Performance-based hiring: a systematic process for hiring top talents

There is nothing more important to a manager’s personal success than hiring great people. Nothing. Chuck Jacob.

As a result of benchmarking studies, the best hiring decision is not intuitive or based on gut feelings. Instead, it involves a three-step process:

  1. Remain objective throughout the interviewing process, fighting the impact of first impression, biases, intuition, prejudice, and preconceived notions of success.
  2. Collect information across multiple job factors, rather than deciding quickly if the candidate is suitable for the job based on a narrow range of traits, like technical competency, intelligence, or affability.
  3. Use an evidence-based approach to determine whether the candidate is motivated and competent to meet all job needs.

If you want to hire superior people, use a system designed to hire superior people, not one designed to fill jobs.

As its core, hiring the next is about understanding how the best people look for new jobs and how they decide to accept one job over the other.

The following 11 reasons are some easily correctable problems that prevent companies from attracting top people.

  1. Hard-to-find job openings: It’s important that the candidates can easily find your job openings.
  2. Poorly designed career websites: when candidates click on your website, ensure that they can find all available jobs easily.
  3. Boring ads: most posted job ads are nothing more than lists of skills, qualifications and required experiences.
  4. A cumbersome application process: Applying for most jobs are so cumbersome and time-consuming it precludes the best people from even applying.
  5. Lack of basic consumer marketing expertise: Most companies don’t track the end-to-end yield of those initially viewing an ad to those actually applying.
  6. Lackadaisical managers: Some managers believe the answer to hiring strong people is having their recruiter source more passive candidates. But they forget these candidates want better jobs, better careers, and more money.
  7. Lack of clear understanding of the real job needs: Recruiters and the managers are not looking for the same candidates.
  8. Lack of objectivity: emotions, biases, prejudices, and first impressions dominate the hiring decisions.
  9. The wrong perspective: the best candidates, passive or active, are looking for careers, not jobs. Yet most companies offer identical jobs and wonder why they can’t find enough good people.
  10. Weak interviewing and assessment process: Everybody interviews differently and there is a little understanding of job needs. It’s usually safer to say no which requires less justification.
  11. Thinking recruiting is selling: Recruiting the best is not about selling. It’s about providing big challenges and career opportunities.

Increase objectivity during the interview:

We’re mentally wired to make instantaneous judgments about people based on the first impression. If you buy it soon, you tend to ignore negative data or dismiss a lack of skill. Conversely, if you don’t like the candidate, you immediately feel uptight or disappointed.

To increase your objectivity during the interview, use the following six ideas:

  1. Measure the first impression at the end of the interview.
  2. Disallow the yes/no decision unless the candidate is a complete dud.
  3. Delay the decision by redefining the purpose of the interview. Use the interview to collect information, not to make a decision.
  4. Give partial voting rights. Don’t give anyone full voting rights. Instead, set up a process where the collective judgment of the whole hiring team prevails.
  5. Demand evidence before you accept gut feelings. Facts, examples, and details must be provided to justify a ranking, good or bad.
  6. Make a No harder to justify than a Yes. No is safe and easy and it rewards interviewers who are weak or unprepared. Demand more detailed information and evidence from those invoking the No.

In a performance-based hiring process, first, everything must be designed around the needs of how people look for jobs and accept offers. Second, each of the individual steps must be integrated into a systematic fashion that is easy to use. Putting these pieces together means that you must follow four steps:

  1. Write compelling job descriptions that describe real job needs, not ads that emphasize skills and qualifications.
  2. Design every aspect of sourcing to attract top people, which includes where you place the exciting job descriptions, how you design the careers website, how you get referrals, and when you make phone calls.
  3. Organize the interview to assess competency and create opportunity at the same time.
  4. Make recurring, negotiating offers, and closing a natural, integrated part of each step in the hiring process. Do not save these for the end.

Performance profiles: define success, not skills

To understand real job needs, it’s important to remember the following four key points:

  1. Everyone wants to hire superior people.
  2. If you want to hire superior people, first define superior performance. Performance is about the result, not about skills and qualifications.
  3. Once you have defined it, all you need to do is to find and hire people who are competent and motivated to do the work.
  4. Don’t compromise on performance, compromise on the qualifications.

The job description is the performance profile which describes performance objectives a person taking the job needs to do to be successful. By describing job successes rather than skills, performance profiles can be better used to source and filter candidates, conduct comprehensive interviews, recruit the candidates, and negotiate and close the offers. While the specific performance objectives are different for every job, they fall within similar categories, including effectively dealing with people, achieving objectives, organising teams, solving problems, etc..

Prepare a performance profile:

When completed,  a performance profile describes the results needed to be successful. The following list contains nine steps to create a performance profile:

  1. Define the major objectives. Determine what a person needs to do over the next 6 to 12 months to be considered successful.
  2. Develop sub-objectives. For each major objective, determine the things a successful person would need to do to achieve the major objective.
  3. Ask questions to make sure you have all of the key objectives.
  4. Convert having to doing. Convert each required skill in the job description into measurable performance objectives.
  5. Convert technical skills into results. Define the most significant technical challenges involved in the job and convert them into a specific performance objective.
  6. Understand team skills.
  7. Understand management and organisation objectives.
  8. Understand long-term planning and strategy issues. This involves critical and forward-thinking, strategic insight and the creative aspect of the job.
  9. Benchmark the best.

Talent-centric sourcing: finding the best active and passive candidates

The following are the top five criteria that top people use when deciding to accept an offer:

  1. The job match: What challenges them and allows them to grow.
  2. The hiring manager: People want to work for leaders who can help them reach their goals.
  3. The quality of the team: Meeting strong coworkers can overcome other concerns.
  4. The company: Tying the actual job to some major company initiatives is a great way to make someone interested in the job.
  5. The compensation package: As long as the package is reasonable, most top people don’t consider it the number one criteria.

There are four common characteristics among top people which can be observed during the interview:

  1. Self-motivation: anyone who achieved any level of success worked hard. The best people consistently deliver more results than expected., and they do it on time, all the time.
  2. An ability to motivate and inspire others to work hard, including peers, superiors, as well as their own team.
  3. Achievement of results that were comparable to what needed to be achieved.
  4. An ability to solve comparable job problems in real-time.

The most two important interview questions of all time:

  1. Of all of the things you have accomplished in your career, what stands out as most significant? Now could you go ahead and tell me all about it?
  2. If you were to get this job, how would you go about solving[describe a typical problem]? A good discussion around this topic reveals problem solving, insight, intelligence, potential, vision and leadership.

The following eight steps provide a brief outline of the interviewing process:

Step 1: Warm-up; do a quick overview and understand the candidate’s motivation for looking.

Step 2: Wait 30 minutes and measure the impact of first impressions at the end of the interview. Use the interview to collect information, not decide competency.

Step 3: Conduct a comprehensive work history review.

Step 4: Ask about major individual accomplishments.

Step 5: Ask about major team accomplishments.

Step 6: Ask a problem-solving question.

Step7: Recruit and close.

Step 8: Measure the first impression again.

Fact-finding: the most important interviewing technique

Get lots of information about the candidate’s major accomplishments which is necessary to make an accurate hiring decision. The difference between good answers and bad hiring decisions lies with fact-finding. Most interviewers ask too many general questions. A few questions with lots of fact-finding is a better approach. Always convert generalities into specifics by using this basic question to start the fact-finding process: can you give me a specific example describing what you mean?

Preparation is the key

Re-read the resume before an interview. Circle the strengths and put big plus marks next to them. During the interview ask questions to validate strengths and clarify concerns. Always assume that you’ll be meeting a top candidate.

The evidence-based assessment

The “decide and collect” approach to assessing competency should be eliminated from the hiring decision-making process.

Here are five key steps to implement an evidence-based assessment process:

  1. Evaluate all candidates for every position in comparison to real job needs.
  2. Don’t give any interviewers other than the hiring manager complete yes/no voting rights.
  3. Assess all candidates using a formal assessment tool across the best predictors of job success using a clear ranking system.
  4. Conduct a formal debriefing session with all members of the hiring team actively participating.
  5. Generalities, gut feelings, and intuition are unacceptable inputs for ranking a candidate.

A complete version of the 10-factor candidate assessment template can be downloaded from here:
The 10-factor candidate assessment template

How to minimise all common interviewing mistakes:

  • Don’t make a yes/no decision during the one-on-one interview
  • Don’t let anyone have full voting rights. Most hiring errors are caused by making yes/no decisions too quickly based on a narrow range of factors.
  • Disallow gut feelings and intuitions.
  • Encourage alternatives points of view. Force controversy and disagreement during the debriefing session.
  • Make a No harder to justify than a Yes.

A professional, well-run interview is important to you as it is to the candidates. Strong candidates judge companies and managers based on the quality of the interviewing process. Unless the interview is through, the conclusions obtained will be less reliable.

The importance of reference checking:

Strong candidates have strong references who will openly tell you about them. Lack of good reference is a sign of a potential problem. When doing a reference check, you should qualify both the reference and the candidate. The key to a good reference checking is to get details and examples to back up general statements about the candidates’ competency.