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Some people are wondering whether the price we’re paying to try and “flatten the curve” is worth the freight—especially now that the numbers of mental health crises (and suicides) are rising dangerously higher and higher. “We’re going to have to balance risks for the duration of this thing,” remarked digital media producer at TVO, John Michael McGrath, “because we can’t eliminate them.” Therefore, now is either past- or near-time time for businesses about to re-open, and needing to hire and/or re-hire employees, to plan ahead.

All interviews call for a plan. And learning the different options and ideas managers have available for structuring various interview situations—from recruitment right through to exit interviews—have become essential for determining the effectiveness and potential you have for achieving your business and personal goals. For those on both sides of the contract.

Given that the vast majority of Covid-19 cases are still taking place in the Toronto GTA, Ford originally considered the idea of reopening the Province in stages—presumably (partly)—as relief for some small and medium-sized businesses. Those exasperated at having to remain in the “deep freeze,” when we have so few or no cases in certain parts of the Province.

Before we get started…

According to informal polls of human resources execs conducted since the 1990s—most recruitment officers’ decisions about applicants don’t change much after the first one to four minutes of the interview. After that, most of us usually—whether consciously or not—spend the rest of the time confirming our first impressions. There are significant implications of this for both the interviewers as well as the candidates.

For either side, this means that the opening questions are among the most crucial ones, since all other questions are likely to follow from the impression made by the candidate’s responses to those. Therefore, keen attention to these replies are vital. And we need to be aware of our own prejudices. For example, a good candidate is likely to be characterized more by the absence of unfavorable characteristics (such as poor eye contact or sloppy appearance), than by the presence of favorable ones. We need to watch out for both.

How to Prevent Hiring/Acceptance Disasters?

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’ And the first one now Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’ —Bob Dylan

For starters, keep this foremost in mind: I’d recommend we keep what most so-called “hiring experts” have to say in a file labelled “Practically Useless.” Or worse—“self-defeating and ultimately quite detrimental in the long run.” The times they are a’changin’ after all. You have to trust when I tell you that most oftentimes the marketing editors tasked to sell and promote things like the Harvard Business Review haven’t actually bothered to read a tenth of this stuff themselves.

Every ad/pitch promises a “proven recipe for leadership” that will teach us the fives traits, four laws, three skills, two brains and one god that it takes to— and here I’m quoting the HBR directly—“transform yourself from a good manager into an extraordinary leader.” What utter rubbish.

That’s not to say that some articles aren’t of real value. I’ve read bales of them and a couple are modern classics. That’s the point. We’re in post- modern times now. Though the groundwork was done long beforehand. Please allow me to introduce, or re-introduce you to the American psychologist and economist, Herbert Simon.

Beware, or Beyond, Satisficing

The term satisficing, a portmanteau combining the meanings of “to satisfy” and “to suffice,” was introduced by Nobel Prize in Economics recipient (1978) Herbert A. Simon, in his seminal 1947 book Administrative Behavior. Simon used the concept of satisficing to explain the behavior of decision makers under circumstances in which an optimal solution can never be found.

You might try and fool yourself, or someone else that you’ve hired the absolute “best person for the job,” without having had, or taken, the time to interview each and every applicant.

To satisfice means to choose—not the optimal option everyone claims to be in search of, or having achieved—but rather the first candidate who appears to you as “good enough.”

Meaning, the first one to walk in the door that meets the minimum requirements you’ve pre-determined as your criteria.

The key to protecting yourself and your organization from such perilous pitfalls is… first of all, to create a job description that’s more than just some boilerplate template of out-of-context, unrelated, disjointed list of duties and responsibilities—usually absent the most vital information concerning the relative importance of each item, and how everything fits into the overall purpose. And some useful guidance on how to achieve it.

Beware the Cloning Trap

Resumes and supporting documents are one thing, but the complete recruitment process usually requires some direct interpersonal contact with the candidates. Especially in commercial retail and customer service businesses. Only the face-to-face interview can finalize the decision to offer a position to the right candidate in such cases when and where you need them. As well as how to help them find the right fit of where and with whom they want to work next.

It’s often been suggested that one of the most important skill sets a hiring manager can exercise is to listen carefully and communicate effectively what their needs are on behalf of the organization. These are particularly critical capabilities for performing the managerial responsibility of finding the best qualified, and most likely productive, employees. For now, and again looking forward.

Many of us are hardwired to hire people we find attractive, or whose values and background is similar to our own. Someone who appears to like us too, or otherwise makes us feel comfortable. It’s natural that we feel some natural affinity for people “like us.” But there’s danger in pushing this posture too close to its limits. (McLuhan’s fourth law of media.)

In making hiring decisions based on such affinities, however, we easily fall prey to the trap whereby we hire people who are simply (generation lost) images, or “clones,” of ourselves. As a result, over time, the organization suffers without benefit of an available wealth of varied experiences, personalities, approaches, and abilities to be found in others. In short, employees reflecting the profiles of your customers; rather than simply each other.

Another way of thinking about the cloning trap is to consider the necessarily diverse organization of any professional or amateur team sport in our culture. To be successful in highly competitive circumstances requires both high-calibre offensive play as well as strong defensive challengers. Therefore, management chooses players who can fill various functions that go together synergistically. (It’s no use having a four-goal-a- game offense, if your goalie is a sieve who routinely lets in six soft shots from the point.)

Hire people who are strong where you are weak. And weigh your criteria, so as to permit some aspects of their being weak where you are already strong. That’s more advantageous than hiring those who may be a little bit stronger where you’re already quite strong. You might win a few games, but you won’t make the playoffs.

Subtleties of variety and balance are the criteria you must learn to identify and adapt for your own unique employment selection procedures. You need to commit to hiring people who compliment, rather than duplicate, the skills you already possess. If you only hire friends who are strong where you are already strong, you’re almost certain to be missing out on some likely big, upcoming personal and business opportunities.

What to Look Out for When Evaluating Employment Candidates and Opportunities

Most innovative companies have already, long-ago come to understand how the most important element for both sides of the employment equation— both employee and employer—concerns the mutual setting of expectations. You ask for theirs; reflect; and respond by stating both your personal understanding of their expectations, then give your own. Then ask yourself—regardless of whether you are in the role of employer or employee—is the other person or side coachable?

Whatever you do—at least from my point-of-view these days especially— avoid prioritizing specialist, technical skills over generalist, relational ones. It’s easier to find replacements for one than the other. Trust your intuition, however, and try not to presume you’re selecting a good hire and/or rejecting a bad candidate, without first checking your perceptions with others.

Best, (Tested for Efficacy), Cautions and Tips to Consider

First, recognize that you probably won’t be able to answer the question of whether to hire a particular candidate or not, based only on one single aspect of their credentials and/or behaviour during the interviews. Instead, you will have to draw on the overall impression you’re able to glean from everything you’ve learned and observed already.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind during this process:

  • Try letting the candidate do the talking as much as possible. Keep your reactions to yourself, as if you were playing poker. Don’t talk for too long at any one time.
  • Start with broadly-based, open questions to get the applicant talking more freely. Then probe for more specifics. Bottom line: pay close attention!
  • Look for specific examples in response to your questions about the candidate’s previous experience and performance. Abstractions and generalities need to be backed up with evidence. For example, “I’m conscientious and hard-working” sounds vague, unless accompanied by, “For instance, when I’m given a new assignment, I make certain I’ve asked enough of the right questions to be sure of what I’m doing.”
  • When candidates respond to hypothetical questions about how they might go about solving a problem on the job, consider their approach to the problem, rather than focusing just the answer itself. Those with all the quick answers may tend towards being impulsive. Those who respond first by asking relevant questions are more likely to make informed decisions. (Trust me. I know where of I speak.)
  • Take the interview seriously. It’s an important event in people’s lives—yours included—as well as in the history and life of the business. Poor interviewing results in costly mistakes if not handled properly. Putting a bit more time and effort into preparation and follow-through can save wicked problems in the future.
  • Finally, be sure you’re aware of any legal constraints regarding the employment interview process. For instance, in Canada, personal factors such as age, sex, race, religion, and ethnic origin cannot be considered when a decision is made to hire someone.

Remember, whoever you are, the best organizations and the best pool of candidates for any worthwhile positions are likely to present the best versions of themselves throughout the employment process. It’s easy for leaders on both sides of the bargaining table to dismiss some red flags when in a rush to fill key positions.

These strategies (listed above), and others I’d like to discuss with you again from time to time as we move through the re-opening phase of this New Economy are well intended. Companies of all sizes, start-ups of all kinds, and individuals of all sorts from near and far—all want to manage a good fit for ourselves. Within the ever-emergent complex and turbulent cultures and subcultures we witness unfolding.

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