Interviews can make your hiring decisions worse

By Tõnis Arro – headhunter, executive coach, entrepreneur

recently shared with you some experiences from my headhunting business, focusing on how the headhunting process can go wrong and end without employment. There is another common cause of such a negative outcome: the interview. Yes, the core mechanism for hiring people is the common context for making hiring mistakes. This selection tool has been criticized a lot for its lack of validity. When it comes to predicting work success, the results of unstructured interviews have been shown to be close to or even worse than random selection. In a way, it’s like dating. It might be great fun, but it isn’t a great predictor of having a quality relationship for years to come.

Most people would still not consider making a hiring decision without a proper interview, in spite of growing evidence that the typical hiring ritual — a freely structured or even unstructured interview — does not contribute to better hiring decisions or even makes the quality of the decisions worse. There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that even most experienced interviewers cannot avoid being human with all of the biases and irrationality that comes with it. No matter how impersonal they try to be, they are still vulnerable to stereotyping, self-fulfilling prophecies, the halo and horns effects, the contrast effect, the similar-to-me effect, or the personal-liking effect. Surprisingly enough, the interviewer’s experience during the interview, and the self-confidence associated with the hire could increase the probability of hiring the wrong person.

Would you decide on the best possible new hire based on his or her birth date or eye color? Not likely. But why are someone’s hobbies, or the kind of yacht he owns, or the golf club he attends, considered a basis for such an important decision? Yet aren’t these the very things that people tend to ask about during interviews to get a better understanding of the interviewee’s personal chemistry? People tend to underestimate how often these little details actually influence hiring decisions. The decision to accept or reject a candidate is often made early in the interview process, and the rest of the time is used to rationalize the subconscious decision that has already been made.

Can we skip interviews entirely? Probably not, but we can use our time together to ask sensible questions in a structured way in order to supply us with real, valuable information. For example, we can concentrate less on what the candidate “thinks,” and more on what he or she can do or has accomplished. We can make an effort to base our decisions on facts, not on gut feelings. Most experts would agree with the following recommendations:

● Use structured interviews instead of unstructured, intuitive interviewing;

● If multiple interviews are set up, then rate the answers and compare/summarize the ratings given by different interviewers;

● Use data from references and secondary sources;

● If possible, test the skills and competencies of interviewees in job-related tests (job simulations);

● Try to find out how the candidate fits in with the people he or she is going to work with.

In general: don’t rely (solely) on your gut feelings, as this will probably result in hiring people similar to yourself, or people you just feel comfortable with. In many cases, these may not be the very people who will make the best additions to your team.

How to choose your headhunter?

By Tõnis Arro – headhunter, executive coach, entrepreneur

Employment decisions are among the most difficult ones for executives. The cost of the wrong decision is high and usually, executives are not well prepared for selecting people. They have not received specific training in making people decisions and after all, they are humans – a thing that cannot (yet) be fully improved. Humans tend to simplify, be biased, be influenced by halo-effect and other social phenomena that influence decision quality. One might exclude some candidate simply because he or she reminds someone else and vice versa. And then there is the myth about “personal chemistry” and the belief that “just having a human conversation” is a good thing to predict how good your potential working relationship might be. In reality, people tend to select other people who are similar to themselves and base their decisions on rather marginal indicators. Someone with similar tastes for movies or going to same golf club are examples for this. There is way out – prepare the hiring process better and use professionals to help you with this.

How good are the people working for you is the key that opens your door to success. And this key is in a keychain that is in your search partners hands. Choosing your partner for search and recruitment is the decision that leads you to great candidates – with superior service provider your time is never wasted meeting mediocre people and you have a trusted advisor to help you with the difficult decisions of utmost importance.

What should you look for while making your mind to choose between different service providers for executive and professional search?

Does the consultant understand (your) business?

This is the fundamental question. If negative, no need to think further. Your search partner is acting as an extension of your business. It is, therefore, crucial to check how well you are on the same page in your business understanding. What is your prospective consultant’s management experience? Does he ask right questions about your business? Does he understand your challenges? Sometimes it is recommended to find a specialized agency for a field or industry, but this might be a problem on smaller markets where usually the only good option is the most professional generalist.

How do they work?

Make sure you understand your prospective partner’s work processes and methods. Beware of fake “headhunters” who offer suspiciously good deals, but in fact, are never doing more than screening their own or public databases. Ask in detail about all the methods and pay attention how transparent your prospective services provider is. Do the methods and processes they use to correspond with your expectations? What are your possibilities to check the progress regularly in the search process? How often are they going to communicate with you and in what format they report progress?

How experienced is the consultant?

Always find out who will be the person handling your search assignment. Ask how long has this person been in search business? Will he/she be your single point of contact and fully responsible for the whole process (or will you see him/her only during the sales and final meetings)? You want to feel that you’ll be receiving a consistent service from someone who is experienced, not passed around from one consultant to another.

Are references available?

Who are their clients and what kind of searches have they been doing? Are references available, is the consultant/agency happy to share their reference list? Feel free to talk to the other clients – if they are happy with the service they will also be happy to share their experience.

Does the consultant understand your needs?

Of course, briefing your consultant well is your own responsibility. Without full details of who you’re looking for, no recruitment agency could be blamed for not finding them. Make clear what skills, qualities and/or experience is essential, what qualities are desirable and what are optional. If you talk to several potential partners, pay attention to how well they summarize your needs and even more important – do they add value with their questions and their brief or is it just a copy and paste of everything you have sent them? Thoroughness in analyzing of the position is indicative of the attention and engagement of the partner in the search process.

What are the timeline and terms like?

The direct search process is a dynamic process where strict dates are not always possible. Still, some consultants are more specific than others while describing their steps in the recruitment process. What is important for you is to see that the timescales are well planned and realistic and that you will be regularly fed back about the progress. It is also important for you to plan well in advance your own time for meeting the finalists according to your hiring policies.

Do you trust this person?

This is the final criteria you will have to use. Gut feeling is important here of course, but presumably, you use as much data as possible to make it. You have to ask yourself the simple question – is this the right person to handle your search assignments? Would you feel comfortable in discussing with later in the process? Is it someone whose advice would be welcome, whom you would like to be your trusted advisor in this important process?

To summarize: hiring people is a critical decision of utmost importance. Selecting best search partner who brings you greatest candidates and helps you choose best among these is an important step to success.


Why executives fail and how onboarding and coaching can help?

By Tõnis Arro – headhunter, executive coach, entrepreneur

Executives sometimes fail. They tend to say that they didn’t find what they expected at the new job, that their bosses had changed or didn’t give them the resources they needed. Their bosses say that the new hire didn’t meet their expectations. They also sometimes think that the person they selected had changed after they started.

Failure is actually two-sided. And it is not always a selection mistake, but many things can go wrong on the first days on the new job. Or even before. Organizations are more like living organisms than machines, they don’t always greet a new in-plant happily, more often than not, some antibodies are formed and sometimes these become stronger than the new hire. If we are talking about a CEO, then his or her surroundings are far wider than the immediate organization – CEO has also to be in good terms with lots of stakeholders outside – the board, community, opinion leaders etc. All this is quite a complex network of relationships and without a clear focus, it is easy to get lost. And the loss of control and initiative is the main danger for a new CEO.

Bigger organizations usually have some formal policy in place what is called onboarding. These practices differ widely in content and effectiveness. A recent study indicates that most of the programs include familiarization with administrative arrangements, business orientation, and legal formalities. At the same time, only in about half of the cases, corporate onboarding process includes something that helps the new executive to align with expectations of teams and bosses, and even fewer cases deal with stakeholders and facilitating culture familiarization.

There seems to be the problem – corporate programs often fail to focus on the most important things and deal only with things that are easier to handle. One of the keys to becoming an effective and well-functioning member of an organization is familiarizing with the culture, becoming a part of it. The other keys are aligning with the expectation of the bosses and your team and taking charge of the team. Without a conscious effort, these things happen rarely happen smoothly and quickly, if they happen at all.

Some headhunters – like ourselves – offer additional service to our clients and other new executives, what we call onboarding support or onboarding coaching. This is like insurance for the hiring company – after making a considerable investment into finding a great person, it is reasonable to spend a little more to help him or her to become fully effective as soon as possible and minimize the dangers that something will go wrong at the early stages of employment. We become sparring partners for the new executives, help them to compose their 100-day plan and keep themselves focused on this. If possible, we also involve some stakeholders in the process – the immediate boss and HR director. Being an attentive and experienced “other” we can question some ideas and suggest some aspects of the onboarding process that might need the executives’ attention.

One of the key themes for a new executive is getting on good working terms with his or her immediate team (or teams). As you know – people are selected for competencies and the experiences they have gained in their careers, something they can utilize on the new position. If they leave, it is often because of the mismatch with the people they have to work with. Often this mismatch can be compensated by tuning one’s approach according to personalities and values of your closest colleagues. One part of onboarding effort is therefore always getting to know and developing good working relationships with one’s co-workers. Tools like Teamscope team profiling can be used to assess the team culture and plan your way to great working relationships with immediate colleagues.

And to conclude – one last tip – beware of day 1! We remember what is presented first and last, and tend to forget the middle items. So, this is why the first day on the job is extremely important. There will be no second chance to create the first impression. A great handbook for new executives recommends considering at least the following things:

  • Who will you meet on your first day and in what order?
  • Where will you be on your first day (head office? The office closest to you? Meeting your closest colleagues informally for a dinner?)
  • What is the message you want the stakeholders to get from your first appearance?
  • When will you start – on your first day you get paid or perhaps even earlier?