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Talent Selection – Part 4: Interviewing Tradeoffs

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Anyone with more than a few minutes of experience working in a corporate staffing office knows that certain things are not negotiable. I once worked at a start-up that was a spinoff from a large corporation with a lot of inherited baggage in the form of policies and procedures from the parent company. We had to change everything that didn’t fit. An example of a non-negotiable item when hiring new employees was vacation time. Many candidates are advised to push back and negotiate everything, so holding the line on vacation-creep to prevent further ruffling feathers sounded a bit foreign. Dealing with external candidates means setting clear expectations on the boundaries. Likewise, there are some characteristics of candidates that are not negotiable, but there cannot be a firm line on all criteria. Employers need to listen to job seeker’s non-negotiable items and candidates need to be bolder about expressing them.

Seeing that compromise is not always a possibility on both the candidate or interviewer side of the table, how does a company codify the allowable tradeoffs and set standards for the others? That debate begins by addressing issues before there is even a live person to negotiate that middle ground.

  • Hire for Potential – Assuming that all candidates are prescreened to come to the interview with the requisite skills for the job, the interviewer needs to visualize a graphical progression of experience that projects into the future. Hiring the best for today is not a good tradeoff.
  • Remove the Boxes – The strict boundary of a job description puts all job seeker clones into a box that makes it difficult to see the individual. Focus must obviously be on the “must haves” of the job, but some relevant “nice to haves” can be a tie-breaker if it is a valid tradeoff.
  • Soft skills – The criteria for measuring soft skills can be a little fuzzy if not planned. Questions must generate answers proving that strengths in leading, influencing, or communicating with others are an acceptable tradeoff to offset shortcomings in hard high skill requirements.
  • Potential Risk – Progressive thinking and actions are the key to innovation. It is also the gateway to spending time in court or dealing with borderline activity. The downside of risky behavior is not an acceptable tradeoff under most circumstances and is easy to cover up by a candidate.
  • Define Cultural Fit – Recognize the benefits and the dangers of hiring someone just like you. An organization that is to be homogenized to mix different points of view starts by trading that perfect clone for someone who would bring something new to the table.
  • Eliminate Exclusions – Only hiring from a specific industry or location hinders the possibility of cross pollination of ideas internally. A “what have you done lately” type of candidate selection precludes returning military veterans, underemployed, and unemployed from consideration.
  • Recognize Uniqueness – It is important not to yield to the temptation to clone your best employee. It is also important not to fall into the trap that different is always better. There is a stark difference between being leading edge and being an outlier.
  • Target Diversity – It is always easier to build and a diverse workforce by sourcing a diverse candidate pool for interview. Setting quota for any group is a form of discrimination in itself and devalues a candidate by asking them to tradeoff personal integrity and pride for a job.
  • Campaign Integrity – It is important to evaluate all candidates for a job using the same criteria, interview team, and tradeoffs. Brokering of splinter favorites is a last resort and may mean recalling some candidates for a second look to validate the selection.
  • Adjust Focus – You often don’t need a telescope when a microscope will work better. Grooming internal candidates to rise to meet their personal needs is more likely to achieve a positive cultural image than external recruitment. Tradeoff a senior headcount for a junior backfill.

Summarizing the tradeoff list, consider alternatives to the status quo and recognize that there is no absolute best selection criteria without detailed knowledge of circumstances. It logical, but cannot be done by a computer. Discernment of best fit for hire within these tradeoffs is not subjective. It must be planned, trained, and executed by thinking, intelligent, and caring people.

Image credit: adamgregor / 123RF Stock Photo


3 thoughts on “Talent Selection – Part 4: Interviewing Tradeoffs”

  1. This is a great post, Tom. It’s time that employers and job seekers alike recognize that the perfect employee (or employer) is not necessarily what you thought. You never know what you might find if you keep your eyes (and mind) open! I’ll help spread the word!

    1. Thanks a bunch for your comment! Yes, please do spread the word that there are many exciting things just over the horizon if we would only take the effort to go there and look.

  2. Pingback: Reviewing This Week on Make HR Happen – Interviewing » Make HR Happen by Tom Bolt

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