Category Archives: Hiring Talent

What Does HR Have to Work With?

“So, you are the best salesperson in the company, and you just got promoted to lead a sales team of ten?” I asked.

“Yes, our company is growing fast,” Miguel replied. “Don’t get me wrong, the orders don’t fall in our laps. We have to work hard for every contract. Our sales cycle is about two years. We have to work with individual administrators and selection committees. There is a lot of data collection. Often, the buy-decision process isn’t well defined and can change in the middle.”

“And now, you are the leader of a team of ten?”

“Worse. There are seven of us, one is going out on maternity leave, so, my manager said the first thing I have to do is hire four new rookies.”

“So, what’s the problem?” I chuckled.

Miguel did not share my sense of humor. “HR is sending all these people to interview. As HR goes, they mean well, but they really don’t know much about the kind of person I need.”

“What do they have to go on?”

“Not much. Candidates are responding to an ad they posted on some job boards. I mean, the candidates have experience in our industry, but not the kind of experience that will be helpful.”

“So, who is the hiring manager?” I wanted to know.

“Well, I am. I will be their manager when they come on board,” he nodded.

“And you will be accountable for their output?”

Miguel nodded.

“So, it is in your best self-interest to help HR send you better candidates? How are going to do that?”

“I don’t know,” he shook his head. “I am really just a salesperson. I mean, I closed $2 million in sales last year, so I know the job.”

“Why don’t you start there? Sit down and clearly define the steps in the work. Without that, HR will continue to send you the luck of the draw. HR can be helpful, but once the candidate is hired, they are not accountable for the output of your team. It’s up to you, not HR.”

Connecting Values to Behavior in the Interview

“We just had our annual planning meeting,” Kelly explained. “We talked about our core values as a company, and wanted to find a way to integrate that intention into our interview process when we recruit new people into our company. But how do you interview for values? You can’t just ask someone, if they have integrity.”

“You can interview for anything that you can connect to behavior,” I replied. “That goes for any critical role requirement. Connect it to behavior and the questions will follow.”

“Okay, integrity,” Kelly challenged.

“Here’s the magic question. How does a person, who has integrity behave? Then ask about a circumstance where you might see that behavior?

  • Tell me about a time when (my favorite lead in) you were working on a project, where something happened, that wasn’t supposed to happen, and you were the only one who knew about it.?
  • Tell me about a time when, you found out that someone took a shortcut on a project that had an impact on quality, but you were the only one who knew about it?
  • Tell me about a time when, you were working on a project, and someone confided in you about a quality standard or safety standard that everyone else had overlooked, and now, the two of you were the only ones who knew about it?
  • Tell me about a time when, you were in charge of quality control on a project, and in the final audit, you discovered something wrong, and it took significant re-work and expense to fix.

“Once the candidate has identified a possible circumstance, then ask about the behaviors connected with integrity.

  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • Who was on the project team?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • What went wrong on the project?
  • How did you discover it?
  • How were you the only one who knew about it?
  • What impact did the hidden problem have on the project?
  • What did you do? Who did you talk to? What did you say?
  • How was the problem resolved?
  • What was the impact of the re-work required in costs, materials and time?
  • Tell me about another time when you discovered something wrong and you were the only one who knew about it?

“Would it be okay to ask about personal dilemmas, secrets and betrayals?” Kelly asked.

“Everybody has personal drama. I prefer to stick with work examples. It’s all about the work.”

More examples in my book, Hiring Talent. Hiring guru, Barry Shamis also discusses in his book Hiring 3.0.

Can’t Be a Smoker Unless You Smoke

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question –
How do you interview for culture fit?

Response –
Here is my list of four absolutes required for success in any role, regardless of discipline.

  • Capability (measured in Time Span)
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced to mastery)
  • Interest, passion (value for the work in the role)
  • Required behavior

Have you ever hired someone, with the required capability, technical knowledge and practiced mastery, high value for the work, but the person just didn’t fit? The person just didn’t fit the culture?

Culture (my definition) is that set of unwritten rules that governs our required behaviors in the work that we do together. If it was a written set of rules, it would be in our SOP. Culture is determined by our practice and behavior. Culture is real. Culture can be influenced, but it is defined by the actual practice and behaviors that occur.

An organization can say they have a culture of open communication, but, culture is real. A culture of open communication is only defined by actual behaviors. It’s like being a smoker. You can’t be a smoker unless you smoke.

That’s why interviewing for culture fit is so important. It’s all about behaviors. The quickest way to change your culture is to add people to your roster that engage in behaviors counter to your (intentional) culture. Your culture always changes, shifts, when you add new people, because you are adding new (perhaps subtle) behaviors to the dance.

But your question is, how? How do you interview for culture fit? First, identify the behaviors that define your (intentional) culture. Then interview for those behaviors.

If you have an (intentional) culture of teamwork, identify those behaviors that support teamwork, like cooperation, collaboration, synchronization. Then interview for those behaviors.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project where teamwork was critical?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • How many on the project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • Why was teamwork critical on this project?
  • In what ways did the team work well together?
  • In what ways did the team work against itself?
  • When the team worked against itself, what did you do?
  • How did that work out?
  • What did you learn, working with that team?

Culture is all about behaviors.

Can You Trust Subjective Judgement?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Following up on our discussion at the workshop last week, I am curious. As a manager, how do I determine which team members have the potential to grow and which will hit the wall. I want to focus my time on team members with the greatest potential.

You have to use your judgement. Observe and make a decision. That is what managers do. But what do you observe?

For fun, in the workshop, you may remember I asked how many of the group had taken a course in psychology in high school or college? Most raised their hand. Then I asked who had degrees in psychology? Most of the hands disappeared. When I asked who was certified by the state to practice psychotherapy, one person said he was certified, but not to practice psychotherapy.

Here is the problem. When managers question whether a person has potential, they fall into a trap. The trap is the approach, because most would play amateur psychologist.

Then I asked the group, who could spot positive behavior, in the field, on the plant floor? Most raised their hands again. And who could spot negative behavior? All hands went up. How long did it take to tell the difference?

Don’t play amateur psychologist with this stuff. Play to your strength as a manager. Managers are experts at the work. If you want to know if someone has potential, give them a project to do. Then, watch, observe. Use your managerial judgment.

But that is so subjective, I hear. Yes, it is subjective. It is also highly accurate.

Dilemma with Internal Candidates

Reggie was grinning like a Cheshire cat. “I’m really lucky,” he said. “We are opening up a new division and I have three great candidates for the VP position. It’s actually going to be tough to pick which one I like the best.”

“Congratulations,” I offered. “Internal candidates or external candidates?”

“All internal. Homegrown. Got the right value system. Good decision-making skills.”

“And what will happen to the two candidates left behind?” I asked.

Reggie stopped. He was focused on his good fortune to have this kind of bench strength, but he had not considered what would happen after his selection.

“I guess they will just continue doing what they are doing now. I mean, they all play an important role, they just won’t be a Vice President in charge of a division.”

“They all know they are being considered as a viable candidate for the position?”

“Yep, I had a meeting, just last week, with all three of them. I wanted to be upfront, let them know what I was thinking.”

“And, have you noticed any change since you had that meeting?”

Again, Reggie stopped. He knew I hadn’t dropped by to chat about the weather. He also knew that sometimes, even on the outside, I hear about trouble before he does.

“So, something is up?” he guessed.

I nodded. “Don’t go jumping in there, but take some time to take a hard look at the new dynamics you just created.”

How To Sort Resumes

“Think about it this way,” Jean explained. “In an ideal world, with 400 resumes, we would conduct 400 interviews, but that’s just not practical.”

I nodded in agreement.

“So, we have to have some way, by looking at the resumes, to determine which of those would most likely yield the kind of candidate that ultimately brings something to the open role.”

“And, now,” I jumped in. “You look for something about the resume that would disqualify the candidate instead of something about the candidate that is actually interesting, related to the role? You are sorting OUT, not IN?”

“Exactly,” Jean replied. “The purpose for disqualifying resumes is only to reduce the workload of slogging through candidates. It does reduce the workload, but doesn’t necessarily leave us with a high quality candidate pool.”

“So, you think there is a better way of sorting resumes that creates a better pool?”

“Yes,” Jean replied. “Let’s say we want to reduce the resume pool from 400 down to 50. I could work to find 350 reasons why we would reject a resume, or I could work to find 50 reasons why I want to take a resume to the next step.”

“So, what criteria would you use to find those 50 reasons,” I pressed.

“For that, I have to go back to the role description. Remember, it’s all about the work.”

I Don’t Know What That Means

“So, what is the goal?” I asked. “What is the expected output?”

Marianna smiled, looked down at the paper in front of her. “Strategically improve current workflow resulting in improved success on projects in support of long-term company goals.”

I nodded. “Sounds great. But, I don’t know what that means.”

Marianna looked puzzled. “Well, that is what I expect from the manager in this role,” she replied.

“I know that’s what you expect, but I am still confused.” I stopped. “It is noble to improve workflow, but I don’t know what you expect to see. How are you going to evaluate effectiveness? What do you expect this person to do?”

“Well, we have work-cells that pass work along the line. Sometimes there are delays where things stack up. Sometimes, there are quality problems that are discovered at the end of the line, where we have to scrap a whole day’s production because of a small adjustment up the line. Sometimes, we run out of raw materials, so production stops. Sometimes, our work flow gets interrupted by a priority order that gets inserted at the last minute.”

“Okay, now we are getting somewhere. You want the person in this role to chart out the workflow, identify problems related to workflow delays, interim quality inspections, raw material min-max levels and expedited orders. The accountability (work output) will be a one-page work flow chart showing work-cell to work-cell production hand-offs, identifying where delays occur, when interim quality inspections are performed, quantities of raw material inventory related to production, and contingency processes for expedited work orders.”

Marianna nodded her head in agreement.

“Then, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” I smiled.

Rejected for a Spelling Error

“We had 400 resumes in response to our job posting,” Jean complained, “but when I look at those that made the cut, I am disappointed.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I looked at the reject stack. Here was one that was rejected for a spelling error, but the candidate had completed a special certificate program at a school in upstate Vermont. I know about that program. I want to talk to that candidate.”

“Rejected for a spelling error?”

“And here was one, rejected because of a three month gap in employment. But the candidate spent six months with a special ed program in a village in Africa. I want to talk to that candidate.”

“And?” I prompted.

“This candidate graduated from an unremarkable college, fresh out of school, with no work experience in our field, but managed to hold down a full-time job, a part-time job and take a full-course load in college. I want to talk to that candidate.”

“So, what passed the stage-gate?” I wanted to know.

“Here’s one. Perfect spelling, no gaps in job history, a reputable academic history, ten years experience in a retail perfume department. Only one small problem. We don’t sell perfume. How did that resume make it to the IN stack?”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“I think we are going about this all wrong. We look at resumes and find some flaw to disqualify the candidate. We look at resumes and sort OUT. I think we need to reverse the process. We need to determine the critical role requirements and then sort IN for those qualities.”

I Don’t Care What the Candidate Knows

“I don’t understand,” Rachel quizzed. “When I interviewed this candidate for the position, he knew all the technical angles of the job. Now that I hired him, it’s like he is clueless.”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“It’s the difference between talking a good game and actually playing the game,” she observed. “But when he talked about the job, he sounded like he had been doing this for years.”

“So, what do you think the problem is?” I repeated.

“Just knowing the job isn’t enough. You actually have to have done the job.”

“And your conclusion?” I nodded.

“Technical skill comes in two parts. One part is the technical knowledge. That is what I asked questions about. The other part of skill is practice. Execution takes practice. I didn’t ask interview questions about the practice part. How did the candidate practice the skill part? Frequency of practice? Depth of practice? Accuracy of practice? At the end of the day, I don’t care what the candidate knows, I care what the candidate can do.”

Everyone Liked the Candidate

“It happened again,” Ted explained. “I told myself that the next time we needed to hire someone, I would be prepared for the interview.”

“And?” I asked.

“Scott came down the hallway. He said the candidate in the conference room had talked to four other people and everyone liked him. Heck, I didn’t even know we had interviews scheduled.

“He asked if I had fifteen minutes to talk to the candidate, just to see if I liked him, too.

“Funny, I liked him, too.”

“So, what’s the problem?” I pursued.

“Everyone liked him, but here we are, two months down the road and I find out he doesn’t have any experience in one of the most critical parts of the job. He just told me point blank that he has never done this before. Worst part, he tells me he doesn’t even see that as part of his job. If we need that done, he suggests we hire an expert or a consultant to help out.

“Just what I need, to hire another consultant because someone on the inside can’t do their job.”