The Discipline of Making Smarter People Decisions—Discipline #2: Establishing an Interview Assessment Process

businessman looking at hand drawn business concept sketch

Several months ago, I wrote a blog entry titled, “where smarter people decisions begin.” Summarizing that entry, I suggested a leader develop a job/candidate specification or scorecard for the position as the starting point for aiding the effort to get the right person in the right job at the right time. Again, in order to prepare a meaningful scorecard, the leader should first identify the top 3-5 outcomes which need to be accomplished in the near term, and then apply metrics which clearly specify each targeted outcome. With these expectations clearly defined, the leader should then determine the critical few competencies which are necessary to realize the business objectives within the cultural context of the organization.

Simple, you bet! Easy, not at all. It takes discipline to fight through the tendency to use the standard job description, make one up in your head as you go about talking with candidates, or go with the recruiter’s version. None of these approaches work! Without discipline, the process of filling a job becomes “I’ll know the right person when I see him.” And managers (and we) wonder why there are so many poor selection decisions. At least 50% of making a smart people decision begins here. I call developing a position scorecard, Discipline #1 for making a smarter people decision.

Discipline #2: Preparing and Adhering to an Effective Assessment Interview Process
A four- step interview process provides a logical, methodical, and disciplined approach to collecting and organizing data for use in assessing patterns of behavior as to how the candidate will likely perform for you in the future. Four interviews are reasonable for the candidate and manageable for the organization in terms of time and effort, especially when considering the payback of hiring top talent.

Screen—Structure a brief phone interview to ascertain basic fit. Consider questions on such topics as career and compensation expectations, location preference, and travel requirements. Review the candidate’s top strengths and shortcomings and compare them against competencies important to your role.

Technical—For individual contributor or manager roles where particular technical or functional knowledge and skills are necessary to tackle the tasks essential to achieving the targeted business outcome, a technical interview is recommended. This interview is best conducted by a tandem team of subject matter experts (SME) who focus on discerning the candidate’s level of experience with applying technical know-how and tools and evaluating the data collected in terms of the key business challenges which must be tackled in the role. Again a structured interview approach is called for, with one SME taking the lead in asking questions, while the other takes notes on the candidate’s response. Switching roles midway through this hour long interview is a good idea.

Career—Once you have qualified the candidate’s technical competencies, it is especially important to understand how the whole person will show up. To do so, in this interview, explore the candidate’s work history from early career to the present, building an understanding of how each job experience enhanced (or did not, as the case may be) successive roles. How have achievements and learnings grown over time, what competencies are consistently used to where they are clear strengths, and what shortcomings have been addressed and which ones ignored or serve as continuing challenges.

Explore educational history, career, and outside interests as well. Listen for choices, changes,, feedback and learnings as the candidate shares his or her “story”. These areas are rich with data about the individual’s behaviors. The manager can organize the collected data into patterns of past behavior, which, of course, is the best predictor of future behavior. Most importantly, this interview serves to demonstrate how all of the candidate’s behaviors interact as she has moved through her career and will likely repeat going forward.

Reference—How do former bosses see the candidate relative to your role? What related successes have they had? What strengths do they see as applicable? What are the risks? These are some of the questions you will want answered in the reference interview. Yes, it is an interview and should be scheduled with the candidate’s former boss and should follow a structure as the previously mentioned interviews do.

As leaders, we take pride in our ability to size up people. A “gut feel” is often the basis for making a people decision. While intuition certainly can and should play a role in making the final call, it is process discipline which will enable the smarter people decision. Owning that call is Discipline #3-Accountability. More on that later.