which in a way is what Republicanism used to mean before it evolved toward simple treason and sedition.

    Adapting means looking for reform that works, but can be framed as incremental.  It means giving Obama lanes where he will be comfortable that no major oxes are being gored, or better yet, by framing issues as “deals” right off the top.  In some areas, like civil liberties, cutting defense spending, government corruption, and maybe even reopened health care (since health insurance reform is not health care reform)  common cause has to be found with at least some conservative/radical voices, because otherwise, the great fighter in the White House won’t hear of it. I think he even believes that the congress should make the laws!

    See, it’s easy…..

  • Sandra McCartt

    What you see may not be what you get unless you get what you think you saw.

  • Martin Snyder

    I don’t know how much Obama had to do with it, but good on everyone for repealing DADT. About time.