Tag Archives: hiring talent

Interchangeable Commodity

If team members were not interchangeable commodities, what would change about our hiring practices (building the team)? What if, out of the candidate pool, based on the role, there was only one or two players who truly fit? What would change about our approach to recruiting?

If we weren’t so casual, so cavalier in our hiring practices, what would change?

Here is what I see –
Most companies do a poor job of truly defining the work in the role. We have only a half-baked idea what we need from this role. We have not identified the decision making in this role, nor the problem solving required. With this half-baked role idea (role description, poorly written), it is no wonder we settle for an unmatched candidate who has no clearer idea than we do of what they are supposed to do.

So, let’s start there. In the role, what are the decisions that have to be made and what are the problems that have to be solved. Once you have this figured out, then you can begin to look at candidates.

Who is on the Team?

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:
What do you feel are the most important skills that I need to think about as a new manager?

Response:
For me, hiring and firing are at the top of the list. The most important skill for any manager is team member selection. The ability to select the right team members makes all other management skills seem like a walk in the park.

The manager who selects the right team members will have a wonderful time as a manager. The manager who selects the wrong team members will forever spend time trying to fix the problems that come from hiring mis-steps. That time spent trying to motivate, coach and correct behavior will be frustrating and miserable…for a very long time.

Take a sports team and put them up against any other team. To pick the team who will win the game, you only have to know the answer to one simple question.

Who is on the team?

Hiring and firing are at the top of the list. Arguably, the most important skill.

It’s a Different Skill Set

Turnover at the supervisor level was killing his floor crew. I spoke with some of the team members on the production team. They were capable at the production level, but none was up to the role of supervisor. We really did have to go outside. Russell had burned through two supervisors in the past nine months.

“Tell me what you look for in this supervisor role.” I asked.

“That’s the problem,” replied Russell. “It’s hard to find someone with the proper experience. The best guys turn out to be great equipment operators, but they cannot handle the scheduling, cycle counts or material flow.”

“Do you interview them for that?”

Russell looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“Russell, here is what I see. You interview for technical skills, which are important. But the role of the supervisor is a completely different role than that of the technician. Your breakdowns are where the skills of the supervisor are needed most, scheduling, cycle counts and material flow. That’s a critical area to interview for.”

“You want me to interview to see how a guy fills out a schedule?”

“Absolutely. Here is how it sounds.

  • Step me through your scheduling process.
  • How many people on the crew?
  • One shift or two?
  • Full time or part time?
  • How far into the future do you publish the schedule?
  • Did you have team leaders? Newbies on the crew?
  • How did you mix the experience level on each shift?
  • Did often did the production schedule change?
  • How did production schedule changes impact the work schedule?
  • In addition to the people, how did you schedule equipment required?
  • Was the equipment dedicated to your crew, or did you have to share resources with other teams?
  • How did you schedule materials?
  • How did you relieve inventory for each day’s production?
  • How did you know your inventory was correct?
  • How did you manage minimum quantities and re-order points in your inventory?
  • What were the lead times on your critical path inventory SKUs?
  • How did you handle sick outs?

“Russell, it’s more than filling out a paper schedule, it is how the candidate thinks, then behaves.”

Interview for a Bad Attitude

“We always hire people for their technical skills, but we fire them for who they are.” Russell explained.

“Tell me more,” I asked. “What do you mean you fire them for who they are?”

“Well, they may have the right experience, know how to handle the technical part of the job, but their attitude is a little out of whack. In the beginning, it doesn’t show up, but after a couple of months, little things appear. After six months, this strange behavior actually begins to flourish and it’s downhill from there.”

“What do mean, strange behavior?” I was curious.

“Sometimes, it’s just people skills. They are a little gruff at first, then a couple of people get on their bad side. Pretty soon, they become downright rude. They publicly dress people down in meetings. No one can disagree with them without a huge public confrontation.”

“Do you interview to discover this type of behavior?”

“No, usually the person is pretty well coached by a headhunter on how to handle the interview, so we don’t find out until later.” Russell stopped, his brow furrowed. “Do you mean, you can interview for a bad attitude?”

“Yes, you can.”

Who Controls the Interview

Kimberly almost chuckled. “What do you mean, I have power? I’m the one being interviewed for the job. How do I control that?”

“Actually, it’s pretty easy,” I said. “And understand this is not through some trickery or fancy technique, but by doing two simple things.” Kimberly was all ears.

“Since most people who conduct interviews don’t know much about hiring, you have an opportunity to help them make a better decision, and, as a candidate, it usually gives you a leg up.”

“So, what are the two things?” Kimberly prompted.

“First is to find out what the decision criteria will be based on, what knowledge, skills and abilities will be required for the job.”

“How will I find that out?”

“Ask questions, direct questions about the processes, how things work and what is expected.”

“Okay, I think I can do that,” Kimberly said confidently.

“The second thing is to draw the conversation back to specific examples of what you have done, in the past, related to those skills and abilities.”

“It sounds too simple,” she protested.

“Indeed, and it’s what the interviewer should be doing in the first place. Only by defining the specific skills and behaviors for success and then supporting those with real past experience, can the interviewer make an effective decision. And, as the candidate who helped that process along, you will have the upper hand.”

Pulled on to the Hiring Team

“The time you spent preparing for this interview has taught you more than most interviewers understand about the hiring process,” I said.

“Why is that?” Kimberly responded.

“Most managers are too busy with important adult stuff, so they don’t have time to think about hiring. Here is the way most managers get pulled into the interview process.

Hey, Joe, we have a hot candidate for that new supervisor’s position. A couple of people have talked to him and they are really impressed. Say, could spare fifteen minutes, go meet him down in the conference room, and see what you think?

“So, tell me, Kimberly, what chance does Joe have of conducting an effective interview that will give him the proper information to make a hiring decision?”

“Well, I suppose he could just see if he likes the guy.”

“Exactly, with no understanding of the job description, without sufficient thinking about the specific skills required, with no opportunity to think through effective questions, Joe will have no other choice but to make his decision on whether he likes the guy or not. One of the biggest hiring mistakes is making the decision based on gut feeling.”

“So, as a candidate, where does that leave me?” asked Kimberly.

“Armed with what you now know, you have more power than you think.”

What Does It Say About a Company?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Many companies are using recruiters or screeners or consultants for the pre-interview. How does that process differ mainly from how questions are asked and answered? I gave notice, am leaving my current company, and I found it easier to be less formal with the consultant. The consultant may get a better sense of the company they are representing and whether I would fit in the new culture or not.

Response:
What does it say about a company when an outsider can better identify, communicate and assess culture fit, than someone inside the company?

Every company has a culture and they have the culture they deserve.

This is a problem of introspection, documentation and rituals.

Most companies do not spend time thinking about behaviors connected to what they believe. This introspective process is mostly absent. Events occur, behaviors happen and we seldom look back. Every behavior and our response to that behavior sets a precedent.

Even if we think we understand behaviors we want (behaviors we tolerate), we seldom write them down. If we do not document behaviors we tolerate, we cannot continually make them visible to the company, to ourselves.

If we do not document behaviors we tolerate, we can never institutionalize them into customs and rituals. If we do not document safe behaviors (culture of safety), we cannot continually review those behaviors in a morning safety meeting (ritual).

So, yes, what does it say about a company when an outsider can better identify, communicate and assess culture fit, than someone inside the company?

I Can Talk the Game

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your post on Wednesday [Hypothetical Questions are a Trap], you caught my attention. As an interviewer, I use hypothetical questions all the time. It lets me know if the candidate can think on their feet. I try to use real hypothetical questions for circumstances they will run into. What’s wrong with that?

Response:
Hypothetical questions are a trap for both sides of the interview table. Intellectually, hypothetical questions seem to make sense. In reality, they force the candidate to play a guessing game and require the interviewer to suspend judgement of reality.

When the interviewer asks a hypothetical question, the candidate must now search for the answer they believe the interviewer wants to hear. This is a guessing game. The candidate, if they are like me, will have done some reading up on your industry, will understand the basics of industry jargon and be able to create some believable response.

Two problems. Just because I can talk the game, does not mean I have ANY REAL experience in the circumstance. Second, if my response is in the ball park of believe-ability, the interviewer unwittingly suspends judgement and checks the box for a good response. The reality is that I have never been a project manager for any construction project larger than a bathroom remodel. And, frankly, I wasn’t very good at that.

The interviewer cannot fact-check a hypothetical response. It’s hypothetical.

Oh, I will dazzle you with schedules of value, resource planning, milestone review, budget to complete, over and under billings. But, if you had asked about my bathroom remodel (actual experience), you would have a totally different judgement of my skills and ability.

In the Interview, Hypothetical is a Trap

My eyes scanned the page, fell on a question that was particularly troubling. I was with Kimberly, a recent transplant to the city, looking for a job. A head hunter asked her to prepare responses to a list of anticipated questions.

Why would I want to hire you?

“Kimberly, the problem with that question is that it invites candidates to make stuff up or outright lie to the interviewer. Most responses will be trite cliches loaded with meaningless crap.”

“So, how should I respond?” insisted Kimberly. “The head hunter said this question will likely be asked.”

“And he’s right, so you need to be prepared. Remember, the interviewer has an expectation of what an acceptable response would be. The interviewer is playing a game, trying to get you to guess a right answer. Guess wrong and you lose.

“My philosophy is, always try to pull hypothetical questions back to your own real experience. It might sound like this:

Frankly, I can’t tell you why you would want to hire me without understanding the criteria you are using to make this hiring decision. But I can tell you why my last employer hired me, and it is related to something very specific to your job posting.

Like your company, my last company had just installed some computer software, but no one was using it. Everyone finished the training, but still no one was using the software. My first task was to design daily administrative routines to get people started immediately. I then designed reconciliation routines to make sure the data was accurate going in. Finally, I developed a schedule of reports so other managers could make decisions about their departments. Within 30 days, we had moved completely off of our manual systems. Which part of that transition would you like to hear more about?

“Remember, Kimberly, a hypothetical question is a trap. Always move the question back to your own real experience.”

High Potential

They are called hi-po’s. High potential individuals. We often have a hiring need NOW, but we really want a candidate with the potential to grow, grow and grow some more. These individuals, sought by every company, have the potential to make or break the organization.

We want candidates with potential. How do we spot potential?

  • Oh, I know ’em when I see ’em.
  • Reminds me of me, when I was young.
  • Fast talker, fast tracker.
  • Sometimes, I can just see it in their eyes.

I will never make a hiring decision, or a promotion decision based on anything other than evidence. No assumptions, no hunches, no hopes.

Some might say then, I will pass over those with high potential, because potential is always on the come. Potential is only a future possibility.

I will never make a hiring decision based on anything other than evidence. If I am looking for someone with potential, I look for evidence of potential. Two things – error rate and deadlines.

Low error rate and always meets deadlines, potential.

High error rate, frequently late, next candidate, please.