Magical Hiring Formula: Just Measure These Three Core Traits

Based on surveys and operational reviews we’ve conducted over these past 10 years, it appears that there is one common hiring mistake which just about everybody has encountered: hiring someone who is competent but unmotivated to do the required work. Most of us have had at least some first-hand experience with this numero uno of hiring mistakes. Managers are forced to push, prod, urge, and cajole these sub-par employees to meet just the minimum needs of the job. Sometimes a swift kick in the you-know-where is the alternate management technique required. As presented in last week’s article, the hiring success formula can be used to eradicate this scourge of a problem. Here’s the magic formula: Hiring Success = Competency + Motivation to Do the Work Required While there is one other critical part of this formula ó the ability to work with others ó just using the shortened version will increase interviewing accuracy and minimize hiring mistakes like magic. The first step in using the formula is the one often ignored, and the underlying cause of the hiring mistake noted above. This has to do with “doing the work required.” The work required is a list of the things a candidate must do to meet job expectations. It is not the stuff described in a traditional job description like skills, experiences, academic background, or personal attributes. Knowing what work is required is what makes the formula magical. The work required for an engineer might be designing an FPGA circuit using a specific design tool and meeting certain design specifications within a certain period of time. For a nurse, it might be upgrading patient care procedures after reviewing current practices. For a retail salesperson, it might be proactively engaging with customers and increasing both the value and quantity of purchases in the department. While candidates need some level of experience and training to do the work, it’s not the same level for all candidates. Additionally, many of the candidates who have the “right” background might not want to do the work again. Motivation and the ability to learn new skills quickly can more than offset lack of certain skills. For example, recently I asked a hiring manager if he’d hire an engineer who could design the FPGA circuit described above even if the person didn’t have five year’s experience and a BSEE (the absolute minimum requirement on the job description). His answer was an unequivocal yes. When hiring managers are asked to make the results vs. skills/experience trade-off, the answer is always yes. The problem for most recruiters is that they never ask what the required results need to be. Once they know this, however, managers are always more than willing to see and hire people who are motivated and competent to deliver these defined results. Try out the following idea to test this concept: The next time you’re writing up a new job assignment, show your hiring manager clients the formula above. Then ask them to define the work required. Get the top five deliverables. Next, ask the managers which ones are the deal-breakers, and put them all in priority order. Then go out and find candidates who are both competent and motivated to accomplish the tasks just defined. You’ll also find that candidates are more interested in the jobs where the expectations and results are clearly spelled out this way. Don’t be fooled by candidates who seem motivated during the interview, or by those candidates who are more assertive. Quiet people can be just as motivated and hard-working as outgoing people. You don’t measure true motivation to do the work required by gut feeling or observation. You determine it by getting multiple recent examples of when the candidate has gone the extra mile doing similar work. Interviewing for motivation is not guesswork, and it can’t be superficial. More time should be spent on assessing this factor than any other. Now take this magical hiring process one step further, by adding the third core component to the hiring success formula. This is the ability to work with others while doing the work required. Team skills are a critical part of job success. This is the same as emotional intelligence (EI) as defined in Daniel Goleman’s outstanding book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (Bantam, 1997). With EI included, here’s the complete version of the truly magical hiring success formula: Hiring Success = Competency + Motivation to Do the Work Required + Team Skills Measuring teams skills is equally as important as measuring motivation and competency. Again, don’t get fooled during the interview by measuring the wrong thing for team skills. Team skills are not measured by friendliness or warmth shown during the interview. Knowing what team skills means on the job can help in assessing it. Great team skills means proactively helping others, training others, and cooperating with others even though it might delay getting a person’s own work done. Adequate team skills means willingly cooperating with others when asked. Weak team skills means having to be constantly pushed to cooperate with others, or avoiding working with people. To determine where a candidate stands on this EI scale, the interviewer needs to obtain repeated examples of when, where, why and how the candidate has proactively helped others. Using the FPGA engineer position mentioned above as an example, here’s an interviewing technique you might want to try out to assess all three core traits of success. Start by having the candidate describe his or her most significant related technical accomplishment. Obtain as many details as you can using fact-finding questions to understand all aspects of the project from beginning to end. Get multiple examples of when the candidate helped or worked with others. Then find out why. Also get three or four examples of initiative. Find out when the candidate stayed late and find out the motivational reason why. If you spend 10-15 minutes just understanding this one accomplishment, you’ll have plenty of evidence to assess job competency, true motivation and team skills. Then repeat this process for three or four different significant accomplishments. Observe the trends and patterns over time. Look for consistency in the three core traits of success. As long as you started off by defining the work required, this is all you need to do to determine if a candidate is competent and motivated to do the work required and has the team skills to pull it off. Now that’s real magic. Hiring success starts by knowing the work required. A recruiter’s success starts the same way. Become a magician. Soon, your hiring mistakes will disappear. Happy holidays!

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Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).