Make job candidates show they can perform

    You need help. Your business is growing and you need to hire. Which you look forward to that about as much as a root canal — without anesthesia.
   You are not alone. Hiring is approximately 50 percent quantifiable and 50 percent go-by-your-gut, ensuring that virtually everyone feels uncomfortable. Here are some ways to make the interview more effective:
   Let’s say that you are hiring a position that requires a lot of public speaking. You can ask the candidates if they are good public speakers.
   Hmm. Let’s try that on for size.
   You: “Are you good at public speaking?”
   Candidate: “Why, no. I really stink at it. Please don’t hire me.” What do you think they are going to say? Whatever they think you want to hear – which is the bane of many an interview.
   Let’s make the question more effective.
   You: “Tell me about a time when you did some public speaking. What were you talking about, to whom, and what was the result?” While the candidate may make it sound as though they are the William Jennings Bryan of our time, chances are you’ll hear a little more that could actually be useful to your decision.
   Better yet: “Tell me about a time when you were particularly effective using public speaking to convince a group, and a time when you were least effective. What were the circumstances, what happened, and what, if anything, would you do differently now. “
   Whew. OK, that is a mouthful, but Ms. Maven suggests that for any public speaking job, you want someone fleet of thought and nimble of brain. So, by making the question complex, you test that.
   See how easy it is?
   Plus, we usually don’t just want to hear about a triumph, we want to hear about how people handled a disaster. Wherever possible, you want to hire those who can learn from their mistakes. Quickly.
   However, we can do even better. If Ms. Maven is hiring a position that needs public speaking, here is what she does: She prepares one or two pages of information, gives the applicant about five minutes (10 if she’s feeling magnanimous) to assimilate and organize their thoughts, and then she brings them in to the hiring panel (audience) and says, “Speak.”
   This may sound as though we’re talking dog training rather than interviewing, but Ms. Maven hopes the message is becoming clear here. For any position you are hiring — interview by having the candidate show the skills rather than tell you about them. Wherever you can, whenever you can.
   Think Missouri — the Show Me state.
   Now you may have to get creative, but there’s no law against that. Once you get accustomed to turning the process inside out, you will be surprised at how easy it is to test for skills. We used to think of testing as primarily for typing or 10-key speed, but you can do some sort of “show me” for a much wider range of job competencies.
   Customer service job? Put them at a counter, and have someone who works for you, or a friend who is a frustrated actor, come and be a Customer From Hades. See what happens. You can do the same thing on the phone quite easily. Listen and observe. Do remember to have the same situation for each interviewee.
   It used to be standard to have an in-box test for upper levels of management— where you gave the candidates an impossible scenario of tasks to be completed and ask them to list how they would approach the day.
   Now some companies are going to a 12-hour test: they put the candidates in an office and simulate such a day. Ms. Maven thinks that may be a tiny level of overkill for most situations, but the point remains the same. Show, don’t tell. Which is also the first instruction given in any creative writing class. And they said that liberal arts degree wouldn’t pay off …
   By setting up situations and questions where the candidates show their skills rather than talk about them, three things happen:
   • You reduce your odds of being bluffed;
   • Candidates who are not glib of speech but who are good at what they do, get to show it;
   • You get a much better picture of their command of skills you are looking for.
   And that’s good business.

Ramona Abbott is a local management consultant who specializes in on-site training and coaching for managers and supervisors. She can be reached at


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