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Making A Critical Hire? Here’s Why You Should Get Deep.

June 19, 2015
Borderless Leadership

Making a wrong hire at the senior management layer can cost the organization between $240,000-$840,000, as cited by various studies. Even at the low end of that range, that is an unnecessary and undesirable mistake. Many organizations attempt to mitigate the mistake of wrong hires through meticulous and lengthy recruitment protocols.

For many CEOs and organisations the good old-fashioned interview, or rounds of interviews, are the preferred and often only choice at their disposal. But even within organizations that use tests to assess a candidate’s psychometrics, aptitude, stress, personality, reasoning ability and so forth, ultimately you cant get past the necessity for the face to face interviewer to cut through the façade and get deep with the candidate.

Here is what I mean by getting ‘deep.’ Candidates, in most cases, are going to tell you what they think you want to hear and if they are any good at interviews, will be very polished and probably quite impressive during the interview.

Getting ‘deep’ allows you to get beneath the surface level answers, beneath the veneer of the polished exterior and find out who is really sat in front of you. All hires carry risk. As an interviewer you need to identify these potential risks and then, elegantly, test the veracity of your suspicions; and herein lies the skill of effective interview technique.

Here is real life example of how this might look. During a recent interview with a client I sensed that the candidate might be cantankerous and hard to manage. This then triggered my need to get deeper around this issue.

Let’s explore where this suspicion came from. Sensory acuity allows the interviewer to pick up on very subtle reactions and personality traits that are not obvious, but could be a real problem. In our example, my suspicion got peaked by the candidate’s consistent need to offer a counter view. As an isolated incident it is not necessarily concerning, but this is why I went deep – I had to test the veracity of the suspicion.

Here is the theory: If you ask the candidate if they are hard to manage and argumentative, they will likely deny it. As we all would. So that approach doesn’t get you anywhere. In this instance, you need to apply some pressure, create some stress, offer some mild confrontation, and then see how they react.

Here is how we (client and I) approached this particular situation (paraphrase):
“Can I give you some feedback? On the surface there is a lot to like about you. However, I do feel that if we hire you we might well be hiring a management problem. Let me explain. Every time I offer anything that challenges your viewpoint you immediately counter and defend your position. My concern is that if we ask you to do something, and you don’t agree with it, we will get into an argument every time and for us that doesn’t work. Would you say that is an accurate assessment of you?”

Let’s deconstruct this. This approach is deliberately ‘confronting’ but the delivery must not be confrontational. It is really just you airing your concerns. You want to raise the intensity of the conversation, place the candidate under some stress but also offer a strong point of view (so that they can fight it!). Their reaction to this will reveal a lot.

Possible reactions:

  1. They will concede and admit that they can be somewhat defensive and confrontational at times. This is a good outcome. You know the truth, they are honest enough to admit it and their barriers come down so that you can explore how much of an issue this really is.
  2. They get very offended by your bluntness and out come the behaviors that you were concerned about. This is a good outcome. Your suspicion was right.
  3. They will back down and on the surface ‘agree in principle’ but they still feel the need to counter with their own take on things, albeit calmly. Again this is a more subtle response, but it is very revealing. They still had to counter your viewpoint!
  4. They go quiet. Is this a sign of defeat, anger (furious internally but not letting it show), or being overly sensitive? Well, this is a prompt to go deeper and find out which one it is.
  5. They are genuinely surprised by the observation, possibly apologize for coming across in that way and thank you for bringing that to their attention. This is a good outcome.

In our situation, the candidate couldn’t help herself but come fighting back, vehemently disagreeing with our viewpoint. Case closed. This is just an example of many issues that you might come across. This type of technique is not comfortable for everyone and I understand that. But the alternative is sitting on your suspicions instead of testing them and potentially making a costly, wrong hire.

Be bold. Confront without being confrontational. Get deep.

By Mike Adams


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