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processes vary widely between employers and can result in worse
hiring decisions than if a candidate was selected randomly, according
to a new report from Harvard Business Review.
guide focuses on hiring top-level managers - C-level executives,
their direct reports, and the layer below that - but its assessment
tips apply equally to other levels of employees. The Definitive
Guide to Recruiting in Good Times and Bad, by Egon Zehnder
International executive search specialist Claudio Fernández-Aráoz,
and Harvard Business School's Boris Groysberg and Nitin Nohria,
claims to be the "first time that an end-to-end set of best
practices has been put forward in one place".
authors say that improving the quality of assessments during
recruitment is "three times more profitable than increasing the
size of the candidate pool".
And it's more important to
choose the right assessors than to focus on the assessment technique.
The authors recommend a maximum of three interviewers, comprising the
candidate's prospective boss, the boss's boss, and the top HR
The best interviewers, they say, are "deeply
familiar with the range of experience and skills the position
requires" and "sufficiently self-confident to look for the
best possible candidates, even those they may deem more talented than
themselves". (They note that some people make bad interviewers
because they prefer not to surround themselves with strong,
high-potential colleagues.) Good interviewers possess a high level of
emotional intelligence, the ability to decode non-verbal behaviour,
and they're great listeners.
If it's difficult to find
individuals who fit this bill within the organisation, employers can
"empower the knowledgeable" - those who already demonstrate
some of these skills and have been educated and trained in assessment
(possibly because they work in HR), but a better alternative is to
"educate the powerful", by making sure senior managers and
executives are properly trained in making great people decisions.
The authors say
structured behavioural interviewing is the most reliable assessment
method, and they note that with training and practice, "even an
intelligent novice can master the basics".
they suggest, which should be tailored to relate to specific
situations the candidate might face when working in the organisation,
include: "Describe a time when
you needed to work
under an intense deadline"; or "Tell me about a situation
in which you managed conflicting interests among your colleagues";
or "Explain how you saw a
new product through to
"The assessor should probe for details
of the candidate's exact actions and reasoning at the time," the
authors say. "The candidate should not be allowed to discuss
hypothetical scenarios or make vague statements about what 'we' did.
The objective is to find out whether the individual's past reveals
the specific competencies you're looking for."
interview, the panel should have a "rigorous, disciplined
conversation about the evidence. This conversation should not be
allowed to veer off into vague discussions of overall impressions or
of how well everyone hit it off with the candidate."
authors recommend that each interviewer score candidates on a matrix
of specific attributes. "They then tabulate the data and gather
to review their combined ratings, explore differences in their
judgments, and arrive at a consensus on which candidates should be
finalists. This process naturally results in a bias against including
any candidate about whom a strong consensus cannot be reached."
Ultimately, following formal reference checks, the direct
boss is the one who should make the decision, the paper says.
authors' research also found:
half of companies rely primarily on the hiring manager's "gut
feel", selecting a candidate they believe to have "what it
takes" to be successful. Further, hiring decisions are based
mainly on interview performance, with little attention paid to
in a quarter of cases, the executive selected was the only candidate
considered. The authors, however, advocate the simple rule of
"meeting a dozen";
many firms take no steps at all to ensure new employees are
integrated into the company's culture, expecting them to "plug
"best practice" companies audit and review their
recruiting practices in the same way they would their financial