Asking the right questions


Beware of compromise

We have a job profile that we use as the basis of our search and which contains criteria that the successful candidate will have to meet. We know that there are very few supermen and superwomen out there who will be able to fulfil all of our expectations. Therefore we have defined which ones we "must have."

"Let us not give in to pressure but keep on searching until we have found the right person."

Now, after all the interviews have been conducted, we have selected our top choice. She has impressed us because of her intellectual horsepower, her creativity, her strategic vision, her previous employers and her communications skills. We are, in fact, so excited about hiring her that we are willing to drop one key 'must have' from our list: a hands-on mentality that is a key component of our company's culture and that employees and managers expect from their bosses. I made that mistake once in a crucial hiring decision and it cost me and my organisation dearly. Why did I fall into that trap? Because we had been searching for a long time, everybody was getting impatient, important work was not getting done and we were missing revenue targets. So the pressure was on to finally sign that contract. And since everything else looked good, I thought, we could teach that hands-on approach to the new person. We could not. You can teach skills, but the mentality to get into the thick of things? You either have it or you don't. And if you don't, it will cause you to fail in an organisation where it is a sine qua non. As you can imagine, we had to let the individual go. The lesson learned? In that moment of truth, let us not compromise on something that we have defined as a key to success. Let us not give in to pressure but keep on searching until we have found the right person.

The higher the better

The quality of the hiring decision does not necessarily increase the higher you get in an organisation (though the belief in its quality, however, often does).

I remember being interviewed by the CEO of a large European financial service organisation. 'Interview' may actually be the wrong word for what happened during that hour in a beautiful, wood-panelled meeting room with a panoramic view. I quickly got the impression that he had no idea what to do with the stranger on the other side of the table. He did not seem to have much of an idea what to ask and in between some embarrassingly long moments of silence he said things like "tell me something about yourself" and asked questions like "why do you want to join our organisation?" and "what do you know about us?" In the end I had asked him much more than he had asked me. I still have no idea what he thought of me afterwards. It was, by the way, not a unique experience for me.

If the managers at the top like to make hiring decisions based on a gut feeling, they need competent human resources experts to support them. Otherwise it may become a role-of-the-dice situation.

Studies show that making the wrong choice in hiring can cost a company more than 10 times the annual compensation of the candidate. If you want to avoid these wrong choices, you can do something about it. You can invite experts to your interviews to give you feedback. You can read books on the subject and you can attend workshops that are being run by real professionals. It will surely be worth your while.