Talent Selection – Part 3: Interviewing Adaptability

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When confronted with issues of flaws in the candidate experience, I have actually heard interviewers speak the words, “I am just following policy.” That is possibly someone looking for a scapegoat to blame for their actions. The psychological term is called “The Nuremberg Defense” which came from the trials of Nazi war criminals for atrocities following WWII, “I was only following orders.” This is sometimes called the Eichmann defense who stated, “I cannot recognize the verdict of guilty… I would stress that I am guilty of having been obedient.” Perhaps it is a bit overboard to compare interviewers to Eichmann, but the excuse meme is exactly the same. Prescribing a standard interviewing system for a company is necessary to insure consistency, improve the quality of new hires, and enhance the candidate experience. Following policies like mindless robots can have the opposite effect.

There is probably not a one-size-fits-all model for interviewing for talent selection. The most popular methods are usually tailored to fit the company and may follow one system in general with subtle changes that make it unique. Even behavioral interviewing models usually turn into hybrids in which some aspects of the job are tested using direct problem solving techniques. Writing or troubleshooting a line of code may be the only way to see deeper into programmer’s qualifications. Research chemists may be asked to draw a bunch of hexagons on a whiteboard to show their knowledge of organic compounds. The final consistent model for a company should not be looked upon as an absolute mechanical process. The real test of consistency is in the results, not in the execution.

How do we insure both compliance and flexibility? Management must build a system with specified minimum standards, make allowances for the freedom of ad hoc changes, and train interviewers how to walk this tightrope.

  1. Grant Empowerment – Reporting back to management without fear of reprisal requires a high degree of intellectual maturity and courage. When the process appears to be taking a turn for the worse, interviewers must be empowered to take immediate corrective action and then report it afterward. If the “no fault” agreement is abused, further training may be needed. If the same changes occur frequently, the changes should be added to policy and shared.
  2. Incorporate Feedback – The best time to make changes to interviewing is before candidates begin to be called. Question everything in the job description. Trim the common tasks that anyone off the street could do… use of standard email is not important enough to test in an interview. Eliminate checking for unique qualifications that can be taught to anyone with the basic skills and experience… such as a particular version of a software package.
  3. Fight Fads – Hiring for cultural fit is necessary to build or preserve a culture, but the concept of hiring for fit only and then training on skills is problematic except for very basic entry level jobs. Diversity has proved to be the most interactive and productive type of culture, but hiring for diversity alone defeats the purpose. Being technologically savvy and fun oriented is a draw for some talent, but of more importance is to insure that candidates are adaptable to change.
  4. Encourage Innovation – Prescribing a standard list of questions to interviewers is boring and encourages misbehavior. Ask up front, “What is your favorite interview question?” You will be amazed at how perceptive some people can be even with quirky questions. One of my favorites provided by a particularly stubborn manager was, “Why do you work?” This is so open-ended that it invites shallow answers, but training her on proper follow-up techniques opened the field to discuss money, benefits, and career ambitions.

Between the lines of the interview policy is the understanding that we shouldn’t look stupid. Some ridiculous requirements in job descriptions might as well be “Must be able to ride unicycle wearing welding goggles.” Part of interviewing is also selling the candidate on the company, so we can afford to stick to the basics.

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