From Behavioral Interviews

The Dark Side Of Positive Candidate Attributes

What, if anything, could a hiring manager say negatively about a job candidate that was exceptionally achieving? How about a candidate exhibiting high levels of conscientiousness or sociability?  Surely no objections could be made about a star-wars-1724901_640cooperative or accommodating candidate!

In their quest to find culturally fitting job candidates, recruiters and hiring managers often yield to the results of behavioral assessments which paint either a positive or negative picture about the candidates’ potentials.  Of course specific traits are more favorable for certain roles than others.  For example, a quiet, unsociable candidate may not be suited for a sales or customer service role but may be perfectly suited for a role such a programming.  Some traits, however, are considered so universally positive that hiring managers may ignore the negative aspects of such traits that could manifest in their candidates after they are hired.

Achieving, for example, is a personality trait that suggests few drawbacks.  High achievers are often sought after for being dedicated, ambitious, and dynamic.  Yet, have you considered that an exceptionally achieving worker may also be unscrupulous, self-seeking and ruthless in their pursuit of their personal goals?  A candidate who already likes to bend the rules and also exhibits the dark aspects of achieving could potentially be an organizational problem.

Candidates who are sociable/outgoing with warm, friendly demeanors may not often be turned away in favor of quiet, less sociable candidates, but every trait has a dark side.  These candidates may be excessively talkative, boisterous, or even uninhibited to the point that they are disruptive and tactless.

Here are a few more outwardly positive personality characteristics and their dark alter egos. 

·         Confident – Arrogant, smug, patronizing

·         Bold – Reckless, unprepared, brash

·         Assertive – Overbearing, blunt, dominating, forceful.  Combine this with confidence and boldness and you are liable to hire a Wolf of Wall Street type.

·         Accommodating – Submissive, passive, pushover

·         Tenacious – Obstinate, inflexible,

·         Disciplined – Fussy, obsessive, dictatorial

·         Decisive – Opinionated, impetuous, trigger happy

As shown above with assertive, many of these negative characteristics, when coupled with corresponding traits, may be amplified. A person with a high level of confidence and moderate levels of assertiveness and or boldness may not be an issue, however high levels of each may produce a toxic performer. My earlier post on this subject showed that parting ways with toxic employees, even if ranked in the top 1% for productivity, saved a company more in expense than what the company earned from the superstar’s production.

So, when you are looking to hire your next Jedi, be careful whether you are hiring an individual who wants to destroy the Death Star or who wants to build a Death Star.  You may end up with a bold, confident Vader over a bold, confident Luke!

Brave Enough To Admit the Worst Thing You Have Ever Done At Work?

I can’t recall anything monumentally wrong I have ever done at work.  I can recall at least self-assurednessone time that I accidentally emailed personal insight about a job candidate intended for the hiring manager’s eyes only instead to the candidate.  I was a little embarrassed when I saw the candidate’s confused reply unexpectedly pop in my inbox.

I recently scanned a thread on Reddit where many people shared their stories of the worst thing they had ever done at work.  A few were funny while others were criminal.  This thread reminded me of a candidate whom my colleague interviewed years ago for a sales position in Europe.  My colleague asked the candidate, “What is the most foolish thing you have ever done at work?”  This behaviorally based question was asked of course to peel back the layers of the candidate and find out more about them.  Generally most guarded people will try to avoid the answer or water it down.  I can guarantee most won’t say they stole cartons of cigarettes from their employer or put laxatives in their orange juice to catch the culprit raiding the employee fridge, as submitted by respondents on Reddit.

This candidate, whose interview we captured on video and shared with the hiring manager, behaved unexpectedly.  Without missing a beat he said with the corner of his mouth curled into a smile, “I once shut down a bank’s main frame computer.”  With a grin he detailed how curiosity got the best of him and he pulled a switch in the mainframe room to see what it did.  The story concluded with him saying, “I was not very popular that day.”

My first reaction to his response was not to hang my head and think, “Oh no, this guy will never get hired.”  I smiled too and found his honesty a bit refreshing.  Beyond that I found his confidence and boldness to be an attractive quality, especially considering he was applying for a sales role where both confidence and boldness are desired attributes.  Think about it!  I knew if our client were to hire this guy that he wouldn’t come into the workplace and start flipping switches just for the sake of seeing what they would do.  He had learned from his mistake.  What I did learn was that he was willing to take risks and when he failed he would own his failures.  He didn’t shy away from his foolishness.  He confidently disclosed how dumb he had acted, smiled about it and moved on.

After showing his video interview to the client, this candidate was brought in for a face-to-face interview and later received a job offer.

Most job candidates shy away from admitting their failures fearing that employers want only infallible people but by doing so candidates often give the sense they are less self-assured.  Nobody is perfect.  We hear this time and time again so why not embrace your failure confidently, turn it into a positive and reveal to the employer what you learned from the risk, if any, that you took.

So I will end by asking, “What is the most foolish thing you have ever done at work?”  Please, be brave!

“Cultural Fit” Hiring in Only 5 Minutes?

An international study by Cubiks of more than 500 organizations showed that 82% felt cultural fit was an important measure in the hiring process.  Additionally, 59% reported they rejected a candidate based on the lack of cultural fit, and seventy-five percent of the hand shake1respondents believed cultural fit was a good predictor of success.  Sounds like hiring for personality is the new fad in recruiting.   Here’s the problem though.  Only a little more than half of the respondents could define their company’s culture.

Furthermore, how can anyone accurately determine what cultural traits are best for the company?  If we are to assume (probably naively) that these organizations are not using cultural fit measures to exclude job candidates based on race, gender, age and so on, then we can surmise that their cultural fit requirements are based on personality.  How does the hiring manager accurately determine if the candidate has the right personality?

For instance, I’ve worked with search consultants and hiring managers in the past who clearly like outgoing and bold sales people.  Makes sense right?  If I’m hiring a sales person who needs to regularly interact with clients and prospects, then I don’t want to hire a shy introvert who may burn out too quickly.  But what if the employee’s excessive boldness causes them to act recklessly or irrationally?  Maybe they are so outgoing that they talk too much or show-off.  Perhaps they are bold but during the interview you missed the fact that they were also accommodating.  Well what’s wrong with being accommodating you might ask?  An accommodating individual while often helpful could also be a push-over or a doormat.  In the world of sales being a slave to the customer is a huge detriment.

Many hiring managers claim to know within the first five minutes of meeting a candidate whether they are a good fit for the role.  How can any hiring manager determine in five minutes whether a candidate is too accommodating, too bold or too selfish?  I don’t really believe they can, which leads me to suspect that the candidate is being judged more for appearance and general body language than personality.  A recent study by the University of Iowa showed that job candidates with good handshakes were considered to be the most hireable.  This evidence suggests that if you have a good handshake you have already given yourself a leg up in the first ten seconds.

If everyone is hiring for culture then how do handshakes come into play?  How as a job candidate am I to know how to shake the hiring manager’s hand to let them know I fit the culture?  I mean what if I shake it too hard!  What if my hands are too soft or too calloused?  What if the hiring manager has big, meaty paws and completely swallows my small hand?  Will I not get the job?  On that note what if in the first five minutes I cross my legs in too manly a manner.  What if I wear a tie but the company is so hip they don’t wear ties.  What if I mention that I like the Miami Dolphins football team but the hiring manager hates mammals?  Gasp!  What happened to the good ole days when people were hired for their skills!

A recent Gallup poll suggested that 46% of new hires fail within the first 18 months mostly for attitudinal reasons.  If so many people are hiring for cultural fit but 46% of the workforce is leaving in eighteen months, then a whole lot of people are missing something.

So here is what is happening.  The hiring manager shakes your hand, looks you up and down and then decides based on your smile and interests whether you are the type of guy/gal they would want to hang out with.  If yes, you’re hired.  If not, “thank you we’ll be in touch.”  I know that sounds cold because just like in a relationship we all want to be accepted for who we are.  We can’t stand to think that we didn’t get the job because we’re not the guy or gal with whom the boss wants to throw back a cold one.  Bottom line – it’s a crapshoot.  Cheer up though, the position will be open again in 18 months.


“Achieving” has an Evil Twin Brother!

Who likes soap operas, science fiction and superheroes?  That’s right, this guy!  Perhaps one of the most ludicrous and unintentionally funny aspects of any of these genres is the evil twin story line.  Not just that the hero unexpectedly has an evil twin but what makes the evil twin really absurd is the presence of a bad mustache or goatee.  Does anyone remember Michael Knight’s evil twin Garthe from the Knight Rider series or evil Dr. Spock from Star Trek?  Take the hero, slap on a goatee and bam, now he’s a villain despite sharing most of the same traits as the hero.

Like many heroes, personality also has a dark side. Let’s examine Michael Knight for a second.  The guy can fight, is pretty good with the ladies, helps the helpless, and was selected to drive the coolest, most advanced car on Earth.  Would you say he was an achieving individual?  Sure you would and if I asked you to describe achieving you, like most people, would probably say “successful, hardworking, ambitious, intelligent and a go-getter.”

But what of his evil twin who nearly killed him and who drove an equally and awesomely destructive vehicle?  Could not the same adjectives apply to him?  Just as many heroes have an equally achieving villainous counterpart so too do personality traits have a dark, goateed counter side.  Also of an achieving person I could say they might be unscrupulous, manipulative and cunning.  Do people not obtain their goals this way also?

Hiring qualified, achieving candidates is a tricky game and while using a personality assessment helps, you can still make mistakes if you don’t know what you’re doing.  Often an individual trait that presents positively, such as achieving, can also be extremely negative if you don’t properly probe the candidate during the interview for the extremes of their behaviors.  Despite how professionally the candidate appears and how achieving they sound, you’d better mind what lies within.

Let’s do an exercise.  Think of the four most achieving people that come to your mind.  Three…Two…One…Ready?  Perhaps you thought of Lincoln, Edison, Bill Gates, or even Michael Phelps.  Why did you not think of Saddam Hussein, Mikhail Kalashnikov (inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle), Bernie Madoff (Ponzi scheme villain), or as much as I hate to say this, Lance Armstrong?

Lincoln was a great leader who ended the Civil War and Saddam Hussein was a cruel dictator but both achieved the pinnacle of leadership of their respective countries! Edison achieved greatness by bringing us light and sound!  On the other hand Kalashnikov achieved renown  by developing the most lethal weapon, in terms of total lives taken, the world has so far seen.  Bill Gates and Bernie Madoff both achieved billionaire status.  But while Gates did so through his software creations, Madoff became rich through ripping people off.  Phelps is the most decorated Olympian ever and Armstrong won more Tour de France titles than any other rider.  Unfortunately though Armstrong’s greatness apparently came through unscrupulous methods.

Now do you get the point?  Two roads, the high road and the low road, to achievement exist and you can’t always tell which road your candidates will take until after they join your team.  Despite the candidate’s many achievements listed on their resume and the professional way they carry themselves how will you decide who to onboard?  Properly used, a personality assessment can be a useful weapon in your ongoing battle against your competitors, especially if you decide to choose someone who is ruthless, merciless and cunning.  Better perhaps they work for you than for them!  Just tell them to first shave the goatee!

On a side note, if you do decide to hire both Superman and Lex Luthor, culturally speaking they aren’t going to get along and one of them is going to leave.  Then you’re going to have to pay someone a lot of money to find a new superhero or arch villain for your organization.

Who’s responsible for Job Fit, the Job Candidate or the Company?

Recently I read a post entitled “What Do You Get from a Job besides a Paycheck?” which discussed various questions a candidate should consider before taking a job.  Here’s a quick list of the author’s suggested considerations. 

  •       Does this role provide the opportunity to develop my career?
  •       Are the company’s values and philosophy in line with mine?
  •       Am I going to be challenged?
  •       Were the people who interviewed me happy?
  •       Will the work/life balance be in line with my lifestyle demands? 

These are all great points. In an ideal world where unemployment is low and a job candidate has numerous job offers from which to choose, perhaps they can take the time to carefully investigate and consider these concerns before taking the job.  Most job candidates, however, don’t have the good fortune to weigh all their options before accepting a job offer.  Moreover, is it even possible for a candidate to develop accurate answers to these job fit questions?  At best, with limited time and information, a candidate may only be able to develop a very general sense of how well a new job will work out. 

Consider this scenario.  John has been out of work for three months, his bills are piling up, his daughter is starting college in four weeks and the dentist just told him his son needs braces.  Fortunately, after sending his resume out to thirty-two different employers and having been to eight different interviews, he has finally received an offer from a company operating within his industry.  At this point can John seriously consider evaluating the points above prior to taking this job offer?  Does he care if he’s going to be challenged or if the company’s philosophy is in line with his?  No, at this point John is concerned about paying his daughter’s tuition, ensuring his son doesn’t end up with buck teeth, and finally getting off the couch and out of the house.  This job will at least pay the bills until something better comes along. 

This is a scenario too many job seekers are finding themselves in these days and one in which companies should give careful consideration.  Job dissatisfaction and employee disengagement are a major concern for companies today.  The problem is exacerbated when companies hire candidates who accept their offer merely as a means to survive this down economy.  If a candidate’s philosophies and passions are not in line with the company’s then soon the candidate’s levels of enthusiasm and engagement are going to drop which results in a loss of productivity for the company.  Because jobs are scarce many candidates have no choice but to accept a job not in sync with their strengths and passions which in turn hurts the hiring company. 

The burden to find and hire candidates that fit culturally must be placed on the hiring company and not on the candidate.  Don’t assume a candidate applying for your open position really wants to work for your company.  Chances are their cabinets are stocked with Ramen noodles and they have nothing but ketchup packets in their refrigerator.  In other words they may be desperate to pay the bills and your opportunity will keep them afloat until something better comes their way.  Hiring companies are in a better position to determine who best fits their organization by screening the vast ocean of job seekers using behavioral tools to test for cultural fit or video interviewing tools to assess enthusiasm, energy, experience and overall “likeability.”  Don’t let the candidate who needs a job determine if they are passionate enough for your company.  You make the decision! 




Your employees are leaving, and it might be your leader’s fault!

According to the 2011 Talent Survey by Aon Hewitt, 61% of more than 1,300 business professionals surveyed anticipate an increased focus on talent development in the coming year.  Forty percent believe there will be an increased focus on hiring, and one-third predict increased turnover.  These numbers aren’t hard to understand in light of the attitudes of today’s employees.  Over 50% indicate they are, at most, passively engaged at work, while 42% are not energized by their work and 40% are generally stressed to the point of feeling burned out.  What does this all point to?  A potential mass exodus of
employees as the economy improves and hiring increases.

Even more surprising than the statistics above, 83% of survey respondents believe that senior leaders play a very important role in motivating and retaining talent, but just  33% say their leaders are effective at retaining talent they need for the future, and less than a third believe their leaders are effective at hiring more productive employees.

I’ll sum up what all these statistics mean.

  • Your employees are not happy at work,
  • They’re leaving as a result,
  • You’re going to have difficulty replacing them, and
    Your senior leadership is partly to blame for
    all of this.

Perhaps placing the blame solely on upper management isn’t fair, but you can’t argue with these statistics.  Considering how much it costs to replace a departing employee, maybe it’s time to dive in and re-evaluate your employees’ job satisfaction, which is directly linked to employee retention.  A recent study suggests two ways for leaders to increase job satisfaction. One, survey your employees’ attitudes more than once a year to take account of changing shifts in attitudes.  Two, announce beneficial future changes which will entice your employees to stay on longer.

I’ll go farther with a third suggestion; behaviorally assess your employees
to ensure they are a good cultural fit, not only for your organization but as
well for the managers under whom they will be working.

Implementing all or at least of few of these suggestions
could save your organization time and money!

Why do 46% of hires fail within the first 18 months?

The answer to the question above could save your organization a good deal of money in employee turnover costs.

As reported in HR Executive magazine, Leadership IQ concluded a three year study of more than 5,200 hiring managers from 312 public and private organizations.  During this period the managers hired over 20,000 employees.  The results showed that while 46% of new hires failed, only 19% went on to achieve unequivocal success.  This is
perhaps not the most startling result of the survey.  The reasons for failing were surprising.  Just eleven percent of the employees failed because they lacked the technical competency to perform the job.  In all other instances the candidate’s
failure was the result of behavioral inadequacies:

  • 26% could not accept and implement feedback from superiors
  • 23% were unable to understand and manage emotions
  • 17% lacked the necessary motivation to excel and
  • 15% did not have the right temperament for the position

During the hiring process, a manager’s natural inclination is to hire based on the candidate’s technical skills.  The study however reveals that most hires fail due to a mis-match between the candidate’s personality and the job.  Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, explains that most hiring managers lack the training to accurately read and assess candidates.  Though technical competence is relatively easy to identify, the behavioral make-up of a candidate is harder to determine.

Today, many organizations are turning to pre-employment behavioral assessments
to aid in pinpointing problematic on-the-job behaviors.  Most assessments provide interview questions for the hiring manager to ask of the candidate during the interview.  These behaviorally based interview questions help determine a candidate’s coachability, emotions and motivation to excel.  When considering the high cost of
replacing an employee, can your organization afford not to re-evaluate its
hiring process and implement one of these tools?

Bad hire? Stop blaming HR!

I recently read a great article called, “10 Ways to fix a broken Corporate Recruiting System.”  Point number six suggests that the person with responsibility over the hiring process should be the Hiring Manager not Human Resources.  Each year companies look for ways to improve employee retention by promoting cultural fit through the use of behavioral assessments.  Does it not make sense then that the Hiring manager, the individual with whom the candidates need to fit, oversees the recruiting process?

 HR is necessary but they are tired of taking the blame for bad hires.  They pass candidates on to the hiring manager based primarily on skills. In addition, however, the candidates really should possess behavioral characteristics that not only gel best with the organization but also with the hiring manager.  One of the top reasons an employee leaves an organization is because they don’t get along with their manager. It only makes sense that hiring managers should take responsibility for determining who makes it through their recruitment process.

 Now of course many hiring managers, especially those in sales, would rather focus their time on making money than on managing the recruitment process.  Isn’t that why we have an HR department some might say?  Well HR has plenty to do without trying to figure out whether their candidates will sync with the hiring manager on an emotional and personality level.  When you consider that the cost of replacing an employee can be two to three times the employee’s salary, don’t you think it would be wise to invest a little more time into what types of candidates roll through your screening process?  Plenty of tools out there are designed to help you hire not only the best candidate, but to do it faster.  Put them to use, get involved, and stop blaming HR!

Telecommuting can cut costs, but not every employee is right for it!

Economic woes and increased stress on workers are a few reasons why many HR leaders are looking further into telecommuting.  The offer of telecommuting is one more way to attract top candidates wishing to spend less time commuting and more time at home.  According to a 2008 report by the Families and Work Institute, three out of four employed parents say they don’t spend enough time with their children and lengthy commutes are partly to blame.

One benefit to companies offering telecommuting on a full time basis is the cost savings.  Companies offering telecommuting save money by reducing office space and energy costs as leases come up for renewal.  Deloitte LLP saved $30 million in 2008 by restructuring facilities to accommodate mobile workers who don’t need permanent desks.

Currently 82 of Fortune’s best 100 companies to work for offer telecommuting.  Though the employees who work from home earn less pay, they make up for it in gas savings and time spent with family.

Take caution however in who you hire for such a role.  Not everyone is a good fit to work from home.  “It takes a certain sort of person to work from home.  They must be very self-disciplined,” says Allison Ausband, Delta’s vice president for reservation sales and customer care.  Of the 5,000 reservation agents working for Delta, currently 570 work full time from home.

If telecommuting is right for your organization, you’re not only going to have to implement it on a full time basis in order to decrease office space, but you’ll need to hire the right type of individuals who can successfully perform their duties at home.  According to Allison Ausband, great discipline is necessary or your employee might establish an unstructured work routine since no immediate supervision is present.

Perhaps the best way to determine a candidate’s level of discipline, conscientiousness, and other traits desirable for successful telecommuting would be to add a behavioral assessment into the screening process.  Benchmarking your top telecommuting performers and ranking your incoming candidates against this benchmark could be an effective way to not only streamline your hiring process but also to hire individuals who will fit best into this culture.