Top 3 hiring mistakes to avoid

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This article aims to inform HR (Human Resources), OD (Organizational Development), and other professionals related to people performance on three key areas that lead to hiring mistakes. Specifically, this article discusses three factors that lead to hiring mistakes including (a) use of unrealistic job descriptions; (b) differing expectations among interviewers; and (c) using arbitrary questions.


Hiring is big business. Companies in the United States alone spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year in an attempt to outfit their workforce with the most exceptional performers. Unfortunately, using traditional methods of selection, companies only have about one in five chance (~20%) of identifying that outstanding performer. There are many reasons why but I outline three major ones here.
Unrealistic job descriptions: Depending on the size of organization, job descriptions are frequently pieced together collaboratively by both the hiring manager and a representative from HR/OD. When it comes to technical skills, job descriptions do an adequate job of capturing key hard skills or technical competencies. With respect to soft or behavioral skills – i.e., personal qualities that fall outside of technical skills, however, job descriptions often go far overboard to include every personal quality that seems even remotely related to the job. This is certainly understandable since many companies desire individuals who are intelligent but not arrogant, creative but not a rebel, practical but also a risk-taker, personable but also unafraid to direct, hard-working but also laid-back, strategic-minded but also tactical, even-keeled but also passionate, and the list goes on. To use a color analogy, my point here is that personal qualities are not like a diverse patchwork of random colors; rather they tend to be expressed as complimentary colors or what I call like-personality clusters. This is not to say that it is impossible to find someone who possesses many non-complimentary personality characteristics; there is just less probability of finding one.
This makes it unrealistic and confusing for the interviewers by the time interviewing comes around. For those positions were soft skills or personal qualities are critical, the number of soft skills should be pared down to just a handful so that the most important qualities are identified during the interview process. Furthermore, the process of identifying these handful of personal quality should be done in a consensus driven manner and rank ordered such as to minimize individual biases.


So, what’s the solution? Job descriptions should be designed to be realistic – meaning that it should identify just a handful of personal qualities essential for the job and leave it at that.
Differing expectations among interviewers: In the context of interviewing, interviewers often bring to the table their unique ideas about various factors related to the job. These can range from (a) what constitutes exceptional performance; (b) relative importance of various personal qualities necessary for success; (c) personal experience related to identifying successful candidates. In measurement terms, these and other opinion-based differences tend to increase overall error or margin of error; thus, tend to decrease overall precision or accuracy. In other words, these opinions are not captured in a systematic way (i.e., made explicit in creating the job description prior to the interview) and simply allowed to be expressed during the interview, the chances of finding that exceptional performer subsequently decreases with the addition of each interviewer’s opinion into the hiring process.


To minimize margins of error, interview questions should come directly from the job description and be identical for all interviewers. In addition, interviewers should be trained on conducting standardized interviews – i.e., be on the same page with respect to what they are looking for and what constitutes outstanding, average, or poor in terms of the qualities identified in the job description.
Use of “best interview questions”: I often read or hear people about the “best interview question.” In a recent article published by CNN, one job hunter claimed Google asked them: “How many hotels are there in the U.S.?” This question was thought to assess the candidate’s ability to solve problems and handle numbers. Another question (asked by an unknown company) was “Quick, name as many uses for a brick as you can in one minute.” The idea, of course, is not that there’s a perfect answer, but are related to scenarios the candidate might face on the job. While these questions seem intuitive and well-intended, it can lead to problems (i.e., increasing the margin of error) when they are arbitrarily added as an interview question without a systematic consensus from interviewers.
All questions need to be vetted and agreed-upon by those who understand the job. In addition, all questions should be accompanied by anchored response scales that indicate varying degrees of response quality. In other words, interviewers need to be on the same page with respect to what should be deemed poor, average, or superior response. This approach ensures not only that the questions asked during the interview are appropriate to the job, but also acts to minimize that margin of error that is critical to improving hiring success.
In sum, it is possible for companies to dramatically improve their hiring success. This can be done through a carefully drafted and realistic job description (based on a careful job analysis), consensus driven rank order approach to identifying the qualities deemed critical for job success and standardizing the interview so that all interviewers are on the same page first with respect what they’re looking for, and finally, by developing and asking questions driven by consensus and anchored response scales to judge the quality of responses.

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