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Interviewing the Newton Software Way

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To say we think a lot about recruiting and hiring is an understatement. Before starting a company that builds recruiting software, we ran recruiting companies, consultancies and corporate recruiting departments for the last decade. In addition to helping countless other organizations hire, we’ve had to build a lot of our own teams along the way.

Ten years ago, when we were starting our first company, we were wisely advised to develop a selection process. We’ve always operated in very competitive markets and we needed a framework to evaluate our own applicants quickly and thoroughly. Over the years, with the help of an industrial psychologist, we’ve honed our interview and selection process. We’re still using the same process today at Newton. It works.

Interestingly, we’ve noticed that most, if not all of Newton’s customers, are in tough markets when it comes to hiring good people. Good information workers -techies, sales people, marketing folks, product people, etc., are hard to find. And, with the economy slowly starting to recover, the margin for error when recruiting A-players will continue to get smaller.

What can you do to make hiring run more smoothly? Well, aside from signing up to use our applicant tracking software, start interviewing smarter. Since finding the right people is becoming increasingly difficult, a modern workforce strategy should look not only to increase its hiring throughput, but also look to increase retention and develop lower-skilled employees into higher-skilled and more valuable ones. A well-run interview process won’t just reduce the risk of a bad hire it can also reduce the complexity and number of hires needed in the future.

When we interview we are trying to create a hypothetical environment to mimic a real-world situation.  This simulation will hopefully enable us to reduce the risk of making a bad hire by giving us a fair estimation of the candidate’s performance in our real-world environment.  What measurements will give us the best prediction of performance? The three critical measurements are:

Ability: “Can the person do the job they are interviewing for today?”
Talent: “How well does this person fit our long-term objectives?”
Character: “Do we want to work with this person?”

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Ability First

Only after the interview process has determined the ability level of a candidate is adequate should we focus on the more costly measurements of talent and character.  If the person can’t do the job there is no reason to confirm whether they can grow with the job or if they fit the corporate culture. The interview is over. Perhaps this sounds strong.  But for both candidate and company alike, spending time in interviews that test for cultural fit and growth potential before we know if they can do what is required of them day-one is a waste of everyone’s time.  Thus, the first step in the interview process should be to gauge ability level; it is the easiest and cheapest to identify and a “must-have” requirement.

Talent Next

“How well does this person fit our long-term objectives?” This is an appropriate way to correlate talent’s importance to interviewing and hiring.  Every company has immediate needs, and those immediate needs, like tax preparation or Java coding, are what we look for in ability – skill set.  Talent optimizes these abilities and it should also map to long-term corporate objectives, like managing teams or launching an office. Talent is most accurately measured with behavioral and problem-solving questions.

Always Character, but last

Someone can be very skilled, but if they are difficult to manage then the value of their skill is reduced.  Character also maps to broader human capital objectives in that it closely aligns with employee retention.  If you hire disagreeable people your turnover is likely to be higher than average.

Character can be measured by behavioral interviewing questions and psychological testing.  It is often not just the response that’s important, but the way the response is given.  An answer that says “yes” but has associated body language that is contrary to the answer is a character “red flag”.

You can use the best candidate acquisition tools, systems, and process available, but recruiting will always fail if your interview process is broken or worse, non-existent. There’s a balance to strike with interviewing between thorough assessment and efficiency. Finding that balance is difficult. It requires a plan, a little training, feedback, and of course, some good advice.

About Andy Chan