How to Decide Who to Hire: A Revolutionary Approach to Landing the Best Fit Every Time!
If you’ve got to the point at which you’re about to make a decision on whether to make a job offer, I’d just like pause and congratulate you.
You’ve had to make a lot of decisions and take a lot of action to get this far. Whether you outsources Applicant Attraction to an organisation like a flat-fee recruiter, or wrote a great job advert and published it yourself, you still managed to attract applicants.
Hopefully, you found the Telephone Interviews were an easy and powerful way of highlighting the best candidates.
Whilst Structured Interviews may not have been easy at first, I hope you got some powerful insights and the Promise of a Reference Call encouraged the candidate to be truthful.
Job Simulations and Work Culture Assessments were probably a revelation. I certainly can’t believe the number of times I’ve started a Job Simulation with a candidate I thought was going to be a perfect, only to see them crumble!
Now you need to make a rational decision.
The problem is humans are emotional by nature, and when we rely only on emotions to make decisions, we tend to make poor ones. Deciding who to hire should be like deciding whether to invest in a £150,000 machine. In both cases, we should take the time to make sure we’ll get a good return on our investment. We wouldn’t look at a machine, feel good about it and buy it on the spot.
However, I earlier said that emotional and gut reactions are built on years of accumulated experience and shouldn’t be ignored. You'll see that my decision-making process is a way of probing and intellectualising our emotions, making sure they don’t sabotage us while not pushing them aside.
<span class="grey-callout"><span class="text-color-purple">Note:</span> There may be occasions when you instantly know an applicant isn’t right for the job and can’t wait to wrap up the interview. This will happen less frequently if you do thorough Telephone Interviews, but it may still happen. Naturally you’ve already wasted enough time, so when you can obviously quickly make a decision to reject an applicant, do so and move on.</span>
But if you think the candidate is perfect and a foregone conclusion – temper your enthusiasm as it may cloud other people’s judgement- and follow a thorough decision-making process.
Ideally, you should make a decision immediately after meeting a candidate. Too often, members of an Interview Team sit back or get distracted by other things, and then forget important details. Additionally, you need to keep the speed of momentum going so you lost the Race for Talent.
Once the candidate has left, keep the Interview Team in the room and follow these steps with a clear mindset.
Step 1: Review the Great Performance Profile
Take out your Great Performance Profile and remind yourself of it. It defines the all-important Minimum Acceptable Standards for each competency.
Remind yourself that you want Great Performers. When recruitment drags on, it can drag down our expectations, so resolve not to accept a Poor Performer.
Remember all the costly recruitment mistakes you’ve made and the problems that these caused you.
Step 2: Score the applicant
Score the applicant against the competencies described in the Great Performance Profile. Remember to score using the 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 13 (Fibonacci) scale.
When scoring, consider the following:
- Look for patterns, placing more importance on recent performance, which is a good indicator of future performance.
- Remember that strengths can sometimes be weaknesses. A meticulous planner can be too slow for a fast-moving environment, for example.
- Remember, too, that success is sometimes down to context. Someone may be successful in an organisation where they’re surrounded by smart people and have great resources and systems, less so in a start-up with more limited means. Some jobseekers may want to move from a corporate to a small, agile company culture and vice versa, but this doesn't mean they’ll adapt culturally.
- Consider what impact a candidate’s weakness would have if it didn’t change. I know this might sound a bit negative, but recruitment can sometimes be so exciting that it’s easy to get blinkered, so I recommend also looking for reasons not to recruit.
- Don’t believe people who say they’ll change. Only give them credit for how they’ve already changed. A disorganised person might have taken a time management course, but have they shown evidence that they’re now more organised? Employers are often too optimistic, hoping they can help someone change.
- Note areas in which the candidate falls below the Minimum Acceptable Standard. Could this be a knockout factor?
As you score, ask yourself, “Does this person exhibit the competency of a Great Performer?"
- Include comments alongside your score to help clarify your decision. This can be time-consuming, so I’d recommend only making comments on issues of concern and weak points. As previously mentioned, don't make comments on potentially discriminatory areas and keep them purely factual.
- Recognise that this process is both art and science. You can only make a judgement based on the hard evidence you have and on the balance of probability.
- Don’t total candidates’ scores to decide about them because we’re comparing each person to the Great Performance Profile. It’s also a bit dehumanising to give scores like that, and the person with the highest total score isn’t always the best one because not every requirement is equally important.
Step 3: Use the Delphi Technique
Once you’ve all written down your scores, you’ll use the Delphi Technique.
What is the Delphi Technique?
The Delphi Technique is a method for making decisions in situations where there’s a lack of data or where the issue is complex or uncertain.
The structured process involves:
- Asking a group of people for their opinion and sharing responses (often anonymously) with the group.
- Having the group review the responses and then updating their opinion. The process is repeated with revised responses until a consensus is reached.
One of the advantages of the Delphi Technique is that it reduces the influence of individual personalities and social pressure, and increases the chances of people giving honest, unbiased responses.
<div class="grey-callout"><p>The Delphi Technique was developed in the 1950s. Researchers asked four experts to estimate how many American atomic bombs would be required to deter a Russian attack. They didn’t want the experts to be influenced by each other and to make false inferences. Each expert gave their estimate and their reason for it. The anonymous answers were fed back to the group and the process was repeated. At the start, estimates ranged from 50 to 5,000 atomic bombs. At the end, the range was 167 to 360.</p><p>This became the Delphi Technique, and it’s so powerful that it’s still used by the United States Government today. </p></div>
We see all sort of examples of how the wisdom of the crowd can be powerful. The presenter of the TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? explained that asking the audience produced the correct answer 95% of the time! In this case, the audience didn’t even know each other’s answers, just like in the first round of the Delphi Technique.
How to implement the Delphi Technique in recruitment
Invite everyone in the Interview Team to share their score of a particular competency of the candidate at the same time. Though the information isn’t shared anonymously, as in the strict form of the Delphi Technique, this still means everyone’s opinion has equal space and no one feels under pressure to change their score. (I’ve often seen the opposite of this happen when the score from a junior member of the Interview Team “clashes” with that of a more senior member.)
When you share your scores, you’ll often find that they fall within a narrow range (e.g. three to five). If so, you’re broadly of the same view.
If the range is larger than two steps (e.g. three to eight), the low scorer and the high scorer give reasons for their scores. Afterwards, everyone does another round of scoring, repeating the discussion if necessary.
Here’s an example. The team is scoring an applicant for tenacity. There’s no big disagreement, with scores in a range of eight to 13. But scores on leadership skills range from three to eight. The low and high scorers discuss their reasons. After this, the team rescores the candidate’s leadership skills, and the range is now five to eight. The team can move on to the next competency.
The beauty of the Delphi Technique is that it:
- Allows a group to make decisions together without so much bias of a single decision-maker.
- Reduces the bandwagon effect where the most senior person provides their score and people with a different score say that their initial decision was misinformed because they don’t want to look stupid (I’m sure you’ve been in meetings like this!).
- Means that people use their own judgement while benefiting from that of the team (if they can’t apply their own judgement, that’s a sign of a bigger cultural problem).
- Quickly narrows down to a generally accepted range.
- Is better than a single opinionated individual deciding.
<div class="grey-callout"><p><span class="text-color-purple">Tips:</span> It’s important that you discuss each competency individually rather than all together because this will better highlight specific issues and any growing unease with a candidate.</p><p>You must protect people who disagree with the consensus. They’re often ignored, but they may have valuable knowledge and perspectives. Ensure that everyone understands that they won’t be shamed or punished for sharing their ideas, questions or concerns.</p><p>I’ll never forget sitting in interviews with one customer services manager (CSM) and her managing director. At the end, we debated a candidate’s suitability. The CSM was noticeably not making any contribution. When asked her opinion by the managing director, she replied, “I’m happy with whatever you decide.” It wasn’t what she said, but how she said it: with obvious disdain and resentment. The culture was clearly toxic, the CSM didn’t feel her input was valued and she subsequently left. This was a company deep into the Mid-Life Crisis stage of its life cycle!</p></div>
Expect these meetings to be lively. If you think that someone is about to make a mis-hire, you need to tell them. You’re not just hiring an employee, you’re hiring a brand ambassador – someone who communicates your company values within the business and outside of it – and who can gain you or lose you customers. An example of how brand ambassadorship should run through an organisation from top to bottom is the story of JFK visiting NASA in 1962. He saw a janitor and asked him what he did, to which the janitor responded, “Mr President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
<div class="grey-callout"><p><span class="text-color-purple">Tips:</span> I accept that in some cultures introducing this decision-making tool may be difficult. If so, try it as an 'experiment'.</p><p>It’s also difficult to use in a small business with a limited number of people – perhaps just two co-founders. In this case, it’s helpful to bring in an outside perspective, such as that of a non-executive director or HR advisor. While their expertise will cost money, the cost of a mis-hire is often far greater.</p></div>
Step 4: Discuss patterns
As you score each competency, discuss potential patterns:
- Is the candidate joining organisations on the basis of unrealistic expectations? This is particularly obvious if their reasons for leaving past organisations are compared to what you can offer.
- Is their salary consistently increasing?
- Do they keep repeating the same mistakes? Are they aware of mistakes and motivated to correct them?
- Do they work well with their managers? Is your management style consistent with their approach? Allow for the fact that employees often leave bad managers, so don’t expect every managerial relationship to be amicable.
- Do they often leave jobs for negative reasons? Do they claim that the employer was at fault? A consistent pattern of this suggests the opposite.
- Was their past environment key to their success? They might have been a stellar IT developer because of the support of a great manager, unique products and a huge IT budget. Without these they may struggle.
If you find the debate becoming deadlocked, remind the team that the purpose is to find people that are as good as, though hopefully better than, your existing staff. Reiterate also that recruitment is an imprecise science and compromise is crucial.
Step 5: Debate why you should not employ them using a Pre-Mortem
A Pre-Mortem is a risk management technique in which a group of people imagine that a plan has failed, and then work backwards to identify the reasons why. This gives people psychological permission to discuss failure. It can increase awareness of potential problems that are often overlooked, so increasing the chances of success.
My recommended Pre-Mortem is to discuss with your Interview Team why you should not employ someone.
Discuss the following questions:
- “A year from now the unexpected happens and the candidate does not work out. Why?”
- “What are the downsides? Why wouldn’t we employ this person?”
- “How likely are the downsides?”
- “What can we do to mitigate the downsides?”
- “Can we live with the consequences?”
- “Can we help them overcome their weaknesses?”
- “What’s the risk to their career if the role doesn’t work out?”
Step 6: Make a decision
By this point I hope that you’ve made an informed decision based on the combined wisdom of your Interview Team and that no one has vetoed or pulled rank.
Businesses aren’t democracies, so in in reality the boss should always have the opportunity to make the final decision. However, it’s important that all employees are able to share their views and feel valued.
Please remember to resist the temptation of demanding that the successful candidate must be perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. The question is who might be considered a Great Performer given the existing labour market?
<div class="grey-callout"><p><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> You sometimes meet people who show extraordinary indifference to other people’s opinions. This is because they have too much power and often happens when founders have been at the helm too long or lack the discipline to take a more cooperative approach. </p><p>If you’re guilty of this, your colleagues may not give their true opinion. To help them do so, express your own doubts and say that you’re not confident about the decision. This helps others feel psychologically safe enough to share their views.</p></div>
If you want to make a job offer
Great! Skip to the next chapter where we discuss how to make a job offer that has a higher chance of being accepted.
If you’re unsure
Some inexperienced hiring managers aren’t confident in making recruitment decisions because they don’t trust their own decision-making abilities. This is understandable. You should always draw on the collective wisdom of your Recruitment Team, and if necessary use a non-executive director or interim HR. If it’s too late for that, you’ll need to make a decision on your own, but your risk has increased.
If you’re unsure because you don’t have enough information to make an informed decision, try having a telephone call to address any questions you still have (avoid inviting the candidate for another interview if possible). If you have enough information but you’re still unsure, then you’ve made the decision – don’t hire.
You may also want to imagine the person as your leader. This exercise often accentuates their faults. Can you see yourself working for them?
However, avoid the common trap of thinking that there must be better people out there looking for work now and wanting to work for a company like yours. You could start the whole recruitment process again, but typically new applicants won’t be any better, just different. Be realistic and decisive.
Equally, avoid these common mistakes:
- False sense of urgency. Managers sometimes think that they have to pick one of the candidates so that they can fill the job right away. Take the time you need to decide – for your sake, for the candidate’s sake, and for the sake of employees who they’ll have to work with.
- Sunk cost fallacy. Managers often factor in the costs and time already incurred in the recruitment process. They worry that if they abandon recruitment at this stage the costs won’t be recovered. They therefore want to hire in order to recoup them. However, the rational approach is to look at future costs, not past ones.
- Loss aversion. Sometimes not hiring will mean an immediate hardship. Some decision-makers prefer to hire, even when there are no good candidates, so they can “complete” a task.
- The illusion of control. Managers usually overestimate their ability to improve employees, such as through training.
- Preference for completion. Some people just want to complete a project, regardless of the outcome.
If they may be suitable for a different role
You might think that someone would be great in a different role or if the current vacancy was adapted, but I would caution against making another position available just to shoehorn them into your business. It comes back to the reason you started the recruitment process – to find people who add value by performing a specific task. You can always keep in touch with people with potential. The timing may be perfect when they next move jobs.
Saying “no” to a candidate
Don’t worry about declining candidates who aren’t suited to the job. Almost everyone can be a Great Performer somewhere, just not necessarily at your organisation. Don’t be discouraged if you have to turn someone down. Recruitment isn’t an exact science, and you only need to find one good-enough candidate for each post.
I prefer emailing unsuccessful candidates because it’s a more effective use of my time. Also, email avoids getting into a debate where a hiring manager might choose their words poorly and inadvertently say something that sounds discriminatory.
The language I use in candidate rejection emails is generic and designed to ensure someone never feels personally rejected. My simple advice is never to say anything you wouldn’t want to hear yourself.
The main exceptions to using email are in the following situations: the decision was particularly close; the process has become protracted; the candidate was applying for a senior position; the candidate has been messed around; the candidate could be useful in the future. In these cases, call the candidate and use words and phrases like “marginal”, “close decision” and “no one is saying you couldn’t make a great contribution to the role”.
If the jobseeker asks for feedback and I don’t want to provide it, I repeat, <span class="is-speech">“Sadly, we found another applicant that we felt would be a better fit because they had more desired experience.”</span>
I intentionally hold back information so that if a candidate pushes for more explanation, I use phrases similar to those used to reject applicants during the shortlisting phase: “The challenge for you is that you never know who else applied, and I can’t be indiscreet about them and their experience, in the same way as you wouldn’t expect me to be indiscreet about you.”
If they keep asking for more bad news, don’t be indiscreet. Instead, close the conversation down, explaining that you can’t provide any further information.
Deciding Not to Hire Anyone
If you don’t find the right candidate, the hardest and bravest decision you can take is to not immediately restart the hiring process. Despite the pressure you may be under, you need to do a post-mortem on what happened. Some useful reflective questions include:
- Does the right person really exist, and can you afford them? If not, what compromises might you make and what training might you offer?
- If the right person does exist and you can afford them, how can you improve the way you attract them? Was the problem a poor choice of Applicant Attraction Channels or a poor job advert?
- Have you properly followed the correct recruitment process or just a watered-down version?
<div class="grey-callout"><h2>Key Takeaways</h2><p>The decision-making process outlined in this chapter helps you get a better outcome. The key steps are:</p><p><ul><li>Benchmark candidates against the Great Performance Profile, remembering to use the Fibonacci Sequence.</li><li>Allow those involved in the hiring process to share and discuss their scores using the Delphi Technique. Talk about the reasons for any large differences in scores.</li><li>Use a Pre-Mortem to explore why a candidate should not be employed.</li><li>If you decide that a candidate is unsuccessful, don’t be discouraged. Say thanks but no thanks to candidates professionally.</li><li>Learn something from every setback. If you decide not to hire anyone, what can be improved for next time?</li></ul></p></div>