Our Guest This Episode: Don Lang and Laura Butcher
You can’t afford to lose time and money from a bad hiring choice. Our guests Don Lang and Laura Butcher are experts when it comes to successful hiring of top talent. Hear about the importance of understanding the whole person in the interview process and gain some tips on deal breakers, as well as what makes up a talent brand. Their excellent advice includes how to plan your approach to filling a critical position, including designing the job specification, job description, and candidate specification. Listen in for tips on how to focus on the qualitative attributes, the “X factor”, that makes a candidate a right fit for your organization, and for guidelines on effective strategies for the interview.
Don and Laura are the founders of Blue Key Partners; they focus on helping organizations developing leadership talent through learning and executive coaching. Laura has a background as an HR leader supporting hiring decisions across multiple industries including GE, Bank of America, and Delta Air Lines, in the US as well as Asia and Europe. Don’s professional experience spans North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, as an assessor of talent and in helping leaders get the right person in the right job at the right time. Don and Laura have written a course titled: "Hire the Best" for Velociteach’s InSite online learning platform, which is to be released in December 2019.
Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:
“... companies will spend more time investing in a new piece of software or a photocopy machine in terms of doing research and scouring prices ... they’ll do a couple of quick interviews and think you’ve made the right decision.”
“Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. So that’s what the interview needs to tell you about is what has this person done in the past?”
“Top-quality candidates want to succeed... to grow... to develop in their jobs...if there’s no opportunity for that ... then why would a top-quality candidate be interested in the job?”
The podcast for project managers by project managers. Hiring the best is a significant undertaking. Our guests Don Lang and Laura Butcher offer excellent advice on how to approach filling a critical position, and choosing a candidate who is a right fit for your organization.
00:48 … Meet Don and Laura
02:03 … Understanding the Whole Person
03:21 … Job Description vs Job Specification
07:00 … Measurable Job Specs
08:12 … Candidate Specification
11:03 … Deal Breakers
11:55 … Talent Brand
13:35 … Being Transparent and the Cost of a Bad Hire
19:23 … Planning for the Interview
21:08 … Building Rapport
23:12 … Laying out the Interview Plan
24:40 … Non-Verbal Cues
25:48 … Note Taking
28:46 … Roles of Multiple Interviewers
32:12 … When No Candidates are a 100% Match
35:10 … Assessing Capability
37:04 … “Hire The Best” Insite Course
38:23 … Closing
DON LANG: Oftentimes companies will spend more time investing in a new piece of software or a photocopy machine in terms of doing research and scouring prices and so forth. And they’ll do a couple of quick interviews and think you’ve made the right decision.
NICK WALKER: Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers. Every couple of weeks we meet to discuss what’s important to you and to all professional project managers. We try to talk with the best of the best, drawing on their experience and seeing what has worked for them.
I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me is the true voice of experience, Bill Yates. And today, Bill, we have another full house here in the studio.
BILL YATES: Yes, we do. It’s great to have Laura and Don in the room with us. And I cannot wait to dig into this topic because they are experts when it comes to hiring the best.
NICK WALKER: So let’s talk about hiring. As we all know in today’s economy, hiring the best people is more critical than ever. It costs a lot to find and interview candidates and to train new employees. No one can afford to lose time and money from a bad hiring choice. Employees are an investment, and we want a good return on that investment. That’s why Don Lang and Laura Butcher are here with us. They are the founders of Blue Key Partners, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations develop their leadership talent through learning and executive coaching.
Don and Laura wrote a course titled “Hire the Best” for Velociteach’s InSite Mobile Learning Platform. Laura has a background as an HR leader, supporting hiring and talent decisions across multiple industries; and Don has experience as an assessor of talent and in helping leaders apply skills and techniques to get the right person in the right job at the right time. Don, welcome to Manage This. Laura, great to see you again. Welcome back.
LAURA BUTCHER: Thank you.
DON LANG: Thank you.
NICK WALKER: Let’s just start with the basics; all right? First, getting to know a job candidate. To what extent is it important to learn more than just the person’s job skills?
DON LANG: Well, it’s certainly important to understand the whole person because that’s who shows up at work. Oftentimes in an effort to try and get the best person we focus on some technical competency, some experience, some skills, at the exclusion of really understanding how is this person going to fit in the organization?
And I was reminded of that the other day when I was talking to a hiring manager who hired a construction estimator. Lots of great experience in estimating significant construction projects. But when they got to work, immediately they started looking at different ways of changing the work environment in their office. They wanted to move to a different floor because it was too noisy where the other estimators were. They wanted a microwave brought in. They wanted someone to help do some of the tasks that typically the other estimators would routinely do. So very quickly they’re finding out, even though he’s very skilled, he’s not a good fit for that organization. And they’re thinking at 90 days now that they may have to let him go.
NICK WALKER: Oh, my. How do you sort of judge that, assess that before?
LAURA BUTCHER: Having a thorough plan for how you’re going to approach filling this critical position is an important aspect of hiring the best and hiring the right fit. So understanding very specifically what’s required in the role and what are the specifications of the candidate that will be best suited for the position. We often discuss the difference between a job description, typically, and what we refer to as a “job specification.” So when you think about a job description, job descriptions were created largely in organizations to grade jobs, to benchmark them with the marketplace for compensation purposes. Job descriptions weren’t created to fill the job or to staff the job appropriately.
BILL YATES: But we use that all the time, don’t we.
LAURA BUTCHER: We do.
BILL YATES: I mean, that’s kind of our first – that’s like our introduction to somebody. Hey, are you interested in this position? Let me show you a job description.
LAURA BUTCHER: And what we distinguish when we talk about a job specification is really focusing in on what are the results that this role needs to produce for the organization? What outcomes will this person be responsible for creating for the organization? So that drives a deeper level of understanding of what you’re really looking for in this candidate, what outcomes they need to produce.
BILL YATES: When I was looking through the content for this course, excellent content, I was hanging out on that because I’ve been guilty of that, just showing candidates a job description and not really talking about what my expectations are, what kind of results I want them to hit. So give some examples. For instance, I was thinking, you know, maybe somebody’s responsible for first response to a customer, if there’s a change request. And then I was thinking, okay, that could be in a job description.
But maybe going deeper in the spec it’s, you know, what should that thing look like? What should that response look like? What’s an acceptable email or phone call or whatever, the kind of communication that we expect, and then the timeliness of it. You know, I don’t want to be having a performance review with somebody later and go, yeah, you are responding. You’re doing what’s on the job description. But it’s not of the quality I expect, or it’s not timely. What are some other examples that you guys have helped people with?
DON LANG: Well, certainly, back to the example you’re mentioning, Bill, in terms of activities, really, around the job, right, oftentimes we have in mind certain outcomes that we’re looking for. Like we want to raise the bar on customer excellence. We want to raise the bar on our responsiveness. We want to raise the bar on innovation in the changing work processes to be better at it, as opposed to we’re just satisfied with what has gone on over the past several years.
So it’s helpful to give the extra thought before going to the marketplace to figure out, so who do I want, to figure out what do I really want to accomplish over the next 18-24 months that is going to have an impact on our business. And once I can put some clarity to that, then I’m in a better position to actually start to break down, so what are the behaviors and competencies that are necessary in order to be able to achieve that? That’s where we would generate a candidate specification.
BILL YATES: Got it. So in the job spec are you driving some metrics there? Are you trying to make that measurable?
DON LANG: Absolutely, that’s what you would share with the candidate along the way, so there’s no surprises.
BILL YATES: No surprise.
DON LANG: They know what you’re expecting, and so they can perhaps even self-select out, if those are not something that they want to achieve or don’t believe they could achieve, that kind of thing. So it isn’t a surprise when they come onboard that now we’re asking them to achieve certain levels of results. And so that’s, wow, that’s news to me, I didn’t hear that in the interview process.
BILL YATES: Yeah, right.
DON LANG: We were just talking about activities.
BILL YATES: So thinking about this specification, are we talking about like a 10-page document here? Is this something short? A briefer one-pager? What does it look like?
DON LANG: If it’s more than a page, it’s probably too long.
BILL YATES: Okay.
DON LANG: We’re really looking at I would say somewhere in the three to six priorities, the outcomes, more than that, you’re not actually going to be able to assess the candidate around. And more than that they’re probably not going to be able to accomplish.
BILL YATES: Yeah. They won’t have clarity on what really is job one for them.
DON LANG: What matters.
BILL YATES: Yeah.
NICK WALKER: So we’re talking about two separate specifications here: the job specification, the candidate specification, what exactly is that difference?
LAURA BUTCHER: So the candidate specification actually flows directly from the position specification. So when we talk about a candidate specification, we’re trying to identify very specifically what are the technical competencies, experiences that are required to be successful in the role, but also those qualitative attributes, those things that really are the X factor, the things that will make the person fit with the culture, with the leadership, with the values of the organization. And so those qualitative attributes become part of the candidate specification. And driving those to some degree of specificity, where then you’re able to focus your interviewing around assessing whether or not this person possesses those attributes, those qualities.
NICK WALKER: So what are some of the questions that you would ask as part of that candidate specification? I know there’s probably a lot of personal questions that you cannot ask, even legally, in a job interview, but yet there are things that you need to ascertain that are going to be very important to whether this candidate gets the job or not. So what are some of those questions that you can use to get that information?
DON LANG: Well, I think there’s two steps to that. The first step is organizing what Laura was talking about in terms of the knowledge, skills, behaviors, experiences, X factors, into certain categories, if you will. So what should the candidate have? What should they possess? What are the deal breakers? So what are the one or two things that, even if everything else exists, if the candidate does not possess those characteristics or qualities or experiences, you can’t go forward? And, lastly, what can be learned? Top-quality candidates want to succeed, want to grow, want to develop in their jobs, and so if there’s no opportunity for that, there’s nothing someone’s going to learn in the job, then why would a top-quality candidate be interested in the job?
So organizing all of that information, right, in terms of here’s what we’re looking for into those three categories begins to give you a process, if you will, for how to go about interviewing people, what things to ask for and when, and how to later on begin to assess that because if you don’t do that upfront in terms of categorizing, afterwards it becomes too much of a sort of likability factor as opposed to legitimately they don’t have that quality, and that’s a deal breaker, so we’re not going to go forward.
BILL YATES: Sounds like you two really promote a lot of planning, upfront planning, before we start reaching out to candidates or posting positions, I appreciate that. Quick question. Deal breaker. So give me some examples of deal breakers, are we talking about just like personal attributes or maybe technical attributes, you know, knowledge, experience? Or is it personality stuff? Or is it both? What are some examples?
LAURA BUTCHER: It can be both. I think Don gave a great example as we started our discussion this morning about a situation where it was more a style of working that was not an appropriate fit in the organization. So those things can be deal breakers, depending on the values of the organization, the culture, the leadership, the fit with the team. So those factors need to be considered when you’re categorizing and assessing whether the candidate possesses what you’re looking for.
NICK WALKER: In your course, in your Velociteach course, you talk about something called a “talent brand” so I’m just curious, what is that? What makes up a talent brand?
DON LANG: Talent brand, so the way we look at it, is what’s the value proposition that the organization brings to the marketplace for talent, for attracting and retaining talent. So what’s the market reputation in the industry and with customers? What’s the opportunity for growth? What’s the reputation or image of the senior leadership in the organization, and the opportunities to develop as an individual in the organization? Those are some of the ideas around a brand, if you will, that is attractive. Certainly things like benefits and compensation and other kinds of perquisites are important, as well.
But it’s much larger than that, it’s why would people want to work in your organization, and why will they stay once they get there? That’s what you need to ascertain. And you can do that by asking people who work there, asking people who were recently hired. You can ask search firms. You can talk to a number of people to get that sort of list of qualities that define your brand and then hone that into a message, in a tightly woven message, that everyone the candidate speaks to is going to hear what those attributes are so that that brand is clearly messaged to the right people.
BILL YATES: So I get the sense that the approach that you two really support is openness, transparency, both with the candidates and with the organization, the hiring organization, right from the start. You know, the job specification, even and, hey, here’s our culture, here’s how we have fun, here’s what it’s like when we’re getting really serious. When we’ve got a big deadline, and we push, this is what it looks like around here. So this is an open work plan, you know, in terms of the office layout, or it’s closed, or don’t ever think you’re going to use that conference room, that one’s off limits to you. You know, so some of those things you just, right from the start, you’re transparent with candidates about that.
You know, one of the things that is so bothersome, I think, for those who are hiring, is it feels like it’s just a big date, right? And so whoever shows up for the date, on the first date they look as good as they can, their breath is fresh, they sound great, they sound like the perfect fit. Sounds like you guys are trying to make it more of a, okay so, let’s just go hang out with each other, and we’re not on a date. You know, we’re going to be very transparent and straightforward. What’s kind of led you to this? Have you seen companies do this poorly, or results driven?
DON LANG: Well, we’ve certainly seen companies do it poorly, right? Oftentimes companies will spend more time investing in a new piece of software or a photocopy machine in terms of doing research and scouring prices and so forth. And they’ll do a couple of quick interviews and think you’ve made the right decision, and yet it is so important to really get comfortable with the other party, that you know that candidate. You know as well as you possibly can. Certainly no system is foolproof, there’s always perhaps a wildcard in there that you don’t uncover. But the whole idea here is to minimize risk, to really get to know someone and have them get to know you at the same time so that the likelihood or the probability that it’s going to be a successful working relationship is far greater.
LAURA BUTCHER: The cost of a bad hire is enormous.
BILL YATES: Yes.
LAURA BUTCHER: Just thinking about it in a very tangible sense, so it’s the lost time that you have, or not having the right person in the role. It’s also possibly search fees that you’ve paid recruiters to find candidates for you. It’s all about the productivity loss of having someone who’s not fully producing in the role, but it’s also the intangible, the price it takes on the team that is circling around someone who’s not performing well in the role. So it’s the reputation of the leader for making a bad decision…
BILL YATES: Making the choice.
LAURA BUTCHER: …about who to bring into the organization, so it’s both tangible and intangible, the costs of making a bad…
DON LANG: And so depending upon the role that the individual has and the impact in that role, that cost can average anywhere between one and a half times their annual salary to I’ve seen it go with one client as high as 10 times their salary.
BILL YATES: Wow.
LAURA BUTCHER: Impact to customers, yeah.
DON LANG: Yes, yeah.
BILL YATES: Oh, yeah.
DON LANG: There was significant impact in that organization if the manager did not work out in terms of the customer, as well as a fall out or turnover by the team that reported to the manager. So there were multiple hires involved that had to be completed later on. So there’s a range, but it’s typically at least the initial cost of the hire on a full-time basis.
BILL YATES: Yeah. You know, you’re hitting on some points that are right at the core for me, so I think about the role of the instructors at Velociteach. And, you know, when I’m interviewing a candidate for an instructor position, I let them know, hey, this is going to be a long process. We really want to get to know you, and we want you to know who we are, what we’re about because you’re going to be the face of the customer.
Or you’ll be the face to the customer, the face of Velociteach to the customer, and so, you know, you’ll be putting on a class for a week. We’re not going to be there. Nobody from the office will be there. It’s just you. So you are Velociteach to our customers. The way you react, the sense of humor you have, when something goes bad in the classroom, or it’s too hot, or the coffee’s cold or whatever, how do you respond? Are you empathetic?
So, yeah, it’s so important. If you make a bad hire, and then whether you’re a consultant or instructor or whatever, if you have a customer-facing position, then you’re going to have an impact on the company. And if we’ve made a bad hire, then there’s a lot of fallout.
It was funny, as you guys were talking, I was thinking about Patrick Lencioni, he’s got a book, “The Ideal Team Player,” that I’ve referenced before, and he cracks me up. He said when he’s trying to be transparent about the culture of the company, as they’re looking at candidates, to those candidates he says, “I don’t think you’re going to want to work here because” blah blah blah. You know, “We have a ping pong table, and some of the guys are just – they’re really loud and rowdy when they’re playing. It’s going to be very disturbing,” you know. Or “We like hanging out on Friday afternoons. So some people are über productive, so they go home and work on Friday afternoon because there’s a lot of horseplay or whatever.” He takes the approach of trying to talk people out of it because of the culture.
LAURA BUTCHER: We do talk about the importance of using candor in the interview process, so as you’re the interviewer, the more candid you can be, you’re more likely to have the candidate mirror that candor back to you. So if you’re able to diffuse the natural tension or nervousness that exists sometimes in an interview setting, then with being candid, talking about what you’ve experienced in the organization, again, you’re more likely to get that same response of candor and openness from the candidate.
NICK WALKER: So we’ve talked about the importance of pre-planning, let’s talk about interviewing a little bit more. How do you plan for an interview? How do you come up with that effective strategy?
DON LANG: So when we plan for an interview, what we advocate for that is to begin to think about what’s the process going to be like? How are we going to make decisions? How are we going to debrief after the candidates have been interviewed? And how are we actually going to make a selection decision? Right? We’re going to look at the people involved, so who’s going to be involved in the interview process? And what are their skills and capabilities to conduct an effective interview and also to assess data from the interviews? And then what’s the plan for the interview sequence itself? How many interviews are we going to do? Is there a technical interview? Is there a phone interview? Or is there a panel interview? Those kinds of things.
So we want to consider all of those factors and then map that process out. And once we have the process, then it’s a matter of simply coordinating the team of individuals that’ll be doing the interviews, matching them up with the candidates and working through that process and keeping the discipline of the process and the data collection going throughout that process so that, when we get to the end of it, we have a clear understanding of what we’re assessing in terms of information.
BILL YATES: So Don, you’re talking about beginning with the end in mind.
DON LANG: Absolutely, yes.
BILL YATES: So you start that process knowing, okay, here are the data points that we want to all touch on, here are questions that we want to ask, things we want to document. And this is how we’re going to assess at the end.
DON LANG: Absolutely.
BILL YATES: Right, so you guys talk about a, I’m not going to say an ice – it’s almost like an icebreaker, a good way to build that rapport early on, right at the beginning of the interview. Just talk us through that.
LAURA BUTCHER: It’s, again, a fairly simple technique that really opens up the candidate and warms them into the interview conversation, and so we call it “rapport building,” and usually you’re working from someone’s résumé or CV when you’re conducting an interview. So if you’ve reviewed their résumé in advance, find something on the résumé that speaks to an interest, a hobby, something in the community that they might be engaged in, something where you can engage them in a conversation very quickly that invites them to share something about themselves that they’re comfortable speaking about. So it might be a hobby or where they went to school or a city that you share in common, something that you could just remark about and have them share openly whatever they would like to about that.
BILL YATES: So I know Nick used to be in a rock band many, many years ago.
NICK WALKER: Way long, long time ago.
BILL YATES: If he happened to put that on his résumé…
NICK WALKER: Oh, yeah.
BILL YATES: And then use that as a way to show you have musical interests and talent, I see. I like it, though, because it puts people at ease, and it’s probably something they’re passionate about, otherwise it wouldn’t have been on the résumé or the CV.
DON LANG: Yes. And certainly it’s a way to get to know the person at another level, right? So oftentimes the common small talk is about the traffic or the weather coming into the interview, and really you don’t learn anything about the candidate. The candidate probably is just as stressed or uncomfortable as they were before. And so you’re really not building any rapport, essentially, or getting to know the person at the same time. So there’s really a two-factor opportunity there by starting the way that Laura mentioned.
BILL YATES: Yeah, and talking through that, you guys also – you say it’s a good idea to let the candidate know upfront, here’s kind of the path of our interview. So these are some of the questions I’m going to ask you, and here’s why. What do you say about that?
LAURA BUTCHER: People know what to expect, so they’re more likely to be responsive in a way that’s helpful for you to assess whether the candidate is the right candidate for the position. So again, laying out the plan, making sure that the candidate knows this isn’t about tricking you, this isn’t about catching you off guard. This is about fully disclosing what the path is we’re taking in the interview so that you can perform at your best and give us the best information about yourself and your qualifications and fit with our specification.
I think, as well, when we talk about the approach to interviewing, asking open-ended questions. So rather than interrogating the candidate, inviting them to share qualitatively what they bring to this position, what they can bring to this position. So using a technique that keeps the conversation largely focused on what the candidate is saying rather than on producing a series of questions that the person can answer with a yes or no.
BILL YATES: Right. And so I think, if I remember right, the stats that you guys were using kind of as a benchmark, you know, should be 85, 80-85 percent of the candidate talking, and 10-20 percent of the interview team talking.
NICK WALKER: How important, though, are non-verbal cues? Body language? You may have seen me squirm when he said I was in a rock band.
LAURA BUTCHER: I thought you were dancing.
BILL YATES: He’s remembering the old steps.
NICK WALKER: Okay, we’ll go with that. All right. But is body language important?
DON LANG: I mean, certainly it’s important to try and make the interview candidate comfortable during the course of the interview, mirroring the candidate sometimes is a helpful way to build rapport. But body language in terms of facial expressions and nodding and attentiveness conveys interest, conveys engagement with the candidate along the way. And so if you’re looking disconnected from the candidate, looking down at a résumé in your lap or having, worse…
LAURA BUTCHER: Your phone.
DON LANG: …your phone or your computer screen nearby…
BILL YATES: Texting somebody.
DON LANG: …glancing over at that, doesn’t give any acknowledgement to the candidate that they’re being heard, that they’re being listened to, so body language does play a particularly important role.
BILL YATES: One of the things that I struggle with, because I am a big proponent of active listening, and I try to get better at that, when I’m interviewing people I’m also taking notes. I’ve found that it’s important for me to take notes during an interview or later as I’m comparing candidates. I can’t who said what, but it bothers me to no end, and I’m always apologizing to candidates, going, all right, I’m going to take notes. Forgive me, I’m not going to make great eye contact, but I’ll try to look up every now and then. What’s the right balance? What’s your advice on that?
LAURA BUTCHER: So if you have an organizing technique, you know, with the notepad or whatever method you’re taking notes, is helpful so that you can be very efficient in taking notes and can repeat that over the course of several interviews with different candidates. It’s also, I think, very important, at least for me, to ensure that I don’t go running right into my next meeting, but that I take the five, seven minutes following the interview to complete my notes and to complete any insights or perspective I feel like I’ve gained about this candidate, to capture those because, you know, a week may pass, two weeks may pass before the next interview in some situations. So it’s important to create a record of your thoughts at the time that can be reflected.
BILL YATES: So I like the idea of highlighting or somehow drawing attention to – there’s usually two or three big things that I’ll learn about a candidate in a conversation. And you’re right, I may have a list of 24 little bullet points. But in the moment, right after we conclude that, instead of rushing in to the next candidate, you know, then take the time to, okay, go back. Point three was really important to me. Looks like, you know, I’m not sure our culture will be the right fit, or it looks like this person’s even more qualified than I thought for this. This is a positive or a negative.
LAURA BUTCHER: Yes, and so it may be that this is one of several interviews that you will have with this candidate.
BILL YATES: Yes.
DON LANG: Yes.
BILL YATES: Right.
LAURA BUTCHER: So there may be things that you want to say, next time I speak with this person, here’s an area that I want to follow up on, here’s an area that I want to go deeper in. Yes, those are important notes.
BILL YATES: Good.
DON LANG: If you find that your interview timeframe is going to stretch out over a period of weeks, it might even be helpful to take the notes that you’ve captured on a candidate and then write up a summary for yourself in terms of back to these are the things that the candidate has in terms of what they should have. Here’s how they matched up against deal breakers, and here’s some things that we see that they can learn, there are some opportunities there. And that here are the trends that we see in terms of patterns of behaviors over time.
So that that’s not lost if a month goes by before you see that candidate again, and to Laura’s point, you can actually go back and revisit that, which gives you a little more because it’s a narrative now. It also gives you more detail than if you were to just look at some notes in a column, perhaps.
NICK WALKER: Good Stuff, there’s probably also very often multiple people interviewing this one candidate. So how do you take their assessment and put your assessment with it and maybe even other people? Is there a meeting involved? Or what’s the best course of action there?
LAURA BUTCHER: First, it’s important to understand what every person’s role is in the interview process. So too often I hear very negative stories about people’s experiences being interviewed or being considered for positions in organizations where they felt like the interview process was disjointed. People were not on the same page that they were interviewed, or that they felt like they had the same interview five times, and so nothing new was gained in any of the conversations, by either party.
So it’s important that you have everyone who’s involved in the interview process understand specifically what their interview needs to focus on, what they’re responsible for uncovering in the conversation. And also in some cases, an interview may be designated to be one about selling the organization to the candidate. So, you know, each person needs to understand what the role is in the process and then how they need to be prepared to bring that information back to a conversation, to the hiring manager, to help make the assessment of whether or not this person will receive an offer.
BILL YATES: Don, Laura, one of the things that we’ve done here at Velociteach is we’ve felt that frustration, too, both for the candidate – okay, so I’ve just told this story five different times to five different people. I’m getting pretty good at it, but I’m kind of tired of hearing it myself, you know. So then we’ve gone to more of a group approach to interviewing a candidate, and in that we’ve had attributes that one interviewer will be responsible for. So this person’s responsible for looking at cultural fit. This person’s looking for competency, so we know who’s going to be in charge of certain questions. There are pros and cons to having three or four people interviewing one candidate at a time, so how do you guys fall on that? Do you like it or not like it?
DON LANG: So a lot depends on the context of the situation. Sometimes candidates don’t particularly perform as well because they look at it not as a natural kind of situation.
BILL YATES: It’s an inquisition.
DON LANG: Yeah, so as Laura was pointing out earlier, the idea in terms of building rapport, it’s much easier to build rapport with an individual sitting in a chair next to you and continue the conversation to be open and candid. When you have a panel discussion, the downside of it is one person’s talking, and the others are just staring at you, right? And so it is awkward in terms of for the candidate to build rapport evenly across multiple people. So that becomes somewhat of a challenge.
In some organizations, that’s the way that work is done. That’s the way people are interviewed, that’s also the way meetings are conducted. So if it’s a cultural quality of the characteristic of the organization, then the organization needs to figure out how to incorporate that reinforcement, that rapport building into the panel process so that it does more than just the inquisition, as you pointed out earlier.
BILL YATES: So it’s not intimidating, yeah. That’s good.
NICK WALKER: So let me ask you about a scenario, you’ve finished the interview process, you’ve looked at all the candidates, you’re assessing the candidates, and one’s strong here. Another’s strong here. But nobody is really strong across the board in every way. What do you do then? Do you say we’ve got to bring in more people? Or do you say, no, let’s just go with the best, or the least worst, you know. What do you do, Laura?
LAURA BUTCHER: Yeah, so I think that it’s important to understand how this particular role fits within the broader team. So you may have a situation, it’s very common to have a situation where someone doesn’t match everything that you’ve identified in the candidate specification, doesn’t match 100 percent everything that you might have identified in the position specification. But weighing how does this person and their attributes and their experiences fit with the rest of our team. So if you have a team that’s highly technical and has technical excellence, but may be lacking in more what we would think of as leadership kinds of qualities or characteristics, maybe it’s more important to tilt your scale more to what are those qualitative attributes and what are the strengths that this person brings from a leadership perspective that might balance out our team more effectively.
And so the same thing is true on the opposite side, you may have a team who are highly collaborative, who work very effectively together from an interpersonal perspective, but may be lacking in some very specific technical arenas. So again, tipping your scale one way or the other as you’re assessing what you’ve gained through the interview process on whether that candidate is the right person for the position.
But it’s also true that you may come up with, after doing all of your interviews, simply not finding the right person for the position. And so it’s okay to step back and say let’s reevaluate, should we go back and find other candidates? Should we reevaluate what we are expecting in this role? But it’s important to do that intentionally and not to accept the best available, if your standard needs to be a bar higher than that.
DON LANG: Right. Sometimes what we’ve seen, as Laura just pointed out, that people go in two directions. So one is I’ll take the easy way out, and I’ll just compromise and go ahead and hire the individual and hope for the best. And then, secondly, sometimes what they’ll do is they’ll just restart the exact same search over again, hoping that it’ll have a better outcome, without really revisiting the job spec, the candidate spec, and so forth. So that oftentimes, if it didn’t work the first time, and you’ve really done your homework to prepare for that, there’s a good chance you may not come out that much better the second go-around. So you really need to pause and go back and look at that process all over again.
BILL YATES: Having the two of you in the room, with all the experience that you both have had in hiring and identifying talent and helping grow talent, so I’ve got to ask you this question. I get the deal breaker piece, and I think everybody has to define what those attributes are as to the deal breaker, but the stretch piece, looking at a candidate and trying to determine how likely is it that they can grow into this. Maybe it’s a specific area of the job or a responsibility. So can you give us some help with that? Is there a particular pair of glasses that we can buy where we can put those on and see right into that person to see their capability? How do you assess that ability of someone to stretch into that?
DON LANG: So, for example, if that can be learned, is to learn a new piece of software, a new software application. It also might be during the course of the interview to ask questions to find out to what extent did they actually learn new software applications over the course of their career, or other tools or other processes. So if there’s a pattern of past behavior that says they’ve learned new processes, new systems, new tools, they can learn our system, our application. So it’s understanding what it is that they may not possess in terms of a knowledge or skill in your organization, and then looking at their career history to see to what extent have they learned similar applications or similar knowledge or similar skills that would indicate they can do that here, as well.
LAURA BUTCHER: Past performance is the best predictor of future performance, so that’s what the interview needs to tell you about is what has this person done in the past?
BILL YATES: Yeah. On all mutual funds it says it’s not.
LAURA BUTCHER: Right.
BILL YATES: But we’re talking people, not financial.
LAURA BUTCHER: There’s no asterisk, yeah, that’s read below.
NICK WALKER: Well, this has been such valuable information. Obviously, we don’t have time to delve into this in super detail, but for people who want to know more information…
BILL YATES: Well, we’ve got a course. Oh, my goodness, yes.
NICK WALKER: Yeah. And that’s your cue to tell us about it.
BILL YATES: We also have a course that I’ve been able to read through the transcript, and it’s fantastic material, there’s great content that Laura and Don have provided. So all the way down to really tactical stuff, questions to ask in an interview, kind of a checklist to make sure that I’m doing everything that I need to do from a planning standpoint. You know, we’ve hit on some of those topics, but there’s even, in the media center in the course, there’ll be specific downloads, templates that I can use when I’m going through this hiring process to make sure I’m asking the right questions, asking in a logical order to look into past performance to be able to predict future performance and fit. So, yeah, so it’s great content.
NICK WALKER: Well, Don and Laura, thank you so much again for being with us, we have a gift for you. We have one of our Manage This coffee mugs. Now, don’t fight over it, I think, Laura, you may actually already have one because you’ve been here before.
LAURA BUTCHER: I do, I do. I will allow Don…
NICK WALKER: Can we give this one to Don?
LAURA BUTCHER: …to accept this one.
NICK WALKER: All right.
DON LANG: Thank you.
BILL YATES: Seemed begrudging to me. I don’t know if you’re going to make it out of here with that or not.
(Producer’s Note: Both Don and Laura received a Manage This mug for this episode.J)
NICK WALKER: Well, thank you again for being with us, so appreciate you sharing.
DON LANG: Our pleasure.
LAURA BUTCHER: Thank you.
DON LANG: Thank you.
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