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Effective Interviewing — Art or Science?

July 11, 2011, Clarke Bishop

Maybe you think effective interviewing and talent evaluationis an art. I disagree!

People often describe something as magic or art when they don’t know how to reliably create a result they want. In this case, I know better because I can interview and pick great employees almost every time. Most hiring managers only pick winners 25-40% of the time. I used to have a low success rate, too. Then, I learned how to effectively interview and evaluate and get it right almost every time!

How to Evaluate Talent

  • Start with a clear Performance Benchmark. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how will you know when you find it? How would you know if you got a great employee or not!
  • Use Structured Interviewing. There’s a lot to say on structured interviews, but basically, you ask the same questions to each candidate, so that you have a consistent way to compare candidates. I use a chronological interview which starts at the beginning and covers the candidates entire work history. For each job or period in a person’s background, I ask:
    • How did you come to work at __________? (Fill in the blank with the next company or job. This is a transition question. I want to know why they left their old job and how they found the new one.)
    • What was the situation when you started the job?
    • What were your one or two best accomplishments? (Great people will both have accomplishments and want to talk about them.) Once you’ve heard the accomplishment, ask how they did it. You want something they really did rather than something they can just take credit for.
    • What didn’t go as well? It’s easier to get this after they’ve talked about accomplishments. Everyone knows things they could do better, so I keep pushing until I get something.
    • If they were a manager, I’ll ask how many direct reports they had. Then I want to know what they did to improve their team and develop their people.
    • Finally, why did they leave the job?
  • Evaluate each candidate against the Performance Benchmark. I grade each candidate against each desired result, skill, etc. Because I used the structured interview, I have a lot of data to back up each grade. I can look through my notes to see where they’ve actually accomplished something similar to the results I want. I want to see accomplishments that are both specific and relevant to my open job. If they’ve done it before, there’s a good chance they’ll produce results for me.
  • Once I’ve interviewed and evaluated each candidate, I pick the best one and make an offer. Or, if none of them meet my standards, I start over and generate more candidates.

None of this is all that hard, but it does take commitment and discipline. It does require some work! A good structured interview can take 4 hours for an experienced candidate. That’s a lot of time, but how much time does it chew up to have to fire someone or compensate for poor performance. I’d rather spend a couple of man-days getting it right on the front end than spend man-months cleaning it up later.

So please, take the time to get it right, or hire someone to do it right for you (This is one of the services I offer my clients). There’s just no reason to think it’s art or luck that determines the quality of your hires. Take the time and do the work! With a little practice, you can have great hiring results, too!

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