The two least understood, yet critical, factors in candidate assessment

Across twenty nine years in recruitment I have read plenty of material on interviewing and candidate assessment. After this many years it takes a pretty special piece of writing to have me jump up and take notice. It happens rarely these days.

However it did happen four days ago.

I read this outstanding piece of writing on candidate assessment How to Identify Talent: Five Lessons from the NFL Draft (I urge you to read it) by Dr. Cade Massey, a practice professor in the Operations, Information & Decisions group at the Wharton School (USA). His research is on decision-making under uncertainty, especially how to improve organisational decisions about personnel.

Two of the five lessons Dr Massey identifies rarely get a mention in these sorts of pieces and yet they are critically important factors in consistently improving your hiring hit rate over time.

The comments I make, below, are in the context of recruitment agency owners and leaders recruiting for their own team but, of course, you could easily apply them to hiring in other sectors.

Point #2: Keep Your Judges Apart

People are impressionable. When they are exposed to other’s opinions before forming their own, they tend to anchor on the existing view. More generally, the “wisdom of the crowd” depends on the independence of the respective opinions within the crowd. Yet that independence is easily compromised, in many ways—anchoring, of course, but also common backgrounds, training, friends, etc. You may think you’re getting 5-6 opinions when effectively you’re getting only 1.5!

A good hiring process explicitly pushes against these compromising factors: Don’t let people talk to each other or see other’s opinions before providing their own, expose the candidate to judges in different ways and at different points in time, and bring people with different perspectives into the process. More independence is often the biggest improvement an organization can easily make in their hiring process.

My comments: Recruiters, being mostly extroverts, are inclined to immediately and effusively pass judgement on a potential recruiter to a colleague who is also involved in the hiring process (whether in that interview or who will be conducting the next interview). Whether the second person realises it or not, they are now biased, especially if their colleague is more senior than they are.

Best practise hiring dictates that once an interviewer has completed their interview they should immediately finalise their scoring of the candidate against the key selection criteria and make specific note of what they perceive to be the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses with respect to the role in question and the accompanying team culture. Here’s an example of what I mean.

The next interviewer (or the other interviewer(s) in the same interview) should assess the candidate by undertaking exactly the same process. Once that has been done a comparison of the interviewers’ opinions will be far more valuable and insightful as a guide to the candidate’s likely suitability for the position in question.

Point #5: Keep Score

On one hand, intuition based on years of repeated exposure and pattern recognition can be quite good. On the other, unless that experience comes with clear and regular feedback it can be misleading.

Hiring is best thought of as a forecasting process, and the only way to improve forecasts is to map them against results and refine the process over time. By doing this, teams learn which tests matter most (and) which questions are more informative.

Many organizations don’t bother keeping score, because the payoff is delayed; it can be years before enough data arrive for reliable insights. The kind of foresight and humility required is exactly what distinguishes good management.

My comments: Take the example candidate assessment summary document that I referenced above and, after hiring a candidate, use that document as a benchmarking document throughout that candidate’s tenure in the company. In doing so you would have a relevant measure of each interviewer’s assessment accuracy of both, competencies and candidate strengths and weaknesses relative to the position. The careful and ongoing review of comparing pre-hire assessment and post hire performance should enable you to:

  1. a) Identify the most effective interviewers in your company
  2. b) Validate a small number of core competencies for each role
  3. c) Identify the handful of key interview questions that, when used, most reliably help identify a candidate who is culturally aligned

Although many people reading this will nod their head knowingly I suspect that a large majority are almost certain to make no changes to their existing candidate assessment and recruitment processes.

It always seem like too much work to undertake when the, mostly unsaid, reality is that most hiring managers think they are good at interviewing and candidate assessment and therefore don’t need to change, it’s just other hiring managers in the company who do.

related blogs

Avoid hiring turkeys, even if you don’t recruit a single eagle

Can years of education predict work performance?

What a Nobel prize-winning economist discovers about interviewing

1 Comment

  1. James Purtell on 10/05/2018 at 7:45 am

    Excellent article, Ross.
    I’m guilty of being effusive.
    The change starts now.

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