As accounting was to Enron, selecting and hiring employees is to many companies. Decisions are biased and mistakes buried.

Employee lyingThe gap between what you would like people to do and what they actually do can be quite frustrating. But ultimately getting people to do what your organization needs them to do is in essence the manager’s job. If people aren’t doing what needs to be done, the buck stops at the manager.

Managers hold the option to improve and even optimize everything that drives both the top line revenues and bottom line profit. Or they can choose to compromise and even ignore the impact that hiring and retaining the wrong employee has on quality, productivity, and controlling costs.

With the right people, how good can your company be? Getting people to do what needs to get done has two dimensions:

1. Recruiting the best people.

2. Getting the best people to put their motivations and skills to work in the right way at the right time.

Decisions relating to selecting the right employee are realized by accumulating as much accurate information about an individual prior to offering the job and using that information in guiding the management and development of the individual.

For the purpose of this article, I am going to focus on seven management myths associated with acquiring the best people the first time. Without this the second dimension is irrelevant.

1. A good interview selects the best employee.
Many times a job doesn’t go who IS most qualified; it goes to the candidate who APPEARS to be most qualified. Some extremely qualified people are very talented at their jobs. When it comes to a job interview, however, they are extremely poor performers. Why?

Interviewing is a skill unto itself. And unfortunately one of the most overvalued sub-skills in interviewing is the ability to think on one’s feet. Job interviews have a way of making the most competent sound like total idiots. And conversely, some of the people who are GREAT at interviews are absolutely LOUSY on the job.

2. Structured interviews are the solution.
Here’s a startling realization: many interviewers themselves don’t get ANY training in interviewing whatsoever. If they do, these experienced recruiters and hiring managers generally get involved only at the final interview or for key hires only. Newly hired human resource generalists or recently promoted supervisors are baptized into the interview with little real time experience. If they have any training at all, it likely focuses on how they should conduct themselves, the forms to fill out, and what questions they are not allowed to ask.

The solution becomes to standardize (or unfortunately sanitize) interviews. Scripted questions are often provided to keep the process on track. But without the skill to listen and probe, listen and probe more, and listen and probe some more, the interview turns into a really bad one act play with the interview reading a question and the candidate reciting back his or her rehearsed lines.
3. Good questions reduce hiring errors.
Asking the best interview question is ineffective if the interviewer doesn’t have effective listening and observation skills. It’s not the question that is important but how the candidate responds. The response goes well beyond the words spoken. What was the tone and pace and body language? Was the candidate comfortable, nervous or agitated with the question?

Many interviewers apologize if the candidate seems to be agitated or unnerved by a question. If the question was a viable question, isn’t it equally if not more important to recognize how the candidate responds rather than agree or disagree about what they say?

The selection process should evaluate a candidate’s mastery of the job, not his or her mastery of the interview. The skilled interviewer probes how well candidates performed their jobs in the past and how much they contributed to the successes reported on the resume. From this information, the interviewer makes a judgment that the candidate will or will not be able to do the job. Many interviewers have never done the job they are interviewing for. How many recruiters or interviewers or hiring manager have ever cold-called a prospect, managed a plant, ran a company or built a team?

4. A good interview can uncover competencies.
The resume tells what a candidate did and where they did it – if he or she is telling the truth. What’s to say that they can repeat whatever they did again for you? That’s what you want to find out during the selection process, the interview being only one phase. But how effective is the interview at projecting past performance into on-the job success for you? If the candidate is applying for a job with new responsibilities, what’s to say they have the untested skills to do this job for you?

Interviews tend to focus on the functional or technical skills that interviewers can measure. Does the candidate have the needed degrees, licenses and training? Do they have experience or will they need to be trained?

The one thing many job interviews don’t cover is ACTUAL JOB COMPETENCE. They don’t ask you about the job they have you in mind for. They don’t ask you to show a sample of how you’d do the work for them if you got hired. They instead cover what you did before. There’s this illogical conclusion that if you succeeded in the past, you will succeed again. And allegedly, if you’re eloquent at describing your past triumphs, you’ll bless the next employer just as well. Sorry, but past performance is no guarantee of future success.

What is really important is how you evaluate an individual’s competencies, defined as the skills, knowledge and personality he or she needs to the job.

5. Testing employees is considered too risky in today’s litigious environment.
If you were challenged today by a rejected candidate or disgruntled employee, what proof could you present to show that your decision to hire or reject and promote or terminate was based on performance and job-relevant skills, abilities, competencies and personality traits and not the subjectivity of an interview or manager?

All too often an interviewer’s bias – consciously or unconsciously – gets in the way of effective selection decision making. What prevents a candidate’s confidence from being seen as arrogance through the eye of the interviewer? Or when is humility viewed as timidity and weakness? Assertiveness as aggressiveness? Disciplined and organized as nit-picky and inflexible? Relaxed as disinterested?

How would you currently prove that a manager who is hiring his or her replacement or filling an open position on his team has the nose for talent and confidence to select people stronger than himself?

Without the proof of objectivity, your current selection process is vulnerable to not only ineffective hiring and succession decisions but costly and time-consuming turnover and litigation as well. In fact, according to the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, any inventory or procedure utilized during an employment decision is considered a test. Much to the surprise of many managers, including human resource professionals, the interview must meet the same validity and reliability standards as personality tests, ability tests, and even background checks and resume evaluations.

The best protection to avoid a negligent hiring or negligent retention lawsuit is for the employer to have completed all “reasonable” activities to identify “foreseeable conduct” before making a hiring commitment.

6. A good test can compensate for a lack of good interviewing skills.
No. No. No. The U.S. Department of Labor recommends the “whole person approach”. It encourages managers to factor in the results of a variety of accepted tests along with prior actual performance and interview results, in order to get the most complete picture of an employee or candidate.

Properly selected employee performance assessments help screen out high-risk candidates and provide practical job-relevant information that focuses the interview on the match of the individual to the job, not selecting the candidate who survived the interview gauntlet.

7. Validation is like the stamp of approval. (aka – If a test is valid, it’s legal.)
This is likely the most misunderstood and confusing concept. A test can be valid but not legal. It can be valid but not reliable. And it can be both valid and reliable but not legal.

A test is deemed acceptable for selection only if it meets three basic criteria. First, the test itself must be validated – that is, the test is examining what it says it is. A test that measures clinical dysfunction may be valid but not legal since under the law it is considered a medical test – which is not acceptable for most employee selection according to the American Disabilities Act. On the other hand, a skill test for reading or math ability is not permissible if you can’t prove that it is required to do the job.

Secondly, the test must be reliable – meaning the results must be consistently repeatable. Reliability is a huge problem with the interview. How common is it for two interviewers to get different responses to the same questions depending on the interviewer’s ability to both probe and interpret the responses or the effect of the setting in which the interview is given?

Finally, the test must be job relevant and job specific. Solving the problem of employee turnover and low productivity starts with understanding the work that needs to be done and the results that are needed, not the people.

A logical place to start documenting why you use the selection tools you do begins with an over-looked process called the job analysis. Not only does a job analysis make good business sense but it’s a great risk management tool.

The job analysis is recommended by the Department of Labor as the objective basis improving the efficiency of your organization and for hiring, evaluating, training, accommodating and supervising employees, including those with disabilities.

You cannot make good use of people until you know what skills and personality factors can help you achieve the desired outcomes with the least effort, expense and maintenance.

Selecting the right candidate is all about having fair and accurate filters to identify who can do the job and who can’t. A fair selection process distinguishes between job candidates on the basis of skills, competencies, and personality traits that are job relevant and directly related to job performance. Fair selection also ensures that equal opportunity exists. If your process is not based on relevant standards, or the method of assessment is unreliable and objective, then your selection and hiring process may be unfair or you may be rejecting more qualified candidates in favor of less competent

With only the most highly skilled interviewer being the exception, the interview is an ineffective predictor of on-the-job performance. The “whole person approach” using employee assessments to enhance and validate a selection process is the drug of choice for fighting turnover and low productivity

Ira S. Wolfe is founder of Success Performance Solutions and president of Poised for the Future Company. He is the developer of CriteriOne™, an innovative approach to aligning employees, managers and salespeople to the client’s strategies, culture, and job. Ira can be reached via phone at (717)291-4640 or via e-mail at