Job Interview Tips from the Social Science Studies

Here’s an article that offers some unique insights from the social sciences that might just give you the edge you need to get the job you really want. The embedded TED talk is worth watching if you have the time–it’s about 20 minutes.

For Employers: Possibly the Best Interviewing Advice You’ll Ever Read

A Rational Way to Make a Gut Decision

(by Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group, a full-service talent acquisition consulting firm)

I was a full-time recruiter from 1978-2000. During that time I interviewed thousands of people for jobs ranging from billing clerks to CEOs. While I asked a lot of questions, the most important involved having candidates describe their most significant career accomplishments in great detail. (This approach is covered in an earlier post, The Most Important Interview Question of All Time.)

For each accomplishment, I’d spend about 15-20 minutes peeling the onion in an attempt to understand exactly what the person accomplished, his or her role, the scope and scale of the accomplishment, the challenges involved, and the underlying culture and environment. After obtaining this type of information for 3-4 different accomplishments, it was pretty easy to see the person’s trend of performance over time. These accomplishments were then compared to the performance requirements of the open job to see if the candidate was a fit.

Since my search firm offered a one-year guarantee, it was essential that our assessments were accurate. Replacing a candidate 6-9 months after a person starts is painful. This is why we required every recruiter in the firm to use this same performance-based interviewing approach. It worked: after 1,500 placements, fewer than 5% had to be replaced. This is remarkable performance. Being cynical was part of it. Getting facts, details, and evidence was the only way to replace hiring errors based on feelings, emotions, intuition or misguided thinking. The process itself became the title of my first book, Hire With Your Head – A Rational Way to Make a Gut Decision. Quite frankly, all we were doing was conducting a pre-hire performance review.

Aside from improving the accuracy of the assessment, there were some major side benefits. For one, candidates knew they were assessed fairly. When you’re recruiting a top person this is essential, or the interviewer has no credibility. Two, it was easy to out-evidence a hiring manager who conducted a superficial or overly technical interview. This happened frequently. Three, it was easy to separate fact from fiction. Lack of details was a big red flag.

With the objective of increasing assessment accuracy, here are some tips both candidates and interviewers can use.

How to Separate Fact from Fiction and Ensure an Accurate Interview Assessment

  1. Just the facts. Too many candidates speak in generalities. These have no value. Facts do. So if you’re a candidate you need to be prepared to give specific details about each of your major accomplishments. These include dates, measurable results, the actual deliverables, and any supporting information needed to validate the accomplishments. If you’re the interviewer, you need to dig for this information. Don’t leave it up to the candidate to provide it.
  2. Give and get SMARTe examples to prove a strength. Candidates need to prove every strength with specific examples. Interviewers need to ask for these examples. I suggest using the SMARTe acronym to form the answers and the follow-up fact-finding questions: Specific task, Metrics, Action taken, Results and deliverable defined, the Time frame, and a description of the environment.
  3. Go narrow and deep vs. broad and shallow. The idea behind Performance-based Interviewing is to gets lots of detailed information about a few of the candidate’s major accomplishments. This is more representative of past performance and potential fit than asking a bunch of scattered questions about generic competencies and behaviors. The competencies and behaviors will reveal themselves as part of the candidate’s performance.
  4. Focus on what’s important using targeted listening. A good interviewer listens 4X more than talking by asking probing questions. If you’re the candidate, and the interviewer seems to be going off on a tangent, ask the person to describe some of the main challenges in the job. This will bring focus back to what’s important. Then describe a SMARTe accomplishment that represents the best work you’ve done in that area.
  5. Skip or ignore the hyperbole. Interviewers, do not use the terms “awesome” or “unique” when describing a job. Instead, provide enough details about the job so the candidate concludes it’s awesome or unique. Candidates, skip the boilerplate and generalities on your resume, LinkedIn profile or in your answers. Don’t say you’re motivated, strong, dedicated, a great problem-solver or a great team player, or whatever, unless you can back it up with proof. Let the interviewer determine if you’re strong, dedicated or a team player, based on the examples you present.
  6. Separate performance from presentation to increase objectivity. The purpose of an interview is to assess the person’s past performance in comparison to what needs to be accomplished on the job. This article on how to overcome the seductive power of first impressions provides some tips for interviewers on how to increase objectivity. This is critical, since the majority of hiring errors can be attributed to bias of some sort.
  7. Rehearsed or natural. I prefer candidates who struggle to come up with their answers. I always feel I’m being conned when the answers are glib, or the candidate is over-confident or over-prepped. In this case, I go out of my way to throw the candidate off-balance to see if he or she can handle the situation. I remember one candidate who told me he rebuilt his entire team of roughly 20 people in the first year. After probing and asking for specific titles, it turned out the team consisted of six people and he replaced only three of them. Of course, the candidate wasn’t considered.

A Rational Way to Make a Gut Decision

You’ll never have enough information to make a 100% foolproof decision when hiring someone you don’t know. Conducting a pre-hire performance review is one way to minimize the gap between what you know and what you don’t. While you’ll never know everything about the candidate, at least you’ll have enough information to make a rational decision. __________________________________________

Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a full-service talent acquisition consulting firm. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), covers the Performance-based Hiring process described in this article in more depth. For instant hiring advice join Lou’s LinkedIn group and follow his Wisdom About Work series on Facebook.

Key Strategies for Acing the Interview

This excellent advice is from an article by Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group, a talent acquisition consulting firm.

Full text of the article can be found here:

  1. Focus on the job, not the money. It’s better to be underpaid than overpaid. Getting promoted or obtaining a big compensation increase will only occur after you’ve demonstrated great performance. You need to put yourself into these situations. Ignore anyone who says otherwise.
  2. Present your strengths and weaknesses via short stories. No one believes general statements. You must validate each of your strengths with a specific example of how it was used in a real job situation. In addition, you need to demonstrate how you’ve turned your weaknesses into strengths. Never say you don’t have any weaknesses! It means you’ve stopped growing.
  3. Divide and conquer by asking the universal question. Very early in the interview, or phone screen, you must ask the interviewer to describe the focus of the job, some of the big challenges, and how the new person’s performance will be measured. Pick at least two from this list. Then prove each is a core strength using the SAFW response below.
  4. Practice the universal answer to any question. You need to be able to prove every strength with a specific example. Form your answer using the SAFW two-minute response: Say A Few Words – Statement – Amplify – few Examples – Wrap-up.
  5. Weave the 10 Best Predictors of Job Success into Your SAFW Response. I just wrote a post for interviewers on how to evaluate your answers. Make sure you have an example proving you possess at least three or four of these strengths. Then during the interview ask if these traits are important for on-the-job success. Of course they will be. Then give your example. Note: this is a slam dunk!
  6. Use the phone screen to minimize the impact of a weak first impression. Even if you make a good first impression, it’s important to ask the universal question (see above) early in the phone screen. Answering it correctly will increase the likelihood you’ll be invited to an onsite interview. This will help focus the actual interview on your past performance, instead of box-checking your skills and experience, or judging you on first impressions.
  7. Uncover any concerns before the end of the interview. To determine where you stand, ask the interviewer about next steps. If they’re not specific, you probably won’t be called back. In this case, ask the interviewer what’s the biggest concern he/she has about your background. Then ask how the skill, trait or factor mentioned is used on the job. To overcome the concern, you’ll need to use the SAFW two-minute response to prove you can handle the requirement.

Lou Adler’s latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), covers the Performance-based Hiring process described in this article in more depth. For instant hiring advice join Lou’s LinkedIn group and follow his Wisdom About Work series on Facebook.