The Science Of The Interview

Job

Job interviews seem to have evolved into elaborate psychosocial and behavioral tests.


Almost as if there is an exact science behind trying to pick “the winners” from “the losers.” {hate those harsh terms about people]


Many questions look at how quickly the interviewee thinks on their feet, how prepared they are for the interview, and how well they present themselves for the job.


However, my question is whether these things are truly determinant of the fit between the person and the job, the culture, and the supervisor and team, as well as indicative of integrity of the person, their work ethic, or how well they would actually perform in said job. 


The interviewer proudly blurts out from his or her script:


TELL ME ABOUT…


A time that you came from from work and said “I completely nailed it–a home run out of the park!”


Or


–  A time that you came from work and said “Oh shit, I completely screwed everything up.”


Ah, like work–or life for that matter–is generally that black and white.


Are we forgetting about the 99% of the time that people go in the office, put in a solid day’s work for a solid day’s pay–and did a good job, made a decent contribution, and got along with the team. 


Also, let’s face it, the vast majority of people are not the Einsteins or Steve Jobs of this world. 


They don’t come to the interview having invented the driverless car or negotiated the end to World War II.


How about this question…


“Why do you want to work here?”


I heard someone actually asked this question about a job working in mining regulation–yeah right, your and everyone else’s dream job. 


What an incredibly narcissistic question, where the interviewer is looking to hear about how great their organization is or their department is, how superb a leader he/she is known to be, and why the person just will fit in perfectly to a place that alas they probably really know very little about from an insider’s perspective.


Okay, let’s try another one…


“Where do you see yourself in 5-years?”


Let’s see I want to be kissing your ass in 5-years and actually until the day I die or maybe better what your really afraid of hearing is that I’m gunning for your and would like to take your job and show this company what a real XYZ can do to improve things around here. 


Here’s another one a colleague told me about recently…


Pretend your David Ogilvy and sell me on one of your ideas. You have 15-minutes to prepare. 


Ok let’s put the pressure on, because the candidate coming in today for the job interview with a mortgage and two kids at home to feed isn’t enough.  Do these conditions really demonstrate what the person could do with amble time and preparation and for something they really believe in?


Let’s not forget to give an IQ and personality test to the person, so we can peg their intelligence and Myers Briggs or perhaps we should give them some puzzles and let them really sweat with the pieces. 


Let’s face it we’ve all had some people wow on the interview and on paper and turn out to be duds on the specific jobs, and others that you weren’t so sure about that turned out superbly.  


Assessing people is hard and many people are great at the poker game of landing the offer. 


It’s the interviewers job to look beyond the playbook and the acting, and try to see the real person sitting in front of them.


Yes, presentation is important, but even more so can we get down to the work ethic and the integrity of the person?  What they are good at and where do they have weaknesses? Are they able and willing to learn and grow?  What do they like to work on and what do they recoil from?  How do they relate to others and can they get along?  When they face problems, challenges, and conflicts, can they and are they willing to work through it? 


I don’t know any supervisor that hasn’t hit the jackpot on some hires and made mistakes on others…those that claim they’ve made an actual science out of bringing on the absolute talent–I wonder how well they do in their next interview. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Don’t Just Hire Another You

Donkey
So the corporate cat is out of the bag…



The New York Times confirms that “more than 80% of employers worldwide named cultural fit as a top hiring priority,” where cultural fit is a sugarcoated synonym for hiring others like themselves!



Your resume influences whether you get an interview, but then “chemistry”–personality (“not qualifications”) takes over–“like you were on a date.”



Often cited reasons for hiring someone:



– Someone you would enjoy “hanging out” with, and “developing close relationships with.”



– Those with “shared experiences,” alma maters, and pedigrees–including “hobbies, hometowns, and biographies…and even “those who played the same sport.”



What about diversity?



Well apparently, it’s still an “old boys network” out there, even though diversity has been found especially important for “jobs involving complex decisions and creativity,”  and so as not to become “overconfident, ignore vital information, and make poor (and even unethical) decisions.”



No doubt, personality and values can also be important in getting along with others in the group–even a few jerks on the team, can create plenty of havoc, discord, and dysfunction. 



Maybe after meeting the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) requirements, one of the litmus tests should be not whether the person is the same as us, but whether they are moral and decent human beings that can act appropriately with others.  



Not an easy thing to judge from some interviews, testing, or even reference checking–even when these are done well, there are still quite a number of hiring surprises that happen.



Or as they say about marriage, you don’t really know the person until you wake up with them in the morning. 



There are also more extensive background checking that can help vet employees, such as in the Federal system, where many sensitive positions require an in-depth security clearance review process that looks at everything from criminal background, financial responsibility, psychological stability, national loyalties, and more. 



We need to know who we are dealing with, not intrusively, but responsibly for good hiring decisions. 



Honestly, you don’t just want to hire the candidate that just looks good, like the pretty girl with no personality or a hideous disposition. 



To be clear, there should never be ANY hiring biases in the workplace–conscious or unconscious. 



Hiring mangers should make sure the person they are hiring is excellent in terms of the KSAs, has a broad set of terrific references, and can reasonably act like a mensch under a broad set of circumstances–the last one is the hardest one to ensure. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

How NOT To Interview For A Job

How NOT To Interview For A Job

So I am at this place of business this evening, and I overhear someone trying to apply for a job.

Note, I feel bad for the guy who is looking for extra work, but the interview just is going all wrong.

– Easy-Smeasy – He asks “What is the easiest part of the job?” Ugh, didn’t sound exactly like he was looking for a challenge.

– Keep your head down – He exclaims, “And never do someone’s else’s job!” What about helping where the help is needed?

– Great facilities you got here – He ends with, “And when I work here, my kids are really going to love coming to use the facilities here all the time!” Not exactly, a what will I do for you strong ending.

I didn’t get to hear the whole interview dialogue, but this was enough to get the idea about some things not to do in an interview.

The funny/sad thing was, I think this gentleman really thought that he was going to get the job after all. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Archaic Federal Hiring Practices

Archaic Federal Hiring Practices

So the Federal government has some archaic hiring practices.

Some common critiques of the system:

– While gone are the dreaded KSAs (knowledge, Skills, and ability essays), in it’s place are what many could consider meaningless multiple choice questions that enable applicants to game the system and answer what they think or know is the right answer just to get the highest points.

– Also, there is always the potential (however infrequently) that there is a favorite candidate of someone or someone who knows someone, but knowing doesn’t necessarily mean best qualified, but rather well-networked or connected.

To be fair, there are protections in the hiring system to include an oath of truthfulness on the application as well as security clearances which are used to help ensure accuracy. Additionally, there are the Merit System Principles that prohibit favoritism and nepotism of any sort.

However, when it comes to hiring, what you can’t really do in the government is just plain and simple see and recognize talent and bring someone on board.

Anyway, this came to mind today, when we ran again into this amazing lady at Starbucks. She works there right out of college.

She’s a barista and has the most amazing customer service skills I’ve seen in 25 years of professional experience.

She remembers us every time we come in and recalls what we talked about on our last visit. She regularly asks about things like my kids talking their SATs, visiting colleges, and more.

But she doesn’t just do this with me, but with all her customers.

She has a big welcoming hello, and smile for all of them, and doesn’t just take their orders, but engages them as human beings.

I tell you this young lady would be terrific as a customer service representative in my IT shop or any other…and if I were in the private sector or had my own company, yes, I’d conduct a more thorough interview and background on her, but then I’d probably shake hands on the spot and offer her a job.

I can see her interacting with my customers, capturing their requirements, problem-solving, as well as routine troubleshooting through engagement with the customer and the subject matter experts.

Why?

Because she is a natural with people and intuitively understands how to work with them, engage, and establish trust and good service ethos.

However, if she applied on USAJOBS in the current system of hiring, I think she’d never make “the cert” (the list of qualified applicants that gets referred to the hiring manager), because she’s currently working in a coffee shop.

Something is wrong that we can’t easily bring in young or old, talented people from the private sector or out of school, and grow them into federal service, even if they don’t have the perfect checklist answers.

Unfortunately, this is a problem in many bureaucratic-driven organizations, where if it’s not checklist-driven, then it’s usually not at all. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Amazing Amazon

Amazing Amazon

So Amazon should be renamed Amazing, because they are.

They are the best online retailer–love ’em!

SELECTION: Amazon has everything.

PRICE: Amazon is reasonably priced.

SPEED: Amazon Prime gets you your goodies delivered in under 48 hours.

RETURNS: Amazon takes returns easily; virtually no questions asked.

Amazon is so customer focused that you can even email Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO himself, at Jeff@Amazon.com.

Aside from their highly successful retail operation, they have the Kindle tablets, Amazon Web Services (AWS) for cloud computing, Kiva Robots for warehouse operations, and more.

So what’s the secret of their success?

One thing, according to the Wall Street Journal, is their tough hiring practices.

Amazon has “several hundred” interviewers called “Bar Raisers” that give candidates extremely thorough interviews.

Bar Raisers typically have conducted “dozens or hundreds of interviews and gained a reputation for asking tough questions and identifying candidates who go on to become stars.”

Typically, it “takes five or six employees at least two hours each” to evaluate and vet an applicant.

Amazon makes all this effort in recruiting to weed out people who are the wrong fit for the company.

They believe that it’s better to invest in a sophisticated recruiting process than to make costly hiring mistakes.

While this certainly sounds like a well thought out and vigorous hiring process, the article makes little to no mention of performance measures showing that their hires really are better matches, have superior performance, or stay with the company longer.

The one anecdote given was of a Bar Raiser who found a candidate for a programming job that “didn’t know much about the specific programming language.”

Barring some real statistics though, either you could conclude that Amazon’s hiring process is truly superior or perhaps question why it takes them 5 to 6 interviews to do what other successful companies do in 1 or 2.

Either way though, Amazon is a amazingly great company. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

10 Ways To Improve Federal Technology

10 Ways To Improve Federal Technology

While it’s good to improve government services through advances in information technology, we also need to do better with what we have, which is our own valuable IT human capital.

In the Wall Street Journal today, the “health-site woes” are spurring a push for changes to federal technology, including the possibility of a “federal unit dedicated to big tech projects.”

Whether or not we carve our a separate big tech project unit, we can do so much to improve success in all our agencies by valuing our people and motivating them to succeed.

As democracy and capitalism have taught us, we need people to be free to innovate and reward them appropriately.

While the grass may look greener in Silicon Valley, our challenge is to utilize all our resources in whatever part of the country they reside, whether they be government or private sector workers.

Ultimately, like most things, this is a human challenge, and not just a technology issue.

Hence, I developed the above comic strip to demonstrate 10 Ways to Improve Federal Technology, so we can all succeed together. 😉

(Source Cartoon [click here to enlarge]: Andy Blumenthal)

Got References?

Got References?

If you’ve ever done any hiring, you’ll know that the reference checking can be the wildest part of the process.

Some people have a lot of trouble coming up with good references or perhaps any references.

In one case (actually more than one), calling the number provided for the candidate’s supervisor went to the voicemail for the candidate him/herself–ah, clearly that doesn’t help.

However, often candidates don’t want their references checked until they have a clear intent of offer, which is sort of understandable–they don’t want their references bothered unnecessarily and don’t want to jeopardize their current position–but also a little bit of a chicken and egg approach, since you can’t provide a real offer without checking references first.

Then, there is a whole different category, where references are just bogus. In fact, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek (14 January 2013), in an article called “Imaginary Friends as Job References,” a CareerBuilder survey of 2,500 hiring managers found that “30% regularly find false or misleading references on applicants CVs.”

Maybe candidates think that throwing around big names on their resume will just land them the job or at least get them a foot in the door–not fully realizing that the references will actually get called.

One of the funniest anecdotes in the article was that of a hiring manager who actually found himself listed as a candidate’s reference—I can hear the candidate fessing up now, “Oh, did I do that?”

Anyway, it’s probably not a good idea to list people that don’t know you, don’t like you, or are not professional references like your mom, your boy/girlfriend, or your 5th grade teacher–then again, maybe that last one is okay if you’re Doggie Howser, M.D. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Tulane Publications)