Hiring the Best: Go Beyond Asking Questions in an Interview

By Thursday Bram on 3 June 2011 (Updated 21 June 2011) 0 comments
Photo: arieliona

Finding the perfect employee for your business can be difficult. Depending on the size of your business, you may not have a separate human resources department. You may also have limited resources you can commit to a search for job applicants.

Contrast that with the exhaustive process (and extensive resources) used by online footwear retailer Zappos. At Zappos, hiring is just the beginning. From there, new employees go through a four-week training program and then spend two weeks on the customer service lines, no matter what position they’re hired for. Zappos has become well known for this process, as well as a special offer the company makes to each new hire after the first week of training. If new hires agree to quit immediately, they can walk away with $2,000 in their pockets.

The entire on-boarding process ensures that new employees are just as dedicated to Zappos as employees who have been with the company for years. But it’s probably not a practical option for smaller businesses. Nevertheless, innovative small businesses can go beyond the standard interview routine to find the right employees.

Dig Deeper than the Interview

Interviews are a mainstay of the hiring process. They provide a way to get to know an applicant, but they don't say much about how well the candidate will perform nor how she'll fit in with you and the rest of the team.

To help her get a better sense of applicants, Alicia Vargo of Pampered Passions uses card, board, and strategy games.

“I don’t play an entire game of chess with an applicant," she says, "you can imagine how time consuming this would be – however I sit down and either play gin rummy or chess with our applicants. Of course, they look at me quite strange.”

Despite the odd looks, Vargo’s method gets results.

“When I sat down with one applicant, she was quite competitive, and frustrated with her mistakes. She was concerned about winning the game, and winning only. She was quite insecure at the same time about her strategies. Ultimately she was throwing her hands in the air, could not believe she was making the decisions she was making on the board, and gave up after about ten moves. She had mentioned that she was an excellent chess player prior to me taking out the game."

Form this experience, Vargo surmised a few things about the candidate:

  • She may be a perfectionist;
  • She may not be a team player;
  • She may give up in a challenging circumstance;
  • She may not be a problem solver;
  • She could not take the time to breathe through her frustrations.

The result? "She was not a candidate we hired," says Vargo.

The Handwriting on the Wall

Chess and board games aren't your only alternatives. While a variety of assessment tests have become commonplace in the hiring process, Sheila Lowe’s handwriting analysis stands out. Lowe provides employers with a deeper insight into the people that they may hire and her analysis has proven out for her clients. “I had provided an analysis of a woman who was applying for outside sales. In my report I noted that while she had many fine qualities for the job, her strong sensitivity gave her tendency to blow up at the slightest provocation. While not all my clients share with their applicants that their handwriting is being analyzed, this particular one did. He told the woman what my report had said and – she blew up.”

Lowe’s efforts provide employers with an additional layer of information about a candidate. “I never tell a client that they should or shouldn’t hire someone," she says, "but my analyses provide objective information (I never meet the applicants) that they can add to their impression in the interview, application, skill testing, background check. I’m not there to stop good people getting a job, but to help the employer make sound choices. In most cases, it’s not poor job skills that cause people to lose their job, it’s personality problems.”

Show, Don’t Tell

Many applicants will come to you with impressive resumes – but a resume doesn’t tell you how they really do their job and how they fit in with your team. Having a prospective employee actually get down in the trenches and do a trial project (paid, of course) can give you a much clearer picture of how they’ll actually work for your company.

Sara Sutton Fell is the CEO of the jobsite Flexjobs.com. Applicants to her company are asked to complete an exercise that shows how they would perform in the real world.

“One of the positions is a researcher role," Fell says, "so we gave the candidates similar guidelines that our current researchers have, and asked them to take a half hour and submit the results of the research guidelines. It gives us a great insight into (a) their current level of understanding of the job; (b) the quality of their work; and (c) in what areas they may need training. "

Because her current researchers are already experts, she includes them in the process, helping her "grade" candidate responses. “We had four candidates who just knocked the research component out of the park, with their submitted results being 100 percent usable and up to our current standards, with absolutely no training. The other submissions ranged on the spectrum, with about half of them ensuring their progress to the interview stage.”

Fell's process has resulted in positive responses from applicants, as a general rule. After all, many potential hires aren’t sure how a company really operates until they land the job and start work. The test offered a glimpse of what applicants were applying for. The insights that a work exercise such as Fell's research test provides can be beneficial to applicants as well as the companies interested in hiring them.

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