Think you’ve just conducted a bad interview? You may be mistaken.
Walking back to our office in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood one recent sunny Friday afternoon, I was excited about the job interviews I had scheduled for the afternoon. While some entrepreneurs hate this task, I’ve always relished it. To me, finding like-minded individuals with the requisite skills and a passionate desire to change the world — or something “like” that — is thrilling. Right?
At least it is for me: That afternoon, I would be conducting phone interviews for our open head of sales position, a notoriously difficult role to fill, not for a lack of candidates, but rather for the challenge of weeding out the perfect candidate truly skilled at closing sales and helping to build our health-intelligence platform.
That afternoon, however, reality set in, in the form of close to ten disappointing phone calls.
Picking up my phone once more, I made my final call — to the most unlikely candidate of the bunch. And, within two minutes, I was floored: This guy was quizzing me on my knowledge of our business space. Not only that, but he was also asking about my personal relationships with competitors. Huh?
Calling around to other founders after the interview, I quickly uncovered a strong consensus based on those founders’ individual experiences: This candidate’s comments weren’t weird or unwelcome, they said. In fact, they considered the best salespeople to be the ones who quizzed them.
For me, this was the first of many unexpected interview lessons that I learned “on the fly” as a startup founder. One of those lessons was that, in conducting job interviews and evaluating candidates, most hiring managers rely on “pattern matching” — the idea that you can identify patterns in candidates, in terms of their personal attributes and skills which align with your organization’s mission and values.
In the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning, this practice has intensified, as pattern matching has gone high-tech. Recruiters and organizations are turning to algorithms to more accurately identify talent “matches.”
However, even with this new data analysis capability, the concept of pattern matching can break down. Here are some further lessons I’ve learned that demonstrate the fallibility of “pattern matching” and why it may be challenging to rely on it during job interviews.
We often want to hire people we get along with. When a candidate can quickly and seamlessly integrate into the team, we can almost immediately leverage that collaboration for better business results. What’s more, the likelihood of conflict diminishes significantly, removing obstacles that often impede organizations when team members have contrasting values.
Finding that seamless integration can be quickly determined through an interview, where we evaluate someone for his or her skills and ability to gel with team members. Yet, even a bad interview doesn’t mean the candidate won’t be a good match.
“Sometimes, a challenging interview does not equate to a poor hire,” Simon MacGibbon, my colleague and CEO of the health-monitoring company, Myia, told me. “You need to be able to look at the scope of the entirety of the candidate, including background interviews, reference checks and work product. Basing hiring on interviewing alone puts many companies at risk of passing over candidates with valuable skill sets and different, but complementary, personalities.”
Herb Kelleher, the legendary co-founder of Southwest Airlines, said it best in the book Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success: “Hire for attitude and train for skills.” This, of course, is how Southwest grew from relatively humble beginnings into one of the largest airlines in the world.
However, interviewers may be biased toward skills over attitude. Naturally, it is easier to opt for a quantifiable metric than to dig into a candidate’s personality and disposition.
Consider Michael Lewis and his book Moneyball, which recounts how professional baseball started using Sabermetrics to determine a player’s skill level and performance potential. Other industries have likewise leveraged specific metrics and assessment tools to identify the right candidates for open positions.
However, stringent metrics aren’t everything and may not always deliver the right candidates for a constantly evolving business environment. Some of the nation’s top entrepreneurs are now hiring candidates who are demonstrably adaptable and who can forge their own paths.
“When hiring, we focus on grit and fit over pedigree and expertise,” Daniel Fine, founder of Neu Brands, told me. “All are relevant and important, but when you’re building a rapidly scaling company, culture and team alignment have to be the top priority. This isn’t something I’ve always been successful with, but having learned the hard way, it’s now a focal point.”
Going back to the example of our search for our head of sales candidate: The best candidates for a position will often interview the interviewer to learn whether they can be successful in the role. These days, they know they can go anywhere; record low unemployment works in their favor. Yet, remarkably, a lot of entrepreneurs and managers do not respond positively to this shift in power which gives talent the upper hand. Many positions go unfilled, as a result.
A 2018 research report confirmed this. Titled Talent Intelligence and Management Report, from Eightfold.ai and Harris Interactive, it compiled findings from 1,200 interviews with CEOs and found that 28 percent of positions went unfilled. Also in the study, 87 percent of CEOs and CHROs stated that they were facing at least one talent-related challenge. Employers are even giving up college-degree requirements in an attempt to widen their candidate pool.
So, the next time a candidate interviews you, in his or her job interview, you may want to think again. This person is probably more sought after than you think.
It may not be a good feeling for a founder or executive to come to grips with this new reality. However, it’s also a valuable opportunity to change your interview approach and start evaluating candidates on more than experience and skills. By accepting this new shift in power, you can improve your position in the race to hire the best talent.
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