If I asked you to name your top three employees, chances are you could do that without much trouble. But if I then asked you to list the attributes – the competencies, behaviors, values, life experiences and such that made each of them so effective, I suspect you’d struggle a bit.

If you’re like most managers, you’re pretty happy with your hiring process. You pay attention to resumes, test results and interviews, but in the end, you trust your gut. And it’s not that you’re against adding some rigor to the process, it’s that you don’t know what you don’t know. You think your process or lack of process is working just fine, until it isn’t.

I’m a big fan of intuition and trusting your gut, but I’m also a big fan of data. If we can identify the characteristics that make one person more effective at a particular job than another, and use that data to help select the best candidate, why shouldn’t we? Used correctly, it could benefit not only the company but also the individual, even those we don’t hire.

Start by profiling the job

I continue to be amazed at how many people set out to find the perfect match without first identifying the aspects of the job they’re looking to match to. It reminds me of my early days in IT and a cartoon where the boss said to the programmers “You guys start coding. I’ll go find out what the users want.”

It sounds ridiculous, but we do it all the time. We think a generic job description is ample documentation. And we think matching a resume to a generic job description suffices as job-person matching. If that’s your approach and you’re comfortable you’re getting the results you want, then good for you. If not, read on.

I’m a big advocate of job profiling. Job profiling is a process for defining the job in terms of: 1) results expected (rather than simply a lists of tasks) and 2) skills, competencies, values and experiences that typically contribute to one’s ability to produce those results.

The results, often described as deliverables, are identified by the manager and those most knowledgable about the job.

Where there are top tier performers in the job already, we can assess their competencies, behaviors, values and experiences and build a profile based on common attributes. Once we have that profile, then we simply give the same assessment to potential candidates and see how they compare.

Select appropriate assessments

The decision around which assessment tool or tools to use in matching people to work is not an easy one. There are many good products and tools and it’s difficult to know which one is right for you. I tend to be assessment agnostic and try to use whatever tool my clients have experience using or prefer.

That said, I do have some favorites. TTI Success Insights TriMetrix DNA combines behaviors, values (they call them Driving Forces) and strengths (they call them Competencies) into one assessment and report.

Not all assessments are the same

One of the reasons I like assessments is they help eliminate, or at least mitigate, some of the biases that plague most humans. But tests can be biased as well.

Be sure to choose assessments that have been properly vetted for both validity and adverse impact. Adverse Impact is a compliance requirement that states that employers may not use an employment practice (such as an assessment) that results in a “substantially different rate of selection in hiring, promotion, or other employment decision which works to the disadvantage of members of a race, sex, or ethnic group.”

Very few assessment companies go through the process of ensuring their assessments meet Adverse Impact laws and regulations. Notable exceptions are TTI Success Insights and Hogan Assessments.

Apply interview smarts

Assessments are important, but so are interviews. The key is to have data from a variety of sources to help you make the best decision. It’s not about replacing face-to-face human interaction with electronic tests, it’s about picking good assessments, adding more humans into the mix and helping those humans become more effective in interviewing and assessing candidates.

Three keys to effective interviews

Don’t assume everyone knows how to interview. Just because a person is at a certain level in the organization and they’ve hired, managed and fired people, doesn’t mean they know how to interview. Interviewing is an acquired skill. It’s not rocket science, but there are certain things you need to know and do in order to be effective. Here are some guidelines.

The more the merrier. I’m a strong advocate of having candidates interview with multiple people. When decisions are left up to one person, you’re inviting bias.

Decide the questions you’re going to ask beforehand. A systematic and consistent approach is critical. Letting each person who interviews “wing it” is not likely to get you the data you need. I recommend use of behavioral interview questions. Train people on how to do behavioral interviews and in particular how to drill down to get meaningful data.

Take notes. Interviewers should not only be trained in the kinds of questions to ask, they should also be trained in how to listen, what to capture, and what to do with the data to make it more useful. Again, think system. What you don’t want is a bunch of random interview notes. You want to capture and record responses as data that can be added to assessment data and used to help the team make a decision.

Be aware of biases. Humans are naturally biased. Be aware of your subconscious biases and guard against letting them influence your decisions. Common biases include:

  • Similar to Me Bias – We tend to select people who are “like us” in terms of personality, experience, even looks.
  • Superficiality Bias – The technical term is Effective Heuristic and it happens when you judge job suitability by superficial elements such as level of attractiveness, tattoos or weight.
  • Confirmation Bias – We have certain beliefs or ideas and, then seek out confirmation of our preconceived beliefs.
  • Anchoring Bias – This comes into play when you go into the interview with an expectation and that expectation influences your evaluation. In other words, if you expected the person to be good, likely as not you will judge the interview favorably regardless of what actually happens.

Front-Loading your people investment

Laszlo Bock, head of Google’s People Operation, refers to their approach as front-loading their people investment, which means purposely spending more time and energy on assessing and cultivating new hires. They reckon that if they get this piece right, then they’ll have to do less work after they’re hired. Conversely, all the training in the world can’t convert a bad hire into a good one.

The best person for the job is the one whose personality and natural skills and talents best fit the requirements of the job and one who’s values match those of the organization. Job profiles, assessments and smart interviewing can provide you with the data you need to make smart decisions.