Predicting a candidate’s on-the-job performance often feels like solving a mystery. For me the mystery was solved when I discovered that by focusing on what people DO with what they HAVE, rather than what they HAVE in terms of skills, experiences and competencies, it was possible to more accurately predict their performance.

The premise behind this technique is that people who have worked with the candidate in the past provide all of the clues needed to predict how the candidate will work in the future. For example, the strongest people always get assigned to the most important teams and projects. Finding these clues is the core principle underlying the entire Performance-based Hiring approach described in Hire with Your Head(4th edition, Wiley 2021).

DOING vs. HAVING: It’s what a person does with what they have that predicts their performance, not what they have in terms of skills, experiences and competencies.

Asking the “Most Significant Accomplishment” question (MSA) begins the process. (FYI: this was the first article I wrote for LinkedIn in 2013 describing the MSA question. It now has over 1.3 million reads!)

The question involves asking about a candidate’s major accomplishments most comparable to the needs of the job. For example, if you’re looking for an engineer to lead a specific design effort ask for examples of work that are directly related. By emphasizing evidence over emotional or biased decision-making, this technique enhances the accuracy of hiring decisions.

I give full credit to Sherlock Holmes for this deductive interview approach. He considers the classic behavioral questions too vague to make an accurate prediction. This basic idea is summarized in the table below showing examples of good and weak evidence to support this type of project.

The Sherlock Holmes Interviewing Technique

The Sherlock Holmes interviewing technique draws inspiration from the famous detective’s meticulous methods. Sherlock Holmes is renowned for his fact-finding, pattern recognition, critical thinking, attention to detail, and logical deduction. These skills are directly applicable to the interview process.

Fact-Finding and Evidence Gathering: Interviewers should gather detailed information about a candidate’s past experiences and accomplishments. For example, when a candidate claims they led a successful project, the interviewer should ask for specific details: “What was the project about? What was your exact role? What were the challenges and how did you overcome them? How and why did you get the assignment? What type of recognition did you get as a result?”

Pattern Recognition and Trend of Growth:By comparing the details from multiple MSA responses, interviewers can identify recurring patterns in a candidate’s behavior. This helps in understanding the candidate’s consistent strengths and weaknesses. An upward trend of performance over 5-10 years is a great indicator of potential.

Clues Candidates Will Exceed Expectation: For each MSA question ask the candidate where they went the extra mile and/or took the initiative. Soon a pattern will emerge that reveals the work that inspires the person the most. These are the candidates who will exceed expectations when their intrinsic motivators match real job needs. When interviewing candidates for manager roles be sure to get multiple examples of hiring and developing strong people. Also ask about turnover and how their teams ranked on Gallup’s Q12.

Critical Thinking: Interviewers need to critically evaluate the significance and relevance of a candidate’s accomplishments. For instance, if a candidate states they improved sales by 20%, the interviewer should probe deeper: “How did you achieve this increase? What strategies did you implement?”

Don’t Be Fooled: Focusing on the specifics ensures the authenticity and depth of the candidate’s achievements. Interviewers should delve into the nuances of each accomplishment to verify the candidate’s claims.

Logical Deduction: Using the gathered evidence, interviewers make logical deductions about the candidate’s potential for success in the new role. This involves comparing the candidate’s past performance with the job’s requirements using this Quality of Hire Talent Scorecardto gather the evidence from all of the interviewers.

Start with a Performance-based Job Description

Performance-based Hiring shifts the focus from traditional job descriptions to defining success in terms of specific performance objectives. Instead of asking the hiring manager if a candidate needs to have a certain number of years of experience or a specific degree, it’s better to open up a new requisition by asking, “What does this person need to achieve to be successful in this role?” Every job can be defined by 6-8 key performance objectives (KPOs) that define the task, some metric or deliverable and a timeframe, similar to SMART objectives.

The Sherlock Holmes interviewing technique, when integrated with Performance-based Hiring and the Most Significant Accomplishment question, offers a powerful method to enhance the accuracy of candidate assessments. By focusing on true deductive evidence and minimizing emotional or biased information, this approach ensures that hiring decisions are based on a candidate’s proven ability to deliver results, leading to better hiring outcomes and organizational success.

Elementary, My Dear (Your Name)