Selecting the Best People

Nearly all organizations struggle with a very common yet immensely impactful problem. The inability to consistently select the right person to fill a key position seems to cause a lot of management’s daily frustration. Who should fill that critical position, lead that crucial project, or turnaround the underperforming work group? All too often we find that the person we were so sure was a “perfect” choice is just not quite getting it done. Maybe they are not showing the energy we thought they would bring. Or, their work group and peers seem out of sorts. For whatever reason, problems are not getting solved, goals are not being met, people are unhappy, and now you have to get involved.

Over the past 40 plus years, the art of repeatedly picking the “right” person has been a subject of fascination and focus for us. As managers, executives, and business owners ourselves, it seems we have made every mistake possible. But we have also learned a lot, tried out many different approaches, and developed a passion to help others make consistently better personnel selections. Since we have frequently been asked to write down (briefly and in basic English) our “Lessons Learned”, what follows is our modest attempt to do so.

A Bit of “Fit” – Seems Like It Should Be So Easy

One of the most interesting aspects of the personnel selection dilemma has been observing the absolute conviction most of us have that “we know what we want” and “we’ll know it when we see it.” Yet, when questioned, we often struggle to describe what we really mean. What is that “ideal” person really like? What do they need to bring to the table? What does a good “fit” really mean? 

Over the years we have probed and prodded, and asked lots of questions to figure out this “fit” concept. Through this process, we have come up with this list of essentials that we think most people are really looking for: 

  • The “get it” factor – a combination of common sense, political savvy, good judgment, and the ability to see and understand what the boss, the company, department, group, etc. are all about.
  • The “get along” factor – likeable, respectful, reliable, professional, shows concern for others, gets the best out of others, overall the ability to relate effectively to and be accepted by people throughout the organization.
  • The “get it done” factor – energetic, driven to perform, goal focused, follows through, solves problems, removes obstacles, delivers, pleases customers, and makes things better.
  • The “stick with us” factor – loyal, committed, and motivated.

Really, when you get right down to it, that’s about it.  Everything else we talk about and fixate on, like education, job-related experience and knowledge, skill sets, education, etc., are actually just the window dressing - basic requirements we expect.  Most of us tend to use our intuition, our instinct, our infallible “gut” to predict a candidate’s real “fit”.

A final observation on “fit” – it’s a two-way street. How often do both parties intentionally present only what they believe the other wants to hear? Don’t we actually end up selling the job and ourselves to the candidate while they are selling themselves to us? The best salesperson usually wins and all too often one or both parties end up disenchanted, dissatisfied, and grumpy.

Lessons Learned

After many years of “lessons learned” and a lot of development and refinement, we can tell you that the most effective approach is a competency / skill / behavior focused pre-interview candidate screening process. This is a just fancy way of saying that, before interviewing anyone, you should collect some objective data that will provide insight into those “fit” criteria we mentioned above. It should be a disciplined process that requires some pre-work and that provides both you and the candidate(s) meaningful information. The process should include a set of tools, templates, assessments, and reports designed to help you efficiently collect the right information about the candidate as well as provide the right information to the candidate. And, for efficiency and cost control reasons, the process should be built upon a state-of-the art, web-based technology platform. 

The process elements should always be customized to the performance and behavioral requirements of the specific open position. The school of hard knocks has taught us that these are the key elements you need:

  • The process should begin with a collaborative (that means don’t do it by yourself) review of the open position including duties, responsibilities, where it fits in the organization, the environment in which it operates, the performance and behavioral expectations, the competencies, knowledge, and skills required for top performance, the education and experience required, and other relevant position-specific information.
  • The information from that review should be summarized into a detailed position analysis that includes a position summary, list of duties/responsibilities, the technical knowledge and skills, the non-technical knowledge and skills, and the job-related and behavioral competencies required for top performance, education and experience required, and any other significant requirements.
  • The above analysis guides your development of the desired “Profile” including selection criteria and psychometric preferences. This is where you finally define what “fit” really means for the open position. You will also want to create the templates needed for processing, evaluating, rating, and comparing the candidate data.
  • Now you can design a pre-interview questionnaire, pre-interview job situation exercises, and select a psychometric assessment to collect the candidate data you need to collect the pre-interview data.
  • You are now ready to collect the data. The “best practice” these days seems to be a web-based candidate data collection system. It’s much easier for you and the candidate, it’s controlled and secure, it’s affordable, and an Internet-based approach is available 24-hour a day.
  • Once candidates you would like to screen have been selected, they are invited to participate in the screening process and provided with the job analysis prepared at the beginning of this process. The candidate(s) are given an opportunity to submit any questions they may have about the company, job or selection process and then required to complete the questionnaire, pre-interview job situation exercises and psychometric assessment. All candidate interaction that takes place on the internet is available to candidates any time from any place.
  • Now that candidate data is available for you to review online, you’re ready to use the candidate rating templates, interview preparation guide, and other tools previously prepared to evaluate the candidate data as you get ready for in-person interviews.

Feedback from hiring managers after using this candidate screening process is listed below…here’s what they had to say:

  • Got a lot more information about real qualifications of candidates - data about candidate’s knowledge, experience, skill, and behavioral tendencies specific to our open position – makes it easier to find “best” candidate
  • Objective – all candidates are screened exactly the same way prior to final interviews – minimizes subjectivity – easier to explain selections to rejected candidates – weeds out marginal candidates early in process – easier to defend selection if challenged
  • Initial “Blind Review” not knowing candidate names added objectivity and keeps focus on the candidate’s qualifications
  • Faster and easier – online administration provides immediate availability of candidate data
  • Data remains available – screening data can help with succession planning and planning other job assignments
  • Fits with our current hiring/screening process – can actually speed up process
  • Rigorous screening significantly increases confidence that the “best” candidate in the pool was selected
  • Candidates like it - candidates get a much better idea of the job and what they are getting into – candidates can showcase their real qualifications for job specific responsibilities through writing and position specific exercises
  • The exercises and questions are timed to add the dimension of articulating specific actions plans and communicating effectively under pressure of a deadline

It must be working pretty well because one of our clients asked us to adapt the Profiles to Partners® process as an integral part of their “assessment center” program to evaluate high potential managers. Others have used it to identify the best choice for a project lead role and we are currently exploring how the Profiles to Partners® process might help identify developmental priorities for operations supervisors.

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The Mayer Group, Inc.