Category Archives: Hiring Talent

Do We Really Have To?

“Before I look at the personality profile, let’s take a look at this job posting and see if we can create a job description that will help us,” I insisted.

“Do we really have to?” Kristen pushed back. “You know, if we don’t make a decision quickly, I’m afraid this person might take another job. That’s why I asked you to come in this afternoon, to look at the profile assessment.”

“So, you would rather make a wrong decision this afternoon than a better decision tomorrow.”

Kristen was exasperated. “I don’t think we can wait until tomorrow. I told the candidate we would call her with a decision before the end of today.”

In a Hurry to Hire

“Here it is,” Kristen announced. “I couldn’t find the job description, but here is the job posting that we put on the internet.”

“So, you don’t know if you have a job description?” I asked.

“You know, we were in such a hurry to get this posted, I don’t think we actually wrote a job description.”

“So, how will you evaluate the candidates who respond?”

“That’s why I asked you to look at the profile assessment. Everything is there. That’s why I think we have a good candidate,” Kristen curtly replied.

“Oh, really,” I mused.

“Yes, based on this personality profile, I think this is someone I could really work with.”

Hard to Find Good People

“I hear you finally extended an offer today for a Project Manager,” I said.

“Yes,” Colleen replied. “This has been one of the toughest searches ever. It was difficult to find anyone who wanted to apply. And, their first question was about working from home.”

“How did you make the decision, that this was the candidate to pick?”

“First, he actually agreed that he would work in the office. And, he seemed really enthusiastic. Said his last job was a dead end, that he was looking for more challenge. I liked his attitude.”

“And, his experience,” I pressed.

Colleen hesitated. “Well, he said he had been a project manager before, so we will see.”

“And, the length of projects he has under his belt?”

“Most of his projects were about three weeks in length. I know it’s not the same as our projects, which last nine or ten months, but he knows how to use Excel, so he should pick up our project management software pretty easily. I mean, project management is project management.”

“You didn’t see a mis-match on the length of projects?” I asked.

“Well, yes, I knew that might be a problem, but he was still the best candidate, and he didn’t ask to work from home.”

“So, tell me, Colleen, what could go wrong on a three week project, and what could go wrong on a ten month project?”

The Decisions of a Salesperson

“You’ve described the work of a salesperson as probing and connecting. Probing for the customer’s pain and connecting it to our product or service?” I asked, not waiting for an answer. “So, a sale that requires more than order taking likely requires a higher level of complexity?”

Marlena nodded. “We used to think we could hire anyone, give them a list of features and benefits to recite to the customer and that would be sufficient.”

“And?” I asked.

“And, sometimes they would get lucky, but our hit ratio was less than stellar,” Marlena explained. “We finally stumbled on a salesperson that was closing ninety percent. Her process was simple. In a screening phone call, she identified the customer’s pain.”

“Let me stop you there,” I interrupted. “At that point, what was the decision?”

Marlena paused. “More than one decision. Was the customer’s pain something we could solve? Was the pain strong enough to prompt the customer to take action? Would the customer see enough value in our solution to pay the price we needed to make it a win-win?”

“So, when I ask you the question, what’s the work of a salesperson, what are the problems to be solved and what are the decisions to be made, you now have a much clearer idea?”

What is the Work?

Marlena thought for a moment, changed her mind to protest some more. “But, what about a salesperson who doesn’t like to do expense reports, or doesn’t like to update our CRM program? Don’t we have to look at those things in a person’s profile, attention to administrative detail? I will tell you, when we hire a salesperson, if they can’t, or won’t pay attention to the administrative part of the job, then we won’t hire them.”

“If that is the behavior you need from a salesperson,” I shrugged. “However, I think you need to think this through a bit more carefully. What is the work of a salesperson?”

“Well, first, they have to research their market, compile a list of likely customers,” Marlena started. “Then, set appointments to see those people, do a presentation, secure a contract, follow-up to make sure the contract is delivered to the customer’s satisfaction, then make sure we get paid.” She stopped. “That’s about it. If I can get them to do that, I’m happy.”

“So, let’s think through this,” I replied.

  • Could the market research better be done by the marketing department?
  • Could appointments better be done by an administrative scheduler?
  • Could the follow-up better be done by customer service?
  • Could securing payment better be done by accounts receivable?

I would submit to you that your salesperson is doing all kinds of non-sales work, which I am sure keeps them busy from making sales. It all gets down to – What’s the work of a salesperson?

Required Behaviors

“But, what if a person doesn’t like the work in the role? What if they have a behavioral tendency against that type of work? Wouldn’t we want to know that in advance of hiring?” Marlena asked.

“Marlena, you are a manager?” I replied with a question. “Do you really like administrative work, you know, the paperwork behind the real work?”

“You mean like approving productivity reports, writing expense reports, reviewing time sheets?” Marlena chuckled. “No, I am more interested in improving productivity, reducing expenses and making sure the time we spend working together is meaningful.”

“So, if you showed me your personality profile, it might show that you are not particularly interested in paperwork?”

“I suppose not,” Marlena responded. “But, that’s just a small part of what I do. Administrative work comes with the territory.”

“Yet, the paperwork is detailed, even tedious at times. Why don’t you just stop doing it?” I asked.

“You can’t just NOT do the paperwork,” she said. “If you don’t look at the productivity reports, how do you know you are improving productivity? If you don’t review expense budgets, how do you know you are reducing expenses? I have to do those things.”

“Are you telling me there is a set of required behaviors associated with your role, that you may not like, that you may not show a behavioral tendency toward, nevertheless, you have to do them to be effective in your role?”

Marlena was silent, but her head nodded up and down.

What’s the Work?

“We have an opening on the team,” Marlena announced.

“And, you would like my help?” I asked.

“Yes, what kind of person should we hire?” she wanted to know.

“What’s the work?” I asked.

“It’s a project manager role, coordinating and organizing all the elements of projects we have in-house,” Marlena replied. “I am thinking we should hire someone who is analytical, good attention to detail, works well under pressure. Oh, and they have to work well with people, because there are people involved in all our projects. I think it is a very specific personality profile.”

I chuckled. “So, this person would only be able to work in the project manager role you have in mind?”

“Not necessarily, there may be other things they could do, but you have to be a special sort of person to be a project manager. There’s a lot of multi-tasking, to make sure none of the balls get dropped.”

“Marlena, the things you describe are character traits for most all jobs. Most every role requires someone who is reasonably analytical, reasonably organized, has reasonable attention to detail and can reasonably pace a project so that it meets internal deadlines. You seem to be focused on things you might describe as character traits. I want you to shift your focus to behaviors. Behaviors is how work gets done. My first question to you was – What’s the work? We often get carried away trying to climb inside the personality heads of candidates without a clear understanding of What’s the work?

The Best Measure of Performance

“We started this conversation trying to figure out the size of the role and the size of the person,” I clarified. “I think we have established that we can measure size of role with timespan. So how do we measure the size of person?”

“It’s a trick question,” Pablo immediately responded. “I don’t judge people, I only judge the work.”

“But, if we are trying to match the size of the role with the size of the person?”

My question was cut short. “We are misled when we try to judge the size of a person. People are too complicated, and besides, at the end of the day, does it matter? The only thing that matters, is the person effective in the work of the role? Think about it. We come up with all kinds of descriptors like foresight, agility, conscientiousness, tenacity, initiative, motivation, flexibility. We give these things a score. As if we can measure the absolute score of a human being? We say a person needs more of this and less of that. What does that have to do with work?”

“Let me change my question,” I recalibrated. “Instead of measuring the size of the person, how do we match the person with the complexity, with the level of work in the role?”

“Now, you have a case. In this discussion, the central question is, compared to what?” Pablo asserted.

“Okay, compared to what?” I parroted.

“You cannot measure the qualities of a person with some absolute number, because people change inside the context of the moment. Compared to what? Compared to the work in the role? I only care, can they do the work?” Pablo stopped, then picked up again. “The best measure of performance is performance.”

Questions for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
This is a follow-up on Interviewing for Soft Skills. You said to interview for behaviors connected to soft skills.

  • Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave?
  • Values. How does a person with our values behave?
  • Attitude. How does a person with a positive attitude behave?

What do the questions sound like?

Response:
Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave? Answer that question first.
A person who fits our organization shows up for work early, always finishes tasks assignments and double-checks their work for accuracy.

Shows up for work early.
At your previous position, what was the start time in the morning?
What were the first things you did when you got to work, coffee, check e-mail, meetings?
Think about a time you worked on a time-sensitive important project?
Step me through your day when you worked on that project?

Always finishes a task completely, doesn’t leave things undone for someone else to finish.
Tell me about a time when you worked on a complex project that had phases with multiple steps inside.
What was the project?
How long was the project?
What was the purpose of the project?
Who was on the project team?
What was your role on the project team?
How were the phases and tasks on the project organized?
How did the team know when each task was completed?
How did the project leader know when each task was completed?
In this project, was there re-work or items missed?
How was re-work identified? How was re-work placed back on the project schedule?
In this project, how were missed items identified?
How were missed items placed back on the project schedule?

Double-checks their work for accuracy so someone else doesn’t have to look for mistakes.
Tell me about a project where accuracy and attention to detail was mission critical.
What was the project?
How long was the project?
What was the purpose of the project?
Who was on the project team?
What was your role on the project team?
What elements of the project made accuracy and detail mission critical?
How were those elements identified?
How were those elements tracked?
What was the quality standard?
How was the quality standard measured?
How often was the quality standard measured?
Was the quality standard sign-off formal or informal?
What happened when defects were discovered?

How to Interview for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag.

Question:
I think I know how to interview for technical knowledge, but how do I interview for soft skills, that are difficult to pin down. Specifically, how well will the candidate fit with our existing team? Does the candidate share our organizational values? Will the candidate bring the right attitude?

Response:
These ideas are actually good ideas, noble characteristics to find in a candidate. Here is the rub. How can the hiring manager, who is not a psychologist, evaluate the candidate on fit, values and attitude?

You have to get down to behaviors. You are not a psychologist, but you can spot positive behavior and negative behavior in the workplace. Observing and evaluating behavior is what managers do. Play to your strength. Interview for behaviors.

  • Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave?
  • Values. How does a person with our values behave?
  • Attitude. How does a person with a positive attitude behave?

Now, interview for those behaviors. Yes, fuzzy stuff can be important, a valuable part of the interview and the criteria for hiring.