In the June issue of the Harvard Business Review there's an interesting piece on how to conduct job interviews, something I have been thinking about lately. It always surprises me that most employers lack an established protocol for this crucial process. Many bosses have never been trained to do something that is central to their roles. After all, good people are what make for good companies.
Sure, most people who hire have picked up some tricks along the way through their hits and misses, being interviewed themselves for jobs or sitting in on other managers' interviewing sessions. But few have studied the science behind conducting an interview. We don't know for sure if the set questions everybody asks, such as "Tell me your strengths and weaknesses" and "Why did you leave your last employer?" are even relevant to winnowing out the wrong people and finding the right ones. You can certainly find creative ways to make a candidate sweat while they try to find their way around a difficult question. Most people, however, try to make interviews as positive as possible in hopes of finding the right person for the right job, often seeing many candidates over a long period of time.
Herb Greenberg, who has spent more than four decades in the recruitment business and founded Caliper, a human resources consulting business, thinks there is a lot of wasted time and energy in hiring. Greenberg brings a fascinating perspective to the whole process; since age 10, he has been blind because of a virus. That hasn't stopped him from assessing even sports talent as part of his practice--he has even helped pick athletes for the championship-winning Detroit Pistons basketball team.
Not surprisingly, he stresses content of character over style and other visual cues. I personally have been guilty of relying too much on the visual aspect of an interview. It's hard not to notice whether someone is dressed appropriately and whether they make eye contact and so on. But appearances can indeed be misleading, Greenberg told the interviewer from the Harvard Business Review. Most people overemphasize or even misread visual clues when evaluating people for jobs or promotions. Thinking "he looks like a leader" or "she looks like she would fit in with the rest of the department" may color the rest of the interview, even influencing how the interviewer processes the candidate's response.
Greenberg feels that a hiring interview is an unnatural way to meet a person. He says an applicant can impress you with the homework they have done on your company and he also believes that anyone can seem enthusiastic for an hour or smile a lot. Therefore, Greenberg suggests that there must be an even greater emphasis on delving below the surface to get a more accurate read on a candidate. He asks what the person has learned from their accomplishments and failures. He listens to tone of voice as well as content.
Here's what he looks for: "I pay very close attention to someone's voice. Is there warmth? Genuine enthusiasm? Sincerity? A way of expressing themselves that is real? Or are they trying too hard? Uncomfortable with themselves? Not really interested? Thinking about something else?"
One way to practice this skill is by paying attention to the voices of those you already know and care about. Think about the way that person's character and qualities come across in their manner of speaking. Try the same thing with someone you don't care about.
Greenberg says one of the most important questions one can ask is "why?" You should look at why this person is applying for this job at this point in his or her career.
The final part of his interesting Q&A has to do with sports. Having interviewed many professional athletes, Greenberg believes that psychology is more important than talent when it comes to winning. "In professional sports, talent is clearly the dominant factor. But you can have all the talent in the world and not be able to make use of those strengths if you lack character and determination and enthusiasm." He points out that what keeps coaches and managers up all night about a given star athlete is whether that person has the drive to take himself to the next level of performance. They also worry that he may not work well with the rest of the team or take advice from coaches.
Finding the right people to round out a terrific team is a tough job. Most of us are too busy in our own jobs to check out candidates the right way. But it's so clearly worth the extra time and effort. Hiring the wrong person to fill an opening can sometimes bring disaster to a company that otherwise was humming along smoothly. It's so easy to hire people who look the part, have the right credentials and even good references, but they aren't team players. They lack the drive to succeed or a passion for the work involved. Worse, these bad hires often are allowed to stick around because the hiring executive was too arrogant or scared to admit having made a big mistake.
Greenberg's observations should be food for thought for anyone who hires people. We all need to take our time, pay attention and, most importantly, listen as well as look.
Use all your senses,