In the August 2, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager explains hiring like it ought to be done and earns an A:

I’m a hiring manager and I like to ask candidates to:

  • Review our web site and provide written recommendations for improvement prior to the initial interview;
  • Meet with a sales manager who can assess their knowledge of our market;
  • Do a presentation;
  • Participate in some relevant pre-employment training to see how well they learn and interact with others.

This works for us and it keeps our turnover very low. From a hiring manager’s point of view, I think it’s important to get multiple looks at a candidate, and to give a candidate multiple looks at us. However, this takes quite a bit of time. What do you think?

Here’s the short version of my advice:

(For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

This is hiring like it ought to be. What you’re doing earns high marks, because you’re not conducting junk interviews. A candidate who is really interested in working for you will gladly invest time in your hiring process.

Often, the problem isn’t that companies spend too much time interviewing; it’s that they don’t spend it profitably. I believe hiring a person is like marrying them. Before you tie the knot, you should talk and work together in more than one context, and you should meet one another’s friends (or co-workers). That’s how to decide whether you belong together. In other words, the courting process must be substantive. I’ll offer three suggestions. (You’re already doing the first one, in your own way.)

First, Kick the candidate out of your office. Get the candidate out on the work floor, to meet your team and see how the work is done. Let the candidate participate. Don’t just test them; try them out.

Second, make sure you let candidates know from the start… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week, subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)…

Third, if you’re going to ask candidates to do a presentation and meet people in other departments, help them prepare. Suggest resources, discuss your company’s preferences and style, and offer guidance, just as you would to your employees. For example, you might offer to let the candidate talk with one or two members of your team, by phone, prior to the interview. (If this seems like a waste of time, reconsider filling the position, because if you’re not willing to make this investment, why should anyone invest time to meet with you?) To get the best out of candidates, I believe you have to help them, just as you would your employees when you assign them a project.

Hiring is a manager’s #1 job, and you do it intelligently. Most employers barely earn a passing grade at hiring, and their turnover shows it. I challenge them to reach for an A at interviewing. Your “very low” turnover proves what a valuable investment you’re making. My compliments. Thanks for sharing a manager’s point of view.

In today’s newsletter, we hear from an employer who knows how to hire for success and profit. What do you think of these interviewing methods? What else would you like to see employers do in the job interview? Tell us about an employer you know that deserves an A for interviewing and hiring — and why!

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  1. My best interview was one where I was to do a technical presentation in front of a group of people pretending to be skeptical potential clients.

    What was the job? To do technical presentations for potential clients who were skeptical but still considered my new company in the running.

    It did not matter how often I smiled, what tie I chose or how much I schmoozed the receptionist. Only one thing mattered – the presentation.

    I got the job over many people with much more impressive pedigrees than me and helped them close some big business.

    Hiring manager, it’s simple – determine how your candidate will do the job you need to fill. Screw the rest. Don’t listen to HR – they are administrators who can vet that the candidate is not an escaped con but that’s about it.

    I’d be as suspicious of an accounting clerk with a large personality as much as a sales person who only wanted to talk numbers.

    In my rejection letter I’d suggest to the accounting clerk that we can’t use you but you have the personality of a salesperson. Of course that’s not necessary but karma can be a powerful thing.

  2. I had an IT services company take me on-site to a new customer after the first 30 minute interview.

    I had the interview which was very short. I think they wanted to make sure I only had one head and good hygiene.

    They called me the next day and advised I had made it to the next round. They told me about the second round (in great detail…)

    A time was arranged for later that week for an on-site engineer to pick me up.

    We went to the site and as soon as we walked in the door it was up to me to handle to the issue.

    Problem was fixed, I was hired.

    I loved it.

  3. Thank you for mentioning the very simple but effective technique of interviewing after hours. How many prime candidates are passing an organization by because everyone thinks that the process stops at 5pm?

    I’m in a survival job, and sometimes the decision to survive is greater than the questionable opportunity presented by an interview process that would put my current source of income at risk, not to mention forcing me to demonstrate a lack of gratitude to the guy who went out on a limb to bring me in out of the cold. This limits me to interviewing with companies respectful and mindful of my precarious situation

    When I was a hiring manager, most of my long-term employees were hired after I interviewed them after hours. The average tenure of my front-line crew was 14 years.

  4. It’s funny and sad. I’m a teacher. I never ever got job offers when I went on pure talk (more often junk) interviews. I always received offers when the school required me to actually teach a demo lesson to students. As you can tell by our national education outcomes, few schools do this.

  5. I use the same technique for hiring mechanics, but not sales staff. I think it is time to get with it and start a new process!

  6. In some fields it’s obvious how to have an interviewee demonstrate a skill in an interview: a programmer can write a short program, a teacher can teach a short class. Others require more creativity. The State Department used to judge an applicant’s judgement and management skills by giving them the inbox test, where they were handed an inbox full of messages and reports and wrote a response to each one in a fixed amount of time.

  7. What a concept–an interview that is actually useful to both the candidate and the employer. I like this idea, but not all jobs vacancies lend themselves to this kind of hands-on interview. I think it works well in IT and teaching, but not all jobs will give the candidate a chance to demonstrate competence, unless the employer is willing to give candidates hypothetical problems and a chance to solve them.
    @Tyler–true, most accountants are not the most out-going people, nor are librarians. Some librarians, for example, do have to be more outgoing because they work more directly with patrons (reference librarian, children’s librarian). I get your example of the accountant and salesperson, but sometimes people’s personalities don’t match their jobs because those people took a job, any job just to bring in some income or because they got pushed into that job by management. Companies would do better in terms of profit as well as employee satisfaction if people’s personalities were better matched to jobs. Don’t put an extrovert in a back room doing research or fixing problems. Don’t hire an introvert as a receptionist or salesperson. Doesn’t mean they’re incompetent, just that they’re in the wrong job. Can they do those jobs? Yes, but it isn’t a good fit. There are all kinds of personality tests (MBTI, for one) that are helpful.

  8. @marybeth: I think an employer can give a candidate real, live work challenges in almost any domain. What varies is the extent to which the candidate actually shows how he or she would do the work, versus showing a plan for doing it. The point is, they’re talking shop, not just hypothetically.

  9. @Marybeth Following up on Nick’s comments I would ask a front line librarian questions typical of what the public asks. You would not need to know everything off the top of your head but just demonstrate how you would help that person and more importantly your desire to help that person.

    There might be far more qualified people in library science but someone who is genuinely curious and showed a innate desire to help others might trump that person.

    Oh yes, managerial incompetents will push you here and there regardless of your actual skills. When you say “companies” you actually referring to a person or couple of people who ignore your abilities to satisfy their short term needs.

    Here’s the thing…the minute you are hired you should be developing relationships with people who could hire you in the future. No one person or company should control your life. It’s like dating…tease them and you will only develop more desire.

    Loyalty?…to your family…to your true friends…to your dog…to anyone else who cares about you.

  10. I have to strongly disagree with marybeth: “There are all kinds of personality tests (MBTI, for one) that are helpful.”

    Personality tests are a crock and should not be used for hiring decisions. The facets of personality that are important to a job can be checked in this kind of ‘do the job’ interview and everything else about the applicant’s personality is a) none of the hiring company’s business, and b) not measurable with junk like MBTI.

  11. @G: I’m sorry for the confusion. I meant that personality tests such as the MBTI are more useful to the candidate, although you should know these things about yourself (e.g., whether you are an extrovert or an introvert) and to the employer if they are in the position of having more than one job to fill. Then it makes sense to put an extrovert in a sales job or in any job dealing with the public and to put an introvert in a research or more task-based job. And sometimes they’re helpful even after people are hired if the employer finds that there are new tasks that need to be assigned–then assign them to the person who is best able to do them, not to the person whose brain doesn’t function that way (for example, scheduling) or isn’t a people-person.

    Many many years ago I worked for a management consulting firm–basically they provided “therapy” to businesses that were struggling. Sometimes it was a matter of getting their finances in order, sometimes it was personalities/people, sometimes the companies had been run into the ground so badly by management that the only thing left was to find a way to gracefully help them close up once they met all their obligations. One of the companies had a bad habit of pairing their employees to work together–normally not a bad thing but their coordinator had a habit of putting people whose personalities clashed together, making an already very stressful situation (for their clients) even more stressful because the people who were supposed to be helping them didn’t get along. Our consultants had everyone at that company take MBTI tests, then we all looked at the pairings, then made suggestions as to what work would better based on the results of the MBTI tests. Et voila, their employees were happier working with others with whom they didn’t clash, which meant it reduced the levels of stress for their own clients and improved projected outcomes. None of us could figure out why that company’s coordinator didn’t figure out that it wouldn’t be a good idea to pair two or three of their consultants for a case–maybe he just picked who was available, maybe he was like the business office manager at my last job and would pick whoever would irrate the most people. I don’t know. But what our consultants did worked.

    To use MBTI tests solely as a hiring determinant, no; to use them in conjunction with other factors, such as an employee’s or candidate’s experience, skills, and how they do in a “do the job” interview, yes.

  12. @Underemployed and Clinically Depressed in the Midwest

    I agree with you. It seems that many people in charge of “recruiting” or “hiring” are unwilling to go out on a limb and talk with potential canidates after hours. I don’t mind taking time out before/after work to chat about an opening – especially since I am currently working.

    Another thing, on a similar topic. One thing I’ve noticed is that hiring managers/recruiters don’t develop relationships (or attend) with any/all of the “professional” groups that meet outside of business hours. I know they attend some of the more “social networking” groups, though. Makes it tough for some of us introverts.

  13. @Dave
    look up the book why should extroverts make all the money? networking made easy for the introvert

    i have a horrible time networking, but i have survived it.

    the idea of actual hiring managers rubbing elbows at networking events with the people who might do them some good is about 15 degrees of brilliant. if someone would have thought of that 3 years ago, i might not have fallen into depression. the hopelessness of never being able to connect was one of the key elements of my fall. i’m going to pass this idea along to my state employment people.


  14. @Dave & @Underemployed: If you don’t find managers at professional events, don’t sweat it. You’re probably better off talking with grunts. (I use that word affectionately.) Because they make the world go round. They talk to their bosses at work. They can get you introduced. Invite you for a visit and lunch in the cafeteria, where you can meet others. And maybe stop by the boss’s office for an intro. Almost doesn’t matter which of the concentric rings you land in… follow it to the center.

    I keep saying that 15-20% of any manager’s time should be spent recruiting. That means mingling. Doesn’t it get boring, hanging around the office and chatting up other managers all day long?

    But don’t ignore professional and industry events because managers aren’t there. Talk to their employees. Like headhunters do. Dopey managers aren’t just failing to recruit at these events; they’re losing some of their best people!

  15. To the introverts among us, and I’m one, it’s not as bad as it might look.

    Nick’s advice on his website about networking is actually quite introvert-friendly. We need to cultivate fewer but stronger relationships, not go to an event with the goal of getting rid of 30 business cards in an hour or less. Introverts tend to do well at the relationship-building stuff, because they are often happier to listen instead of talking all the time.

    An interesting-looking website I found is Business Sales Coach for Introverts and Shy, and I’m sure there are others around.

    I’ve also got a lot of value out of Toastmasters. (If you’d told me five years ago that I’d eventually enjoy talking to a larger group, I’d have questioned your sanity.) If you go that route, do try more than one club, because they have different “personalities” and membership bases. They can also be networking opportunities in themselves.

  16. @Nick: that’s true re giving a candidate real, live work…it depends on how much time and energy the employer is willing to put into it.

    @underemployed and clinically depressed: I’m an introvert too–maybe it will help if you think about extroversion and introversion in terms of how you get energized. An extrovert gets energized by being around people; an introvert gets energized by getting downtime/personal time. I can talk to people, and enjoy socializing as much as the next person, but I know that I definitely need my “alone” time to relax and recharge.

    Nick is right–don’t be afraid to talk to the grunts. They’re the ones who know what’s going on, and you might get a more honest feel for the company from them than from management.

  17. @Marybeth

    I am not a fan of personality tests either. In fact, I think the quest for the perfect fit is a bigger contributor to our high unemployment than we might think.

    First: people change. What if you don’t want to remain in the same job the MBTI said you were the best fit for 5 years ago… or even one year ago? What if you want a change in experience and a broadening of your repertoire of skills? Too often, it seems companies’ response is “too bad; we think you’re happiest there, the company likes you best there and your strengths are baked into the cake anyway”. I fear that most companies find the cultivation of new strengths in their employees too expensive. This is tragic from a human standpoint.

    I believe the quest for the perfect fit also limits our adaptability as workers, through screening us out of the opportunity to get that all-important practical experience. Sometimes you can’t wait until you’re the right person before you get to work… sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and do it. Sometimes rolling up your sleeves makes you the right person.

    We should not be requiring that every job be our dream job, and we’re only a good fit for our dream jobs. There should be a wider range of employment possibilities– a few perfect fits and a larger number of almost perfect fits.

  18. @Lucy: That’s a very powerful point. Check David Hunt’s pointed article in Guest Voices: (The Perfect Fit, Isn’t).

    I roll my eyes when I see companies reach outside to recruit for a position, while they do virtually nothing to transfer someone internally who would groove on the job.

  19. (I thought I’d posted this earlier, but it fell into a black hole somewhere.)

    To the introverts among us (and I’m one), I think that Nick’s approach to networking is quite introvert-friendly, as it requires the building of more substantial relationships, rather than the stereotype of getting rid of 30 business cards in an hour at some event. Introverts tend to be more at home with the former than the latter.

    I’ve discovered a number of websites and blogs that cater to the introverted and shy in business. Maybe the main thing I’ve learned is that we do have a lot to offer, the willingness to take things more quietly and listen being one of them.

    Personally, I’ve found Toastmasters helpful in learning to feel comfortable in expressing myself in a more public setting, and I’ve met a lot of people I might otherwise not have. I’ve also found that clubs vary considerably, in atmosphere and in type of member, and it’s worth investigating a few before joining.