Before the pandemic, a study involving 7,000 hiring managers self-reported that 46% of their hires failed within the first 18 months. Again, that was before the pandemic. That rate has undoubtedly worsened in the last three years as managers apply old hiring practices amid the new normal of remote hiring.
Instinct and intuition – what some call gut feel – is impossible to apply with precision when the candidate is speaking to you through your laptop. The medium is less robust, and practical issues such as the person not looking into the camera, poor sound and lighting, and an inability to connect in a personal way limit your ability to evaluate the other person and to sell them on why they should come work for you. To win in the new hiring marketplace, managers need to use a five-step approach and focus on data, not gut feel.
1. Use a Team Approach
Among informed and skilled people, when one goes with the crowd they are mostly right. This is verified through decision-making research, and the principal reason is that individually we are susceptible to cognitive biases, while collectively the crowd-effect greatly lessens those biases. But a team approach requires a specific process, that begins with a common data set.
An ancient Eastern fable describes a group of blind villagers who come across a strange animal. Each of them touches a different part of the animal, and because they all have their own set of facts, they arrive at different conclusions regarding what the animal must be. The same is true when people conduct interviews by themselves and meet afterward to discuss what they learned. Each asks their own questions and hears a unique set of responses, leaving no opportunity for collaboration, and often giving an outsized voice to the most senior member of the interview team.
To maximize the benefit of team hiring, require that everyone on the team observes and experiences the same data set, which means they are present for all the interviews and participate in all the discussions. And in those disuccsions, always have the least senior person speaks first.
2. Hire for Outcomes
When my friend Paul English co-founded the travel site Kayak, he avoided hiring anyone with travel experience. He told me prior travel experience had nothing to do with the outcomes he sought as he set out to change the customer experience. This is what hiring for outcomes is about.
If you’re looking to hire a Director of Sales, you’re not after someone with five years of sales experience, a college degree, or who you have a personal connection to. Instead, you want someone who can increase sales by 15%, increase client additions by 50, and grow the sales team from four to nine associates.
Moving from gut feel and instinct begins with carefully defining what outcomes you hope the candidate will achieve, and then focusing the hiring team on evaluating the candidate’s likelihood of achieving the outcomes.
3. How Will I Know?
Having defined the outcomes, the team must create a plan to find out if the candidate is best suited to achieve those outcomes. For instance, say the team wants someone who can increase revenue. If the candidate has prior selling experience, you’ll want to ask them, for instance, what they did to increase sales at that job – and how that compared to the prior period, their peers, and the company plan. You’ll further want to ask for specific examples of programs they created, difficult pitches, and lessons learned from lost sales.
This form of questioning, called deepening and narrowing, is a method of interviewing that begins by asking the candidate for examples of situations that may be indicative of their ability to hit the desired outcome. You will then use those responses to explore the situation with the promise that understanding a narrow example will tell you far more than strafing at 10,000 feet.
In this way, you’ll learn more about their skills at driving sales by going deep and narrow with a few examples. This is a more productive approach than asking a dozen superficial questions that only demonstrate the candidate’s ability to serve up polished responses to predictable questions.
4. Use Reference Checks to Narrow the Field
The reference check is your richest source of data, as there is no better judge of a person’s match against your scorecard than someone who directly witnessed their work. A common mistake, though, is to save the reference check until the end of the process, after you’ve made up your mind.
Doing so almost inevitably leaves you susceptible to the Observer-Expectancy Effect, the cognitive bias that leads people to structure the inquiry to get the results they want. For example, consider a question like this:
We’re looking at hiring Charlotte for vice president of operations. We think she’s terrific, but I want to make sure you don’t know anything that would make us not want to hire her. Any big red flags we need to know about?
By asking the question in this way, we maximize the chances of getting the results we want: to hear nothing that might disrupt our plan to hire Charlotte. We’re not collecting data. We’re praying for confirmation.
The best defense against the Observer-Expectancy Effect is to complete your reference checks when you’re still deciding among candidates. If you’re struggling to decide which candidate to hire, you unconsciously invite critical feedback because you’re not looking to confirm a candidate, but to eliminate others to help you make a decision.
5. Be Nice
Today, online information flows instantly whether it be a message board or Glassdoor. Yet we increasingly forego basic courtesies when our communication is electronic. I have heard that increasingly when a company chooses not to hire someone, instead of speaking directly with the candidate, the just stop communicating.
For hiring managers who are willing to treat all candidates – whether hired or not – with grace and civility, the labor marketplace will take notice. A kind personal note telling someone that the fit wasn’t there, could become the difference between landing a great hire down the line or losing them to the competition. The anonymity of digital communication is no excuse not to treat all candidates with the manners and kindness that you would treat them in your office — and today the benefits of doing so, and the consequences of otherwise, have never been greater.
To win in an increasingly competitive and diffused workforce, hiring managers must focus on a data-based approach to hiring. Remote work brings the upside of materially expanding the candidate pool. But in so doing, skillful managers must give up any reliance on gut feel or intuition.