The hiring process also falls apart because everything’s ultimately a sale

What’s the line from Glengarry Glen Ross? ABC? Always Be Closing? Everything’s a sale at some moment in organizational culture, and the job interview is no different — the hiring manager and the HR rep are trying to upsell the company in question in order to get their primary target (and fill the role quickly — er, somewhat quickly). Now there’s new research — backing up older research — showing that when interviews take a selling orientation, the interviewers are making less-relevant judgments about the eventual success of that applicant. In sum: when you’re selling your organization too much, you’re losing sight of the actual value of the person sitting in front of you (or lack of value, as the case may be).

The hiring process has an almost impossible list of flaws — the “I-knew-in-5-minutes” aspect, the utopia-that-wasn’t aspect, the checklist aspect, the lack of research aspect, and the no-connection-to-the-idea-that-people-can-learn-new-skills aspect. It is, essentially, an imperfect science. I think everyone essentially knows that at this point, but consider this new research and tie it to some of the other research: basically, hiring managers want to fill quickly. There is often a disconnect with HR on whom even gets through to their round of screening. Because they want to fill quickly, they assess resumes and figure “These 3-5 are probably the best.” Those come in for the in-person and some will get screened off in less than five minutes based on eye contact, hair, clothes, appearing disinterested, etc. Once there’s “a fit” with a candidate, the hiring manager will shift from “evaluative” mode to “selling” mode; at that point — which could be somewhere between 3 and 10 minutes into the interview — all usefulness of the discussion as relates to previous work examples and experiences is kaput. Now it’s just two people chatting about life and old funny stories, and the interviewee has all the contextual power. What I’m typing right now is an oversimplification, yes, but I’ve been in a few job interviews in the last 4-6 weeks that have gone this way. The need for speed + the desire for everything to ultimately be a sale + poor communication channels = leads to incorrect hires. This leads to incorrect managers, which leads to a renewed focus on employee engagement, which pisses off the senior management because can’t everybody just be happy and focus on their jobs, which ultimately probably involving selling something, in some context … and therein we’ve come full-circle.

How do you make it better? No. 1 is you set goals and you communicate to all parties about those goals — from the HR side doing the initial screens to the candidates themselves. No. 2 is you design an in-person interview around two people (interviewers); one’s job is to evaluate, one’s job is to sell. No. 3 is you have a second in-person where the final two candidates actually do some work / interact with their primary team; oftentimes a hiring manager will bring in someone they love, and the team that the person would have to work with day-to-day is like “Meh, OK…” It will never be a scientific process, because at the end of the day human tendency/condition is to evaluate for personality aspects before actual work-success aspects (remember potential vs. achievement?), but it can be a clearer process, if nothing else.

Ted Bauer