As long as the work is reasonably comparable, a track record of preparing well-thought-out plans and successfully executing them time and again is the best evidence you can have for promoting or assigning a person to a bigger job. Getting this evidence is a little bit harder for someone you haven’t worked with before since bias, the use of unstructured interviews and lack of understanding of real job needs prevents an accurate assessment.
By defining the job as a series of key performance objectives (KPOs) and conducting a good phone screen, it’s possible to eliminate bias and more accurately predict performance and fit, whether the person is a stranger or not. This concept is summarized in the graphic describing the factors making up the Hiring Formula for Success.
Never Meet Anyone In-person Before Conducting This Phone Screen
An exploratory phone screen is a great way to minimize bias as long as you obtain the information shown below. This type of phone interview also saves time by only conducting in-person interviews with strong candidates.
- Ensure there is a reasonable fit with the actual performance objectives of the job based on the types of projects the person handled, the types of teams he/she has been on and the types of people he/she has managed.
- Obtain specific evidence the person has been, and continues to be, successful doing work comparable to real job needs.
- Roughly determine if the person fits with the company culture based on pace, intensity and approach to decision-making
- Determine if the open job represents a worthy career move.
This type of phone screen shifts the focus of the assessment from first impressions and the box-checking of skills and experiences to past performance doing comparable work.
When you meet the person, ask these two questions to accurately assess the factors in the Hiring Formula for Success.
Ask the Most Significant Accomplishment Question for each KPO
Can you describe your most significant career accomplishment related to (describe one of the KPOs)?”
Spend about 10-15 minutes on this question, focusing on the results achieved, the competencies and skills used, the underlying environment and culture, and the process used to achieve the results. It’s okay to ask a shorter version of this question during the phone screen to determine if it’s even worthwhile to meet the candidate in person. Then dig deeper into this accomplishment during the in-person interview. During the full interview, repeat this question for all of the other KPOs to ensure there is job match and the person’s trend of performance is positive.
Ask the Job-related Problem-solving Question to Assess Thinking Skills
"One of the biggest challenges in this job is (provide short description). If you were to get the job, how would you go about solving it?”
This is not a hypothetical question. Instead it must be a realistic problem the person is likely to face on the job. The purpose of this technique is to assess the process the person uses to figure out a solution to the problem, not whether the solution is correct or not. The best way to do this is to have a natural give-and-take discussion with the candidates asking a lot of “Why...?” and “What if …?” questions. When judging the person’s approach to problem-solving focus on these factors:
Critical Thinking. Determine if the reasoning is complex, advanced or superficial. Superficial reasoning is evidenced by a bunch of seemingly unrelated or more generic ideas.
Work Type. Candidates with a pure technical focus get into process or concept details. Those with a tactical bent address the results and outcomes more. A strategic focus is represented by a longer time horizon with consideration to the implications and the unintended consequences.
Team or Individual. Understand if the candidate's ideas and approaches involve others or if the person is more individual or self-focused. This is an important consideration if the person will be managing others or involved in a number of team projects.
Functional or Multifunctional. As they choose the proper course of action, the strongest candidates assess the impact of different approaches on other people, other functions and the business itself. Listen for this as the candidate plans out his or her tasks and asks questions.
I refer to this two-question combination as the Anchor and Visualize approach. The foundational principle behind this is that a track record of past performance doing comparable work and the ability to figure out how to handle job-related problems are great predictors of fit and performance. When combined with a phone screen and a clear understanding of real job needs, these two questions are all you need to ensure you’re hiring a great person whether the person is a complete stranger or someone you’ve worked with for years.