"The interview and hiring process is just like writing code. If you have bad specs at the start, you’ll end up with something flawed at the end."
When you speak with Bob Norton, founder/principal at Franklin Key Associates, as I did recently, you get lots of analogies. But they're not random examples, pulled out of thin air, merely to illustrate a story. His are culled from 20 years in search, and 12 years spent as a systems analyst before that. He even has a Master's degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California to go with his professional experience. And he brings that experience, and that rigor, to his search and placement business.
In my previous piece on the "uncoordinated interview" you can read here, I described in broad terms the way that Norton views the interview and hiring process. In this piece, we'll drill down further to the specifics.
"The biggest piece of developing a system is establishing a functional requirement. In other words, what do you want the system to do? Or in the case of a company making a hire, what do they want this new person to do? And it’s not just putting together a list of skill sets and a job description for a candidate. You should also be figuring out why you are hiring this person. And how, say after four months on the job, are you going to measure their performance? What are the deliverables? The metrics? What is increased, decreased, added, subtracted? And then I am going to ask again at the eight month mark because that is a different agenda."
Here's one of his analogies for you. I'll do my best to paraphrase how he describes the hiring process at most companies. The decision makers gather in the conference room, they come up with a job description, pass it around, everyone nods, and say, “Yep, this is what/who we’re looking for.” For purposes of this illustration, let's say it’s an elephant they're looking for. Now the elephant comes in and four people are looking at it. One of them thinks it's a flat, gray wall they're staring at, another thinks it's a gray tree trunk and so on.
"In actuality, everyone in the room is in fact looking at an elephant, but they’re all seeing it from totally different perspectives," says Norton. "So now each one starts chiming in saying 'this doesn't look quite right,' or 'this isn't exactly what we had in mind.' The problem is they haven’t ever gone through the exercise - together - of determining the rank of priorities. And that lack of process and alignment at the front end now shows itself."
To avoid that, Norton has clients go through a process. He gave me permission to direct you to his downloadable Job Specification Grid that he uses to make an equal and quantitative evaluation of each candidate against a list of criteria in priority order. Each candidate is assigned an Attribute Weight from 1-5, and each receives a Candidate Score of 1-5, with specific columns for Functional, Technology, Admin/Mgmt and Human Traits.
Norton specifies that each person involved in the hiring process should come to consensus on 60 - 80% of the required skills, and 20 - 40% of the desired skills. He also makes notation on the spreadsheet that states the best candidates are looking for growth and will fit on these ratios.
"98% of the companies I speak to though say they don't have time to go through this laborious process at the outset. But they do have time to bring six or seven people in for an interview and never even reach a consensus? They don’t know what they don’t know. They’ll tell me 'we’ve hired hundreds of people.' And how long did they stay? How happy were they? How productive? I spend 80% of my time educating clients on this process. And if they buy what I am selling, if they drink the kool-aid, the success rate will be 100%."
"98% of the companies I speak to though say they don't have time to go through this laborious process at the outset. But they do have time to bring six or seven people in for an interview and never even reach a consensus? They don’t know what they don’t know."
Here's a case study to go with the elephant analogy. Norton had a manufacturing client that was growing and expanding and acquiring a whole bunch of little companies in their space. They wanted to make a key hire and said absolutely, positively at the top of their list, this person must have manufacturing experience. And the person they identified as the top candidate was the only one of the finalists who didn’t have any manufacturing experience. Because, Norton says, with his help, the client eventually came to realize the job wasn’t about manufacturing. Instead, it was about rolling all these smaller companies into this bigger one, absorbing different cultures and taking the best people and the best practices and making it all work. In other words, it was an organizational management job, not a manufacturing one.
"The biggest mistake that occurs is not having a good job specification," says Norton in closing. "That’s where it all starts. Because out of that will come the interview questions and it will define the deliverables as well as the business problem they are trying to solve. It will determine the skills the new hire will have to have on their first day, and which ones can be learned later. A good recruiter creates what I call this 'gap in the middle.' That's a flexible candidate specification that both allows the candidate to grow, and a company to meet its business objectives."