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Courting Job Candidates

by Lori Armstrong Halber and Rick Grimaldi

Interviewing new hires is a lot like dating. In fact, it is more like speed dating, where you have a short period of time to assess whether you like a candidate enough to “marry” (hire) him or her. So how the heck do you, the employer, find Mr. or Mrs. Right and avoid the one who looks great in his or her profile, but ends up being the one who leaves the lid off the toothpaste or the toilet seat up?

When most hiring managers are asked what they look for in a candidate, they are likely to say, “Someone who is a good fit.” While they may mean they are looking for someone who shares the values and mores of the culture of that particular employer, the phrase “good fit” is fraught with peril in the hiring world. Why? For starters, each and every one of us is subject to our own “unconscious bias”—that is, we are attracted, without even knowing it, to people of like mind and appearance. As a result, we may unconsciously reject qualified applicants in favor of someone who is more like us. If the rejected candidate is of a different race, gender, religion, etc., the company is potentially exposed to legal risk. Try defending the decision with the rather subjective “he/she was a better fit.”

Moreover, as Stephen Covey says, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” Hiring only “like us” people limits companies’ success. Study after study shows that workforce diversity and inclusion are key drivers of internal innovation and business growth and that companies with diverse executive boards enjoy significantly higher earnings and returns on equity. (And yes, diversity includes middle-aged white guys like the one who is half of the duo writing this column.)

So how do we attract the “right one?” It begins with knowing what you want—how can you find Mr. or Mrs. Right if you don’t know what you’re looking for? Draft the job description and posting with the qualifications and duties you require—some may be “must haves” or “deal breakers” (background in engineering), others may be more flexible (masters’ degree preferred but not required). And, just like an online dating profile, you are more likely to find your match if you are honest about who you are and what you are looking for. Otherwise, you are setting yourself and the candidate up for failure in your new relationship. When reviewing “matches” only accept those from candidates who meet your criteria.

Now that you have identified your prospective “matches,” you can schedule the first dates–er, interviews. Many people use the “cocktail party” technique of interviewing, asking things like, “So, what do you like to do in your spare time?” And, much like small talk at a cocktail party, when it is over, you realize you did not learn anything important about the person. While interviewing is not a science, there are skills that the successful hiring manager can develop that will go a long way to make the process more effective. Use a script designed to elicit the information you really want. For example, when interviewing a potential sales rep, ask, “Tell me about a time when there was a problem with a customer’s order and the customer was very upset; how did you handle it?” From the answer, you will learn how the applicant handles customer relations, whether he/she is the type to cast blame and how he/she responds under pressure. Finally, you should ask all candidates the same questions. In this way, no one can say they were advantaged or disadvantaged, and you can more easily compare the candidates.

Successful hiring requires the same planning and honest communication necessary for success in dating. From initial posting through the interview process, be transparent about your expectations. Ask questions that enable you to really get to know whether your “match” is “qualified for the job.” Let us know if we can help you find the “right one.”

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 1, Issue 7 (June, 2016).
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