Most of us think we know the best way to hire someone, and it looks roughly like this. First, you post a job opening with a brief description of responsibilities and expected level of experience, and then you sift through paper resumes and cover letters and prioritize the candidates (okay, LinkedIn is probably involved these days), granting in-person interviews to the top ones. There can be several rounds of interviews, depending on the position, and sometimes they are group interviews. Then a small group usually convenes to decide which of those top people will get the job.
So I have some research to share with you. This method is not a good predictor of job performance. Read Pfeffer and Sutton’s Hard Facts, Dangerous Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management for the details. I know it’s 10 years old, but that just makes our current practices even more embarrassing. They provide data that suggest that picking one of your top resumes at random is approximately just as likely to predict job performance than your interview process. Just think of the time you’d save!
So what should we do instead? How about watching them work. I know an association that was hiring for a customer service position in the membership department. As part of the “interview” process, they brought candidates in for most of a day, giving them a 3-hour briefing on the association, the membership, etc. and then putting them on the phone for a period of time, answering real calls from real members. The one they hired really stood out. At one point, she got a question from a member that she couldn’t answer (not surprisingly, as she’d been “working” there for all of 3 hours), so she politely put the member on hold and just stood up and said “Who has the answer to this question…” Someone raised their hand, and she went over there, got the answer, and then gave the answer to the member. Then when she was done, she went on the association’s intranet/messaging platform and posted the answer in case anyone else got a similar question. That’s awesome, and I don’t think that would have come out in an interview.
One of the case studies in my book starts with a group interview where they watch candidates complete tasks, then the next round is bringing individuals in and paying them $10/hour to work for a day with real people in the office. Getting past that stage only earns you a three-month contract before they hire you full time. I’m not saying these are the only ways to do it, but let’s at least start being honest that we really don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to hiring. Let’s start experimenting with some new processes, let’s get more data into the equation, let’s put culture front and center as a criterion. We don’t have to be perfect in our hiring process, but we can’t keep doing it the way we’ve always done it.