August 25, 2009

Unfair interviews are best

Filed under: For Managers, Interviewing, Recruiting, Stupid HR Tricks

In the previous post, we’re discussing how to commandeer a job interview so you can actually help an employer see how you’ll do the job. If the employer has a brain, you’ll get the job.

On that thread, readers Bonnie and Janet point out an interesting “policy” that many HR departments have. They don’t want you to do anything out of the ordinary in your interview. HR wants you and the hiring manager to stick to the interview script.

Why?

Because that makes the interviews fair for all candidates. Ask the same questions and use numerical scoring to ensure everyone is treated the same. You know — just like you do when you go on a date. Treat everyone the same so they all have an equal chance of getting a marriage proposal from you.

Say what?

This is where HR gets totally idiotic. “People are our most important asset.” My ass. “We celebrate diversity.” My ass. How can a company hire the best people when it treats everyone the same? If you go on a date with a clod, should you invite them on another date — to be fair–, just like you would someone who was absolutely wonderful?

I repeate: This is where HR (and perhaps the law) go goofy.

Five minutes into an interview, I can tell whether a candidate is capable of discussing the work on a much higher plane than other applicants — and you can bet your bootie I’ll take the discussion in that direction. Because the candidate earned it. I’ll ask different questions and I’ll engage more enthusiastically. I will use highly discriminatory judgment. (Remember when “to discriminate” was a good thing? Discriminate: “to make a distinction”, “to use good judgment.” When people ask me, “How can I stand out from my competition?”, I tell them that an employer had better be able to discriminate between high quality and low quality.) I’m celebrating the candidate’s ability to be totally unfair to her competition — because she blows them all away and that’s the candidate I really want to talk to further.

I have no interest in being fair to job applicants once it’s time to judge them. And the purpose of an interview is to judge. I want the best ones and I want to treat them differently. I want them to be totally unfair to their competition by showing me skills, aptitude, attitude and motivation that sets them apart. That makes them stand out.

I’ll change my interview questions as a discussion progresses in an effort to find the very best candidate and in an effort to give that person an edge on getting the job. I think any interviewer who doesn’t is a danged fool running his organization headlong into mediocrity.

I don’t want to recruit or hire fairly. I’m glad to behave differently toward people who demonstrate that they stand out postively from their competition.

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6 Comments on “Unfair interviews are best”
By Bonnie
August 25, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Gee, Nick… you make so much sense it’s downright scary. :-) I wish you were in charge of our HR department!

By Janet
August 25, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Glad you have that luxury, Nick. I’ve been told (and I’m not a hiring manager) that these scores allotted under equal conditions need to be available in case someone files a grievance saying I was a better candidate and did not get the job. I’m speaking about a large government workforce. I do not know if the “closing statements” I insist on making even get scored. I’m doing them to make a forceful final impression that i hope at least makes me memorable.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 25, 2009 at 1:36 pm

@Janet: Govt jobs are a different beast. I know the process is very prescribed. Doesn’t mean it makes sense. But nor does it mean you should follow my lead in such cases ;-). Like my mentor used to say, Use your judgment and do the best you can.

Even in the corp world, employment laws bind the hands of employers. I think one can operate legally and fairly in soliciting applicants and in interviewing them. But when it comes to hiring the best, there’s simply no choice but to do it right. Follow the rules, but use them to your advantage.

I’ll tell you a quick story. I was hired by a federal govt agency a few years ago to do a workshop for its employees. The operation was being closed and they wanted to help people who were being let go. So I did it. To my surprise, a group of HR managers ushered me into a conference room. They wanted to know how they could be more “selective” about who they hired while still respecting the “fairness” rules they had to live under. They were very frustrated, because they were often forced by policy to hire mediocre candidates. How could they get around that? I suggested that they establish more detailed criteria that really reflected what they wanted to accomplish. Use the system against itself. I’m not sure what came out of it, but what was interesting is that there was an internal realization that the policies undermined good hiring.

Go figure.

By Dan
August 25, 2009 at 4:28 pm

No wonder so many organizations are mediocre. Why would you want to select people this way? I like hiring people smarter than me. I would expect the person hiring me to want someone smart also, not a cookie cutter drone.

By Ask a Manager
August 25, 2009 at 7:14 pm

I think these policies are devised by people who don’t understand the spirit of anti-discrimination laws and are either too lazy or too dumb to figure out how to hire well while still following the law. It’s like places that just refuse to give references for past employees — it’s not illegal to give detailed references, but they know there are *potential* legal landmines, so they just shut the whole thing down.

It’s not hard to follow the law while still showing that you’re not engaging in illegal discrimination. These companies are guilty of lazy thinking.

By Joe
August 26, 2009 at 12:01 am

Most organization are mediocre. But 80% of companies think they perform above average. ;-)

Agree, gov’t a is different beast. That is not about being productive. It’s about warming a seat. It punishes people who “stand out”.

Here’s the thing – if you want to be “fair”, it starts with the company culture. Fair is not the same as equal.

I recall I had a standardized interview for a public sector job. 3 person panel. 2 people loved me, the other did not.

And he had good reason; I was not an ideal fit for one aspect of the job. They offered me the position, but I declined; I told them it would be disrespectful to that person if I was hired over his objections, and they shouldn’t minimize his concerns.

I wasn’t selling myself short, but rather having integrity in my process – I wasn’t going to work with resentful people day one; life is too short. Needless to say, they were surprised. Later, they had the guy contact me and apologize and ask me to reconsider! Poor guy got browbeat into it. I felt bad for him, because he was doing his job properly, but pushed to conform.

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