People Are People: Don’t Fight It, Work With It

I was in a client meeting recently and had a request from one of the participants. “Help us fool-proof selection decisions to ensure only the ‘right’ people are always hired,” he said.

Instantly, my mind started compiling a list of solutions. Targeted selection interviewing training for all hiring managers. A list of the common interview tendency “errors” such as the halo or horn effect. Competency models with corresponding interview guides to provide additional clarity on the “right” people.

Others began to chime in with their ideas.

Everyone became excited about the steps we were taking to make sure members of the group “made no more hiring mistakes” to put it in the words of one individual.

Later that day, in thinking about the meeting, I found the sometimes-cynical side of me emerging. “There’s no such thing as ‘fool-proof’ hiring,” I thought. “After all, people are people.” I’d just had an epiphany.

I thought about that statement for a number of days. I realized that no matter how much we try to design a fool-proof recruiting process, we simply can’t account for all the possibilities when people are involved. People are too unique, and sometimes too unpredictable, and their tendencies, personalities, and experiences often work their way into the hiring process.

Recruiters are intently focused on using a litany of tools and techniques to provide the highest level of coaching hiring managers. I strongly advocate this but also recommend that recruiters acknowledge and account for the diversity of people and how they are shaped by their life experiences.

Think about the 8 oz. glass with 4 oz. of water in it: some describe it as half empty; others describe it as half full. Even though everyone may be looking at the same object, what they “see” can be vastly different.

Think about this same example but in a recruiting context: Two managers on the same interview team interview a candidate. The candidate is very confident in her responses, is assertive, and “closes” the interviewers by telling each, “I’m the person for the job. Give me the opportunity and I’ll give you results.”

At the debrief, the interviewers confer and find they have conflicting opinions of the candidate based on some of the same observations. As they compare notes, hiring manager #1 says, “I like that this candidate was assertive, had quick responses for every question, exuded confidence, and asked for the job at the end of the interview. I really believed her when she said she’d deliver results. She’s exactly what we need here at ABC Company.”

Hiring manager #2 says, “The interview was just too ?perfect.’ She had quick answers for every question; this demonstrates a lack of thinking things through.” He continued, “She was overconfident, and the closing line at the end was too salesman-like. It felt more like a pitch for a product than why she wanted the job. Not what we need here at ABC Company.”

Sound familiar? Don’t worry; there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news is that subconscious biases influence us all to the point we don’t even realize it. A hiring manager who is interviewing a candidate who has graduated from his alma mater may have an immediate bias for the candidate simply because they attended the same school.

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A recruiter may be high on a candidate just because she has a similar profile to another candidate the recruiter placed with a different hiring manager one month ago, and therefore, not consider others.

A hiring manager may take an instant liking to a candidate because the candidate reminds her of a favorite relative. Another may subconsciously dislike a candidate simply because she has a southern accent and the hiring manager is from Minnesota.

The good news is that this keeps life interesting and challenges us to see and appreciate the world through multiple vantage points. Encouraging hiring managers to invite diversity (in its broadest sense, diversity of experience and thought) on interview teams will make for an engaging debrief. It can also highlight aspects of the candidate perhaps thought to be detractors by some to be great assets a team may lack.

Have a manager who is a big-picture “sky-is-the-limit” type? Surely he will have a strong connection to a “sky-is-the-limit type” candidate as they spend their interview time talking about all the possibilities. Challenge the hiring manager on the benefits of enhancing the team with someone who understands how to translate visions in the sky to tactics on the ground.

Working with a hiring manager who insists that the ideal candidate’s experience must be identical to her own? Demonstrate to that manager the value of incorporating a different set of experiences and perspectives a candidate can bring to encourage a wider array of ideas and approaches to challenging business issues.

The key to harmonizing training, tools, and techniques with the fact that people are people is recognizing, understanding, and respecting differences, not passing judgment too quickly or inappropriately, and embracing the diversity of perspectives. Work with a hiring manager to identify the common characteristics present on his or her team, highlighting tendencies to hire “mini-me’s” or perhaps hesitance to hire “outside the mold.” Sometimes managers may not even realize how homogeneous, either culturally or intellectually, their teams are.

For a really innovative approach, have your hiring managers submit to a Myers-Briggs or DISC profile so they will be aware of their own styles and preferences, and how they work their way into the interview and hiring processes.

Unfortunately, there are times when, despite the most rigorous of interviewing, the experience and skill of the interview team, and due diligence in the reference checking process, managers make hiring decisions that turn out not to be the best.

When this happens, learn from it, think about what to do differently next time, and remember that people are people.

Lisa Calicchio, SPHR, is Director of Recruiting -- Pharmaceuticals Team, for Johnson & Johnson Recruiting, the internal talent acquisition organization of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies. In this role, Lisa manages the development and delivery of talent acquisition strategies and execution for Johnson & Johnson?s U.S. pharmaceuticals and biotechnology operating companies. In addition to managing this segment of the business and a significant client base, Lisa focuses on enhancing JJR's consulting capabilities through specialty teams for business analytics, training, and recruitment marketing. Her background includes extensive experience as an HR generalist and recruiting, though she started her professional career "on the line" and held several line positions across key functional areas before moving from sales and marketing into HR.