Interviews, or How to Fuck Up Hiring

There’s a nice article here on interviewing, it’s short and sweet, but pretty much sums up my views on the matter entirely. The TLDR of it is, you’re wasting your time with interviews unless they are structured, consistent across all candidates, and aimed specifically at assessing skills you know are required for the job. If you do all of that, then you’ve slightly decreased the chance you’re going to fuck up, but only slightly. Which means you’re probably better off not interviewing people at all, and just testing for intelligence and skills.

Oh yeah, and there’s no point in doing references either. I’ve yet to see a single study which pegs their reliability at over 20%, which means they’re only predictive of job performance 20% of the time. The other 80% of the time they have either no predictive power, or are telling you the opposite of what’s going to happen. But recruiters and hiring managers and HR departments keep using antiquated bullshit ineffective methods for hiring people because… Well because they usually don’t know any better, don’t want to know any better, and even if they do know better, their boss would fire them for not using those techniques because s/he doesn’t know any better.

More “Recruiting is SALES!” Bullshit

Here again, and predictably on LinkedIn, we have more Recruiting is Sales! nonsense.

First off, while the market has shifted a little, the labor participation rate is still absolutely fucking dismal, and many people are still under employed, or in jobs they hate and want to leave ASAP.  The market is not that good, and it is not a candidate driven market.  There are still way more people who want jobs than jobs for them to have.  Employers were bitching about a candidate ‘shortage’ when unemployment was over ten percent, so give me a fucking break on this shit already.  Please.

Second, what’s not mentioned once in the post? Honesty!  No, you need to get people excited about your Opportunity!, whether or not it’s something to be excited about is another matter.  This leads to a massive problem for companies: the branding gap.  There’s how they brand themselves in general, and with regard to specific jobs, and then there’s the reality, and the distance between them is the branding gap.  And, for most companies, it’s absolutely fucking massive.

The reality is most people don’t love, or even like their jobs, and never will.  The division of labor and comparative advantage dictate that what you have a passion for is not very likely to be where the market directs your efforts as most valued and most productive.  In reality people don’t follow their passions for the most part.  If they’re lucky they learn to get passionate to varying degree about what they do, for most what they do is mildly enjoyable to tolerable, and they’re willing to do it for a good while.  Most people work to live, they do not live to work, and trying to hire only people who live to work is a recipe for abject failure.

Reality and honesty are the two things that never get introduced into the recruiting process, and which are desperately needed in there.  Less bullshit Sales!, more raw reality.  You’re not going to get someone excited and passionate about an order entry job.  The guy who cleans the toilets generally does it to earn money, not because he loves other people’s shit.  So, my advice to companies is very simple:

Do an honest assessment of your culture using a third party who can measure it via some objective framework.  You will hear things you don’t like, if you gloss them over or ignore them, you will fail.

Do an honest assessment of your salaries and benefits offered.  If your salaries are low, raise them.  If you can’t raise them across the board, raise them in a targeted fashion for top performers.  If you can’t even do that, you have to deal with the fact that you won’t get or retain top performers.  They know what they’re worth, they will go elsewhere.  There’s no reason why anyone should be killing themselves to work for you to get compensated at the same rate they would be elsewhere for just showing up and having a pulse.  Don’t like that?  Too fucking bad, it’s reality.  Do the same assessment with all other benefits like PTO and health, if you’re significantly below average this will lead to problems no amount of Sales! bullshit will be able to offset.

If you’re working your employees consistently more than 40 hours a week, cut back.  You are burning them out and will deal with higher turnover as a result.  Don’t like that?  Once more, too fucking bad, it’s the way the world works. There’s about a billion years of accumulated evidence to support this at this point in time, get the fuck over it.

Assess the actual desirability of working at your org using a tool designed for doing just that, a recruiter named Keith Halperin developed one just for that purpose.  Accept the results for what they are, if you are the private label toilet paper manufacturer that offers no PTO and low salaries, and you’re located next to Google, you are not going to poach their employees.  Fucking deal with it.

Now, armed with all this information, go after the candidates you can actually attract and retain.  Use structured interviews, do not trust your gut because it’s wrong.  Use validated tests of intelligence and integrity, and put the metrics from the interviews and tests together to view each candidate through something resembling an objective framework, and hire the best people you can out of the pool you interview.  And, above all else, do not use bullshit Sales! techniques to try to convince these people that working there entails something it doesn’t.  They will see the mismatch within minutes of being there and leave ASAP.  Long term relationships are built around honesty with diplomacy and tact thrown in for good measure.  If you work in a shit hole, you need to hire people willing to work in a shit hole, which are generally people who know they can’t get better jobs.  If you work in an average organization, you will get average people.  There’s no shame in this, the population of the world is mostly average by definition, myself included, and we do just fine running the majority of companies on the planet by showing up and doing our jobs reasonably well.  And if you’re lucky enough to work at one of those A+ corps, well you’re set and don’t need advice.

Point being, you’re not going to outsmart the market with Sales! bullshit without first taking a good, long, honest look at what you’re truly offering.  Ferrari doesn’t market the same as Honda, nor do the makers of those weird little cars they use in the third world market the same as Honda or even Hyundai.  And you need to know if you’re hiring for a Ferrari company, a Honda one, or a rickshaw one before you start trying to get a Ferrari candidate excited about working in a rickshaw company.  Because it’s not going to work long terms between you two, trust me.  There is an aspect of sales to recruiting, but it’s well past time recruiters dropped this Recruiting is Sales! bullshit and started learning from other fields, like supply chain and production planning.

The Most Critical Interviewing Skills for Recruiters and Interviewees

Control and Focus; those are the two most critical skills for interviewers and interviewees.

Recruiters need to control the conversation.  If you ask them why they left their last company and a dissertation on the nature of supply chain management follows, stop them, shut them up, and get them to answer the question you asked.  This is very common, interviewees rarely answer the question they were asked, they almost always answer the one they expected and for which they rehearsed the answer.  Recruiters need to have the balls to stop them and redirect them to the needed information.

If you are a candidate, there is one piece of invaluable evidence that will help you immeasurably: ATFQ.  It stands for: Answer The Fucking Question.  Pay attention to what you were asked and answer it, answer it directly and succinctly, and do not hive off into unnecessary details or explanations of marginally related topics.  If you need a moment to think, that’s fine.  As an interviewer I would rather received a considered answer in 30-60 seconds than a haphazard line of BS instantly.

And remember, hold your interviewer to the same standard.  If their answers are obviously bullshit, I’d personally call them on it.  That’s a judgement call, of course, but if you don’t absolutely need a job it’s important to break yourself out of the psychology that says you have to get this job.  Most people, when they interview, are to intent on trying to get the job to actually take a moment to learn about the job.  Or, more to the point, to learn from the behavior of the recruiter and manager in front of them how things actually work at the company in question.

Observe and learn when you’re in an interview.  It’s what the person interviewing you is doing, when it comes time to accept or reject an offer you will be at a disadvantage if you spend the interview trying to please them and never finding out what it is you need to know to inform your decision.