Deciding who to hire is not easy. Especially now that people are beginning to realise that traditional skills and knowledge are not necessarily the most important criteria today. Times are uncertain and organizations need people who are comfortable in ambiguous, complex situations where the “right thing to do” is not obvious.
The most common criteria
Knowledge and skills, the traditional criteria. How can this be detected in people you do not know well? The only information you have is their CV and letters of recommendation. However, even that is questionable. Words on paper don’t tell the whole story and, even worse, can be misleading. Believe it or not, I know of a case where a manager wrote a very positive letter of recommendation because they wanted to get the person out of their company!
Data from my gig mindset survey showed that shows that #gigmindsetter skills are not yet at the top of the list. The ability to learn fast and to share with others, to be aware of what’s happening in the external world and to learn from it are part of the gig mindset traits. The second highest skill, the ability to “learn, adapt and evolve”, is hard to sense when you don’t know someone well. It’s still often not obvious even after several months of working with a person.
The most discouraging result
I was most disappointed by the low ranking of “the ability of the person to offer alternative opinions on key subjects, to challenge assumptions and to engage debate.” This low rating corresponds to another question in the survey: “How free do people in your organization feel to provide input and challenge ideas, including business models and work practices?” 37% of organizations agreed or strongly agreed. Roughly the same proportion disagreed or strongly disagreed: 34%. These figures show that organizations may well NOT be looking for people who challenge the status quo! If this is true, we are facing a point in time when a lot of organizations may not succeed, will not be able to stay ahead of the curve.
Resilience and long term survival of organizations depends on people feeling free to disagree, propose alternatives, and to think outside the box.
Look for clues that are not seen on paper
In my one-on-one interviews I talked to people who are experimenting with new ways of engaging with and evaluating job candidates.
One person in a relatively small company of 100 workers, told me they look for signs during the interview itself that suggest that the person will potentially be at ease asking difficult questions.
We are more interested in people who ask a lot of challenging questions in the job interview than those who simply ask questions about the company’s business model and ways of working.
Another person in a global insurance company describes a real-life simulation technique they use:
We invite people who interest us into a day-long work session, a real work session with our team. We want to see how they interact with the other people. That’s very different from the past when job candidates just got interviewed by an HR person and the manager and either got the job or didn’t. This approach gives us a better sense of what they are like. It’s good for the person as well, who gets a feeling for the team dynamics and how people work together. Of course, it makes some people nervous, but that’s normal. We usually manage to make them feel at ease.
Another example comes from a medical affairs strategist in a life science company where inclusiveness is one of their values. They have interview guides with scenarios such as telling the job candidate to imagine setting up a R&d Council for a new drug. Then asking the job candidate which functions they think should be part of the council, saying we need to be sure we have all the right voices at the table.
The answer provided by a candidate gives me a sense of how the person sees the roles of others and whether the person understands how an R&D group can work together and how interlinked our efforts really are with other non-scientific functions in the organization.
Make it real
Job simulations are being used more and more by organizations, but from my experience it is still quite limited. Assembling furniture in a simulation is easy to organize and evaluate, which is one of the first ones I heard about years ago used in a DIY furniture store. Putting people in situational judgement scenarios like the one used by the life science company above is effective for jobs where decision-making in real life relies on individuals. Bringing them into real team work sessions as in the case of the insurance company gives both the job candidate and potential team members a better sense of each other.
Of course, company culture is the determining factor here. If for example the culture in the insurance company is to “not rock the boat”, then a job candidate raising unexpected questions will likely not be appreciated. If the life science company has a culture of strong functional silos, the job candidate whose answers go across the silos will not be appreciated. In these two cases, which I know personally, what I described is not the case. But it’s important to understand the impact of unspoken cultural values on evaluation of outsiders and hiring criteria.
As one person I interviewed told me:
The higher up the gig mindset person is, the better. We all know that like hires like.