How Good Interviews Become Bad Hires

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Dec 3, 2015
This article is part of a series called Wake-up Call.

Just like a few good dates with an attractive person of interest can lead to a bad relationship, a good series of interviews with a talented job candidate can lead to a bad hire. The common thread linking these relationship mishaps is our cultural obsession with assessment. eHarmony tests compatibility using its proprietary 29 DIMENSIONS; uses a system called the Chemistry Profile; and in my field — hiring –companies apply tools like Wonderlic, the DISC, and the Rembrandt Portrait.

Despite these efforts, we all still end up on bad dates and all organizations still make bad hires.

Why do our business leaders make poor hiring choices? Common culprits include:

  • Weak interviewing skills
  • Inaccurate hiring criteria
  • Poor cultural fit
  • Dishonest candidates
  • Hasty hiring decisions

All of these factors can cause hiring mistakes. However, highly skilled interviewers who avoid these missteps still blunder from time to time. The most attentive business leaders overlook crucial details, even when they’re supported by a rigorous candidate selection process. Professional recruiters will mismatch candidates, and they’ve conducted thousands of searches and interviews.

What’s the underlying issue in each of these situations?

It’s called hiring blindness.

Hiring blindness falls into a category of psychological phenomenon called inattentional blindness, which was first identified in the early 1990s by researchers Arien Mack and Irvin Rock. Also known as perceptual blindness, inattentional blindness occurs when an individual fails to recognize an unexpected stimulus that’s right in front of their eyes. This inability to spot critical stimuli is caused by gaps and limits in perception. It’s what allows magicians to manipulate attention to prevent an audience from seeing how a trick is performed. It’s also been identified as the reason drivers fail to notice motorcyclists they hit with their cars.

One of the best-known examples of inattentional blindness comes from cognitive scientists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. In the late 1990s they created a video that later went viral on the internet. It begins with an offscreen narrator asking viewers to count how many times players wearing white t-shirts pass a basketball to one another. Ten seconds in, a person in a big black gorilla costume walks between the players, faces the camera, thumps its chest, then walks off screen.

The result? Chabris and Simons reported that half the people who watched the video completely missed the gorilla. That’s right. Half of them didn’t see it at all.

To put it simply, people have a tendency to see what they’re looking for, especially when their minds are primed and ready to see specific things. In hiring terms what this means is that you can be blinded by your own expectations. When you set yourself up to see a particular set of stimuli, you run the risk of missing the gorilla even when it walks right past you.

Different leadership styles further complicate the situation. Your leadership style narrows your perceptive ability and exacerbates your perceptual blindness. Your personality, expertise, and experiences shape your leadership style, which naturally, in turn, shapes your Hiring Style. Your Hiring Style ultimately affects your particular flavor of perceptual blindness, so understand what your Hiring Style is. When you understand your Hiring Style, you can remove the blinders from your eyes and avoid making bad hires.

Hiring Styles

There are four main Hiring Styles.

The Tackler

Tacklers are fast and decisive. They want to be in control and reach goals quickly. During interviews, they get to the point quickly and appreciate people who do the same. Tacklers tend to hire candidates they think will condense timelines and hit targets fast.

The Teller

Tellers are talkers. They use their communication skills to motivate people. During interviews they talk a lot, often selling the candidate on the company and potential opportunities. Tellers tend to hire candidates they think will act upon what the Teller has said.

The Tailor

Tailors are collaborators. They point out that there’s no “I” in “team.” During interviews they build a rapport and allow conversation to become an open exchange of thoughts and feelings. Tailors tend to hire candidates they think are capable of cultivating strong workplace relationships.

The Tester

Testers are data-driven. They thrive on clarity. They make decisions based on tangible evidence. During interviews, they gather pertinent details and value facts over stories. Testers tend to hire candidates who offer quantitative evidence that they’re right for the job.

Knowledge in Action

The good news is that none of these styles are bad. They’re all good, actually. They’re what make us who we are. The bad news is that when we rely too much on our dominant style, it distorts reality. Our subjective perception, imperfect to begin with, gets even worse. We create opinions and beliefs about candidates that may or may not be true.

This is hiring blindness in a nutshell. We don’t see the real person. We see the person we set ourselves up to see. We see the person we want to see. Just like when we’re on first and second dates. We miss the red flags. We miss the gorillas walking by because we want the person to be the right fit.

This is how good dates become bad relationships, and how good interviews become bad hires.

When you recognize the downstream effects of your Hiring Style, you can limit its negative aspects and use strategies that counter hiring blindness.

“Understanding Hiring Styles is a game-changer when it comes to identifying top talent,” says Sharon Strauss, vice president of client services at Vitamin T, a talent agency that serves creative digital professionals. “Having worked with thousands of hiring managers across the country, I have been amazed when really smart leaders couldn’t see or hear what I do. Over time I’ve realized that it’s simply practice and a structured approach that helps avoid mismatches, and the fact we do this all day long has helped! Anyone who is unaware of hiring blindness and how their Hiring Style affects this issue will continue to make the same hiring mistakes.”

Here’s an easy-to-follow, three step approach, structured to mitigate the distortive impact of Hiring Styles and reduce hiring blindness:

  1. Determine your Hiring Style. Use the descriptions above to become familiar with the different Hiring Styles, then carefully watch for evidence of them during future interviews to identify your dominant style.
  2. Recognize your blind spots. Blind spots hamper effective interviewing. Tacklers see drive, Tellers see buy-in to the company mission, Tailors see potential collaborators, and Testers see details. All four styles tend to miss things the others see. These are critical blind spots that lead to bad hires.
  1. Incorporate seeing-eye colleagues. Stack your hiring team with people of all four styles. This will give you an expansive, 360-degree view of a candidate. A diverse, complementary team rarely misses important cues. Someone will see that gorilla walking by while the others are watching the ball.

It’s true that dating and hiring are similar processes. There’s one important difference, though: companies don’t have time for an extended courtship when they have an important seat to fill. As the speed of business increases, the precision and accuracy of the hiring process must keep pace. Companies have to create streamlined processes for identifying top talent quickly. If they don’t, the high divorce rate between bosses and employees will only increase.


This article is part of a series called Wake-up Call.
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