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Improve Hiring Success Through Better Interviews

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Bad hiring decisions cost us time and money. At best, they keep us up at night worrying about an employee (or worse, a manager) who is limiting productivity. At worst, they can cause the loss of business opportunities and revenue. So how do we avoid hiring mistakes?

First, it’s important to accept the fact that predicting a candidate’s future performance with 100 percent accuracy is impossible. People are complex and unpredictable – they will often exceed your expectations, but occasionally there will be a bad fit. Sometimes candidates misrepresent their skills and experience. Just as often, though, managers have failed to evaluate candidates as thoroughly and objectively as they could have. While we can’t control human nature, we can control and improve the interview process. Here are some tips for making better candidate evaluations.

1. Interview Consistency and Structure

Having a consistent process is an important step toward improving hiring decisions. This is especially helpful when you have several highly qualified candidates to choose from. The idea is to run each candidate through the same process, minimizing variables by using the same interview questions, the same interviewers and the same scoring methods. All candidates would preferably be interviewed during the same timeframe as well.

A widely-recognized 1998 study found that unstructured interviews, in which the hiring manager asks candidates open-ended questions about experience and skills (What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?) do a poor job of predicting future job performance.

Structured interviews, on the other hand, in which each candidate is asked a consistent set of questions with clear criteria about how to score their responses, are highly predictive of future performance. By combining structured interview questions with other predictive tools, hiring success is further improved. Three of the most effective evaluation tools, according to the study, include cognitive ability tests, work sample tests and integrity tests. Interestingly, things like age, education and job experience were not very good predictors of future performance.

Structured interviews take time to create, manage and enforce. You may need help from a human resources professional or outside firm, but it is well worth the effort considering the high cost of an unsuccessful hire. Looking for more? Learn about Google’s secret to hiring the best people.

2. Eliminate Bias

We all have biases, so instead of trying to eliminate them our job is to be aware of the potential for bias and minimize its impact. For example, when reviewing resumes, what assumptions, positive or negative, might you make about a candidate with a degree from Harvard, someone who served in the military or a person who took a year off to work in a volunteer position? When you meet someone for the first time, how does their age, weight, hairstyle, dress and makeup influence you?

The fact is, these are examples of circumstances that do little to predict someone’s success on the job. Bringing your own potential for bias to the conscious level is the first step in controlling it. One tip is to conduct initial interviews by phone to eliminate biases based on appearance. For more information on this topic, check out this article from best-selling author Lou Adler.

3. Keep it Legal

Finally, it’s critical to keep fair hiring laws top-of-mind during interviews. Today’s job applicants are much more alert to discrimination issues, so you want to avoid saying or doing anything that will jeopardize your firm.

It can be tricky to remember what you can and can’t say. Remember to avoid any question or statement that may be perceived as an indirect way to glean information that is off limits. For example, you can’t ask “How old are your children?” because this could be a way to approximate someone’s age.

Wording is important. “Are you a U.S. citizen?” is usually not a legal question to ask prior to the job offer, but it’s fine to ask, “If hired, are you able to provide proof of employment eligibility?” (The citizenship question may be legal, however, when hiring for a position that requires a security clearance.) You can ask the candidate about membership in professional organizations within your industry, but not about social organizations or union membership. These are just a few examples, and laws can change, so it’s best to review the them periodically and leave the risky topics to your human resources department.

Here’s to making successful new hires in 2017!

Andrew C. Jackson