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Three Common Traps To Avoid When Hiring

I have spent the last 20 years studying what science tells us is the best way to hire (or the things we should not do). This has been supported with practical ‘real life’ experience working with hundreds of clients. I have witnessed three common traps that surface time and time again. Here they are:

  1. Managers tend to hire their own image
  2. Decision to hire is based on how well a candidate “performs” at interview
  3. Hiring Managers place too much weight on past experience

Let’s look at each of these pitfalls – the first is hiring in our own image.

We tend to immediately like and trust people who are similar to ourselves – maybe enjoy the same hobby, went to same school, dress in a similar style etc. If I was coaching a candidate on how to get a job, I would tell them to research the interviewer(s). Then at the start of the interview try and match your likes to theirs. This strategy will kick in one of nature’s strongest bonds – we like people who are like us.

So, when hiring, be careful, don’t fall into the trap of making an immediate hiring decision based on likability. Yes, this is important, but not before you have firmly established the candidate’s knowledge, skill, experience (can they do the job?) coupled with their innate capabilities (how will they do the job?). That is why I always recommend the main interview be done at the back of the selection process, after you have confirmed the candidate can do the job, and how they will do it.

This brings us to the second trap, the decision to hire based on interview performance. This is rampant and once again the reason I recommend not to dive into the interview process right up front. When I am giving verbal feedback to hiring managers on a candidate’s assessment results, I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “But we never saw that (or they didn’t come across that way) during the interview.” Of course they didn’t!

The interview is the best you are ever going to see them, the candidate is on show and on their best behavior. Coupled with this, most interviews are one-on-one chit-chats that encourage interviewers to talk too much and not listen enough. Use the 80/20 rule – talk for 20% of the time. Interviewers that talk nonstop put the candidate in a prime position because it encourages hiring based on our first pitfall, hiring people we like.

Most interviews are totally unplanned and have no structure. Questions are not behaviorally based. This allows candidates to reel off answers that are opinions – anybody can give you an opinion! Think about that popular question, “So tell me, what are your strengths and weaknesses?” Boy, does that beg an opinion!

The third trap is placing too much weight on past experience. The legal and accounting industries are classic professions for this trap. In this pitfall, candidates are judged mainly on university grades and past places of employment. Past experience and education do not always predict future job behavior. Just because you “can” do the job does not mean you will do it well, or be a good job fit.

This pitfall can be prevented by using pre-employment assessments. This is the only way to understand the “real person” before you hire. We cannot “read” people and it is impossible to accurately judge a candidate’s innate abilities from an interview. A psychometric assessment will explain “how” the hired person will behave in the future – will they be cooperative or tough minded? Persuasive or submissive? Prone to lose their temper or have the ability to remain calm under stress? Pre-employment assessments help you understand a candidate’s problem solving ability, their motivations and interests, and their personality. In short, an assessment explains the “why and how your candidate will do the job.

For entry level positions, pre-employment assessments can also identify counterproductive behaviors like honesty, dependability, conscientiousness, and attitudes to drugs and alcohol, etc. Other hiring assessment tools can also be used to evaluate hard skills via online surveys or via work sample tests.

Remember, the most expensive employee you’ll ever hire is the one you have to eventually fire, and with today’s employment laws that’s a tough outcome to achieve without considerable cost.

Contributing Editor Rob McKay is Managing Director of AssessSystems Aust/NZ Ltd., specializing in the scientific approach to hiring and developing high performing employees. Mr. McKay gained a BA in Business Psychology and a MA (Hons) in Industrial & Organisational Psychology from Massey University – specialising in workplace personality. His interests lie in assessment for employee selection, development and performance management (especially sales people) and the psychology of influence and persuasion. He is an accomplished seminar and conference speaker and author of the hard covered book, No More Square Pegs: How to Hire Winner for your Business (also available on Kindle).

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