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  • Barry Wolfe

Why Finding the Best Person Should NOT Be The Goal of Your Hiring Process


Talk with any business leader about what’s bothering him in his business, and it’s a sure bet that near the top of his list will be the exclamation, “It’s so hard to find good people!” After 25-ish years as a human resources leader, that’s not how I’d characterize the challenge of talent acquisition. The problem is not bad people, it’s bad hiring decisions. Sure, the world holds fewer great potential employees than mediocre ones; but just as your lost keys always turn up in the last place you look, the problem with a bad selection process is that it always stops at the wrong people.

There are a lot of reasons why, chief among them being the mistaken belief that a good hiring decision is mostly a matter of finding the really, really good interview questions that pry open the window to the candidate’s soul or something. If you think so too, do me a favor. When you’ve finished this post, do a Google search on “10 really good interview questions.” You'll see that page one of your results will be a raft of articles preparing job candidates to BS their way through the most common interview questions employers ask. So if your hiring process hinges on a list of generic interview questions, I have some bad news for you: Your job seekers are far better prepared for your interview than you are.

One other cause of bad hiring decisions, drastically counterintuitive though it may sound, is the mistaken notion that your hiring process should be geared towards finding the best possible person for the job. Before you click off this page to check the weekend’s weather in disgust, stick with me for at least three more paragraphs.

You can describe the quality of any candidate pool using five possible groups. At the bottom end – call it Level One – are the people who are completely unsuited to your opening (notice that I didn’t say “unqualified” – for legal and practical reasons better left to a future post, “suited” is a better concept). At the opposite end are the Level Fives, or Stars. Think of Level Three as “Suited,” Level Four as “Exceptionally Suited,” and Level Two as “Almost Suited.”

Here’s the reality: It takes virtually no interviewing skill whatsoever to recognize a candidate as a Level One. My fourteen-year-old daughter has never been near an interview in her life, but she could determine that I am completely unsuited for a job as a Biologist before five songs have passed on her playlist. It would be about as easy for her to conclude someone is a true Star, but that’s because that candidate would take control of the interview to make sure she knew perfectly well he was right for the job, as Stars do.

If you get a Level Three or a Level Four, even by accident, you win. But with virtually every bad hire, the failure was with a candidate who is Level Two, Almost Suited. The person had a lot of what the hiring team was looking for; but he didn’t have everything the team was looking for. After having been hired, the person fails for lacking the right knowledge, skills, or abilities; but don’t forget, that deficiency existed when you were interviewing him.

Smoking out those deficiencies takes more preparation, more probing questions, more critical evaluation, and a lot more caution with a superficially attractive candidate than most hiring teams are willing to commit to the process. However, it becomes easier when the team goes into the hiring process realizing that the real goal is not to identify the most suitable candidate, which is what all those business leaders above are complaining about: If instead, the team commits to weeding out the Almost Suitable candidates, they’re improving their odds of bringing on the next successful member of the team.

Weeding out the almost suitable doesn’t have to involve endless grilling sessions or background checks used by the CIA. It does, however, require a thoughtful answer to one critical question, which I’ll explore in my next post.


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