Looking to Brain Power to Improve Hiring

November 3, 2016 – To achieve better outcomes in hiring, companies must take a different tack than the one they have traditionally been following.

Too often hiring managers place undue emphasis on the industry knowledge that candidates bring to the table, when what they should really be focusing on is an individual’s intelligence, says Russ Riendeau. “Hire the frontal cortex, not the Rolodex” is how Russ likes to put it. And he makes a compelling case for that position.

“The market is too chaotic and fast to wait for competitors to cough up viable candidates who, in actuality, are likely not very good and more likely to leave,” Russ told me when we spoke recently. “Think about this for a moment: A person’s IQ is innate; industry experience can be learned in two weeks. Most executives don’t want to believe this because they are under such pressure to produce. Considering that the average CEO has 3.5 years in their role, it is no wonder to me why so many decisions are made with short-term motivations.”

Driving Success

What Russ is driving at is that organizations should step back and take a smarter approach, on a number of levels, to recruit the kind of talent that will drive success, and then find ways to retain them. One area in need of strengthening is interview training, he says. Research shows that 75 percent of hiring managers have received no interview training in the last three years. “It seems like everyone, even HR managers, lacks the time to secure new training techniques, let alone deliver the training in-house to the team,” says Russ.

With more than 30 years in the executive search industry and a doctorate in behavioral psychology, Russ’ insights are well worth hearing. He is author or co-author of nine books on talent acquisition and leadership effectiveness. And he’s been an adjunct instructor at Northwestern University and a member of General Electric’s corporate leadership education team.

Russ believes too many companies fall short in their onboarding programs and as a result mainly bring in less than optimal talent based on industry experience. “From my vantage point, I see that they can’t attract or educate smart, trainable professionals – thus the retreads and marginal employees are recycled back into the system,” he says.

What’s more, CEOs should allow, even demand, that hiring managers be taught and encouraged to ask tough questions, demand documentation, and set aside their egos in the hiring process. “There’s far too much data available today to make an informed decision on hiring someone,” says Russ. “Remember the old adage: When you see behavior, believe it. CEOs and all business owners need to allow the changes in hiring practices to happen and support this shift.”

Reducing Hiring Risk

Russ advocates objective-based interviewing, which as he explains it is focused on hiring for the outcomes a company wants from any given role as opposed to matching the candidate with a job spec or job description or by matching the individual with the person who just departed from the job. It’s very different, he says, from experiential-based interviewing, which he feels is little more than a series of default questions that basically compare experiences and never really focus on the prospect’s past success or adaptability.

“Objective-based interviewing, on the other hand, looks at the exacting actions, similar steps to success and action patterns that are aligned with the current spec of the job and the candidate’s recent experience and success in mind,” Russ says. “If these are similar in, for example, sales cycles, pricing, level of contact, technical acumen, professional development training, self-awareness, critical thinking, geographic territory, communication style and status/power of decision makers, as well as the income of the candidate, there’s a great chance this person will fit into the role very well – even if they are unrelated to the industry under consideration.”

These are all factors that can be tested for, documented and proven, he says, which mitigates hiring risk. “That’s what all of this is about: reducing hiring risk and recruiting star performers who have a predisposition to succeed in a particular, tested-for environment.”

Expanding the Candidate Pool

Objective-based interviewing allows hiring managers to demonstrate and document the key deliverables or key initiatives expected from the individual in a role. Such interviews are easier to conduct, and they provide greater value, no small matter when one remembers that three-fourths of the hiring managers lack interview training. “This can lead to hiring managers creating more compelling insights and deliverables for the HR team who can then better focus on the sourcing and screening of candidates with the success patterns, experiences and proof that these individuals have achieved similar succession the same areas,” says Russ. “In the end, the hiring manager needs to own the responsibility for failure of the candidate. This means ‘consensus-based’ interviewing is not a proven good idea.”

The experiential-based approach creates too many challenges to be very beneficial, Russ says. Hiring managers are under such pressure to get an individual working that they often fail to follow through on details like verifying W2 incomes, which show if the candidate is being honest as well as if the income and experience ratio is where it should be. “If a person is not earning an income that a successful person should be earning in that role or industry, it is very likely a sign that they may not be the best of the litter,” Russ says. “And look at this: Did you know that 80 percent of hiring managers don’t check references or meet in a social setting? Even HR has a tough time persuading hiring managers to utilize the HR professional’s training and insights to objective interviewing and considering other data.”

Objective-based interviewing, for its part, expands the candidate selection pool beyond the competitors and referrals that companies usually see. “Now, HR can leverage more connections and source candidates heretofore unknown to them,” Russ says. “This shift to objective-based interviewing reduces issues of salary matching with existing workers, as well as conflicts with non-compete agreements. Counter-offers, bad will, lost customers, lawsuits, trouble with morale, overpaying and not checking references are also better prepared and controlled for.”

To work, an objective-based approach needs commitment across-the-board. Often it’s necessary for human resources to take the lead on guiding the process. “All executives need training in interviewing to guard against ego-hiring; meaning, taking the time to prepare and not use simply default decision cues or accepting ineffective onboarding processes,” Russ says. “Executives don’t have time to do the research on much of this interview approach, but HR professionals can assert their skills and data to help shift the conversation and approach to hiring.”

“Objective-based hiring aligns with research that suggests, as I said previously, that hiring the frontal cortex is more important than hiring a fancy Rolodex. Cognitive skills are innate. Product knowledge and industry knowledge can be taught, quickly, to a smarter person.”

Recruiters also play a role in this process. It’s important that search consultants thoroughly question clients to be certain that assignments are timed properly and meet needs expectations. “Is it a valid, doable search?” says Russ. “Is the manager unrealistic or naïve in their expectations of what candidates will look like? Can HR convince the hiring manager to make the needed changes to believe the market has the talent they need that may look different?”

All this gives executive recruiters better direction as they launch the search. It provides a sharper vision of the candidates they are seeking, for example. With more specifics and details they can better evaluate the prospects’ skills and experience. It’s also useful for the client and search professional to work out a specific, agreed-upon checklist before the search starts. “This eliminates clients from changing the spec midstream, keeps everyone in the process accountable, and also shows the client a strong representation of intelligent experience to broaden their employee skills,” says Russ. “Also, they now have more candidates to pull from, given the shift and green light to go after non-competitor people.”

In the end, objective-based hiring is a win-win proposition for companies and their search firm partners. “Hiring managers increase the odds of a successful hire that stays in the job because we are using behavioral science, not merely a senior executive’s gut feeling or simplistic hiring approach,” says Russ. “And research shows that raiding a rival’s ark of talent is not a proven long-term successful approach. Search professionals can also deliver better consulting, thus becoming a trusted advisor, and this also helps justify our fees and reinforces the need to retain them for other projects.”

Contributed by Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief — Hunt Scanlon Media

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