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Category: Interviews and Hiring

Goldilocks Chooses a Consulting Firm | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

This article is most helpful to anyone seeking to hire a consultant or consulting firm to provide psychological assessments for employee selection, promotion, and development.

Like the children’s story, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, psychological assessment providers can be grouped into three main categories to choose from.  The following information can help you decide which one is “just right” for you and your company’s needs.

Assessment Publisher “Associates”

Essentially, the providers in this category tend to be sales people with certification/training in a specific psychological test designed by the assessment publisher they’re affiliated with.

They usually offer online assessments that are relatively quick, easy, and cheap to administer.  Similarly, a computer-generated report about the applicant is created instantly based on how the candidate answered the online questions.  The report is then used to make hiring, promotion, and development decisions.

These vendors strive to win you over with proposed cost-effectiveness, time-savings, and convenience.  Typically, their goal is to sell you an annual subscription or volume of assessments (e.g., one hundred tests per year) that you or your department can use with minimal consultation or follow-up.  This creates a “passive income” for the vendor (e.g., they provide a tool that is mostly “self-serve”).         

On the upside, if used in the correct manner, these assessments can save time, money, and effort.  For example, they could be used in a team-building exercise where participants identify and discuss the implications of their personality styles in the workplace.

On the downside, if used incorrectly, these types of assessments can cost you far more than they save.  Assessments of this nature are relatively quick to complete because they tend to only measure a few aspects about a person.  As such, the usefulness of the information is limited.  Similarly, while providers often tout the reliability, validity, and legal defensibility of their assessments, the assessment can quickly become invalid (and not legally defensible) if used improperly or under the wrong circumstances.

For example, imagine you have a gauge that measures the air pressure in a car’s tires.  The gauge is inexpensive, quick, and easy to use.  It’s also reliable and valid; it accurately measures the air pressure in each tire, every time.  If you want to know if a car’s tires are inflated properly, there’s no reason to use anything more complicated.  …But, what if you want to know how well the car will perform on the road…or if it’s worth buying?  The air pressure gauge can’t tell you anything about the engine, suspension, etc., and it’d be foolish to make a decision about buying a car based only on its’ tire pressure.  Likewise, as human beings are the most complicated entities ever known, you’re prone to encounter serious problems (e.g., bad hires, legal issues, etc.) if you use only one assessment to make important decisions about candidates’ suitability for hire or promotion.

Boutique Consulting Firms

The providers in this category tend to be psychologists or similar professionals with advanced degrees.  They’re akin to physicians in private practices or attorneys in small law firms.

These consultants typically have access to a wide range of assessments from a variety of test publishers.  Likewise, they often have expertise in psychological assessment construction, application, and validity, and are highly skilled at interviewing, coaching, and delivering feedback.

Boutique consulting firms strive to win you over with expert advice, quality, thoroughness, and solutions tailored to your needs.  They usually take a “multi-assessment” approach, meaning they first identify the competences required for success in a certain role and then utilize a series of psychological assessments to measure those competences.  Likewise, their consultants are adept at integrating and interpreting the information from multiple assessments into a summary report that provides insight into a candidate’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall suitability for a role.

On the upside, the expertise, best practices, and tailored approach offered by boutique consulting firms are big benefits.  In addition, as they are often small businesses, the dedication to customer service and quality are typically high.  Further, as turnover tends to be low at boutique firms, their consultants develop strong relationships with customers over time and gain a deep understanding of their clients’ people, culture, and challenges (which are crucial factors to consider in conjunction with assessment information when making hiring and promotion recommendations).  Combined, you’ll likely receive the most useful assessment reports, candidate recommendations, and advice from boutique firms.

However, on the downside, boutique firms are not equipped to handle large volumes of work.  If you need to have a thousand supervisors assessed across your Fortune 500 company within a month, a boutique firm is unlikely to have the resources.  In addition, their multi-assessment approach takes time, including hours for candidates to complete the testing and days for consultants to complete reports and furnish recommendations.  Boutique firms are also likely to be more expensive than the assessment publisher associates described earlier (yet less expensive than large consulting firms). 

Large Consulting Firms

The providers in this category tend to be large management consulting companies with offices located across the country or in several countries around the world.  They offer a wide variety of services and products, including their own proprietary assessments, training and coaching programs, books, etc.

These large firms strive to win you over with their brand, marketing, and the caliber of their intellectual property (e.g., the aforementioned books, programs, and other products).  Like boutique consulting firms, they tend to take a best practice, multi-assessment approach to assessing candidates for hire, promotion, and development (although they often use only their own proprietary assessments).  In addition, large firms have the resources to conduct “Assessment Centers”, or programs where groups of candidates participate in live job simulations (e.g., with actors, role-plays, and other exercises) to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and suitability for a role.

On the upside, the sophisticated intellectual property and vast amount of resources large consulting firms possess provide clear advantages in certain circumstances.  For example, if you need to assess many candidates (e.g., hundreds) across several competency areas in a short amount of time, a large consulting firm is likely to be your best option.

On the downside, large consulting firms suffer from many of the typical drawbacks associated with big corporations.  Foremost, they are very expensive.  Their target market is usually Fortune 500 companies with big budgets.  Further, keeping their numerous offices open and adequately staffed adds-up to a tremendous amount of overhead expenses, which get passed down to clients in the form of higher fees.  In addition, consultant turnover tends to be relatively high at large firms, and they are often less dedicated to meeting clients’ needs.  As a result, you’re more likely to feel like “just a number” when working with them.

Summary

In conclusion, each psychological assessment provider (i.e., assessment publisher associates, boutique consulting firms, and large consulting firms) have important advantages and disadvantages.  Choosing the one that’s best will depend on you and your company’s needs.

You can learn more about me by visiting garydumaispsychologist.org and selecthumanresources.com.  Also, free tips and advice can be found at my blog (garydumais.net) and on my YouTube channel (youtube.com/channel/UCmRvjywXN9_9f4F5GNl3Sqg).

Gary Dumais Assessment Tools Metaphor

Best Practices for Assessing Job Candidates | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

What is a “candidate selection assessment”?

When I moved to Philadelphia about ten years ago, I was surprised to find that many companies had never heard of a “selection assessment”.  Instead, they were using only traditional candidate screening methods such as interviews and reference checks.  I found this to be especially interesting given that surrounding cities like New York and Washington, DC were saturated with management consulting firms, and many of the best companies nationwide require a selection assessment for any candidate seeking to be hired or promoted into an important role.

Put simply, a candidate selection assessment uses certain “tests” or other evaluative measures to gauge how effective an applicant will be in meeting the demands of a role.  These assessments can take many forms, ranging from “paper-and-pencil” questionnaires, to online surveys, or live simulations where candidates are observed while engaging in staged scenarios that reflect job duties (e.g., like coaching an underperforming employee or responding to an inbox full of emails).

The idea of using psychological assessments to screen candidates has been around for much longer than most people think.  Many textbooks cite the United States Military during World War I as being one of the first to use personality assessments to screen out applicants unsuitable for combat.  The benefits of implementing such a practice (e.g., saving thousands of lives and countless other resources) goes without stating.

What are some best practices for assessing job candidates?

As alluded to previously, there is a wide variety of candidate selection measures, spanning written questionnaires to online surveys and role-plays complete with actors and trained observers.  An exhaustive review of every kind of assessment available could easily fill a book, and is therefore beyond the scope of this article.  However, I will provide some useful advice that Human Resource professionals and others (e.g., hiring managers) can utilize when considering methods:

Use a “multi-assessment” approach

Human beings are complicated.  In fact, the human brain is the most complicated “thing” ever known.  No single test could ever fully evaluate a person’s personality, talents, skills, and so on.

This is perhaps most evident in clinical psychology’s approach to measuring intelligence or IQ.  IQ tests are comprised of several smaller “subtests” that span math, vocabulary, non-verbal reasoning, etc.  A person’s performance on each subtest is taken into consideration when deriving an overall IQ score.  In comparison, it’s easy to see how making conclusions about people’s intelligence based only on their math skills would be inaccurate.

The same principle holds true when assessing a candidate’s suitability for a role; multiple assessment measures are needed to uncover the full story.  I typically include at least two different tests of peoples’ reasoning skills, two personality assessments, a measure of their approach to conflict resolution, and assessments of their motivation and emotional intelligence, among others.

Using more than one assessment may seem like overkill, but in my experience, it’s truly necessary for arriving at valid conclusions.  For example, imagine a person performs in the below-average range (in comparison to other managers) on a timed test of their problem-solving abilities (e.g., he’s given fifteen minutes to complete it).  Based on that one test result, you may conclude that the person’s problem-solving abilities are not very good.

Now imagine the same person is given an untimed test of his problem-solving abilities (e.g., he can take as much time as he wants), and he performs in the above-average range.  What would you now conclude about his problem-solving abilities?  Are they below-average or above-average?  The testing results seem to conflict.

Next, imagine the person is also given a personality assessment, and the results indicate he is much more meticulous, detail oriented, and concerned about making mistakes than the average manager.  Now the real story begins to unfold; the person likely has above-average problem-solving skills, but his tendency to be careful and meticulous slows him down and detracts from his performance when taking a timed test.

So, in conclusion, the person will be adept at problem-solving, except in situations when he must make decisions quickly.  -That’s very useful information to have when deciding the best role for a candidate, and it was found by taking a multi-assessment approach.

Clearly define the competencies required for success in a role, and use assessments that measure those competencies

It’d be impossible to know if a candidate is suited for a role without knowing what’s needed for success in that role.  With that in mind, it’s crucial to 1) define the competencies a position requires, 2) ensure the assessment measures used will provide sufficient information about a candidate’s proficiency in each of those competencies, and 3) have a summary report that clearly describes how a candidate performed in each competency so conclusions can be drawn about his or her strengths, weaknesses, and overall level of fit for the role.

In addition, it’s important to ensure that the number of competencies are balanced across job requirements and are not too numerous to be practical.  For example, I’ve seen instances where the job description lists only thinking-related competencies such as problem-solving (e.g., for an engineer role), or only results-related competencies such as delegating (e.g., for a manager role), or only people-related competencies like relationship building (e.g., for a sales role).  With that in mind, I recommend that each job description (and candidate selection assessment) cover competencies in the areas of Thinking, Results, and People to be comprehensive.  At the same time, however, it’s also important to ensure that the list of competencies is not excessively long.  In my experience, three to four competencies in each area (Thinking, Results, and People) is ideal.

Use an external consultant or consulting firm

While it may seem more cost-effective and convenient to do candidate selection assessments “in-house” (e.g., by using your company’s Human Resource department), it’s prone to result in complications and biased hiring decisions that end-up costing the company far more.

No matter how objective hiring managers, human resource professionals, and other people within a company may endeavor to be, they feel pressure to fill open positions as quickly as possible.  Likewise, organizational politics are always a factor.  For example, a Vice President or Director may favor a candidate, making it difficult for anyone lower in the organization to disagree, even if they have assessment information that indicates the candidate would be a poor fit.

In comparison, it’s easier for outside consultants to be objective and make recommendations that “go against the grain”, when necessary.  This is especially important because, most often, selection assessments are only conducted on finalists (e.g., candidates who have great resumes, passed the preliminary interviews, have been nominated for promotion, etc.).  With that in mind, it can be particularly challenging for an internal employee to advocate against hiring a candidate based on assessment results when their coworkers already favor the candidate and are eager to get the position filled.

In sum, outside consultants are less impacted by organizational politics, and are therefore better-equipped to make objective/data-driven decisions (which is the goal of using candidate selection assessments in the first place).

Leverage assessment information beyond the selection decision

Finally, I recommend that you use the wealth of information that comes from a properly conducted candidate assessment for more than the selection or promotion decision.

Just like many other aspects of the selection process, such as reference checks, no information is shared with candidates who are not selected.  However, after a decision is made to hire or promote, it can be tremendously useful to review the assessment information with candidates as part of their onboarding process (e.g., so they are aware of the strengths they can leverage in their new role and what weaknesses they’ll have to address).  Ideally, the assessment information would be incorporated into an onboarding plan or a development plan to maximize the person’s professional growth.

Moreover, selected candidates feel rewarded for the time and effort they put into the process by receiving the information and gaining helpful insights.  Likewise, they begin their new role knowing the company cares about their success and has equipped them to excel.

You can learn more about me by visiting garydumais.com.  Also, free tips and advice can be found at my blog (garydumais.net) and my YouTube channel (youtube.com/channel/UCmRvjywXN9_9f4F5GNl3Sqg).

How to Handle a Behavioral Interview | Gary Dumais | Select Human Resources

Gary Dumais' employees at Select Human Resources interviewing

I’ve interviewed thousands of job candidates as a Business Psychologist and Human Resource professional.  In this article, I’m going to share some advice about how to prepare for and respond to behavioral job interview questions.

What is a Behavioral Interview?

Behaviorally based interviewing is also known as situation based interviewing or the “STAR” method (Situation, Task, Activity, Result).  Basically, it means the interviewer will ask you to describe examples of things you’ve done on the job, and most of the interview questions will begin with something like, “Tell me about a time when you…”.  The interviewer then listens and probes for details about the who, what, when, where, how, etc. in the examples you provide.

Asking what a person did do in certain job situations is different from traditional interviewing methods that ask people what they would do.  The behavioral method is used because what a person did do tends to be more predictive of what they will do in the future, in comparison to what they say they would do.  For example, if a candidate was asked what he would do if he had a conflict with a colleague, he might say that he would confront his coworker to discuss the matter.  However, when asked to describe what he did do during a recent time he had a conflict with a colleague, the same candidate might share an example in which he ignored the conflict in hopes it would fade with time.

How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview

Behavioral interview questions are usually designed to match the competencies needed for success in a role (e.g., problem-solving skills, project management skills, relationship building skills, etc.).  For instance, if a job requires a person to think strategically, an interviewer might ask them to describe a recent time when they had to define a business strategy.

With that in mind, it’s useful to identify what competencies a job requires so you can prepare accordingly for related interview questions:

  • Sometimes formal job descriptions will list the competencies required for a position. If not, Human Resources or the hiring manager for the role will likely share the competencies if asked.  It’s certainly OK to ask about the competencies required for success in a role when applying for a position.
  • You may also be able to discern the required competencies by closely reviewing the job description and “reading between the lines”, so to speak.  In my experience, most job competencies fall into three broad categories: Thinking (e.g., problem-solving, innovating, etc.), Results (e.g., accountability, time management, etc.), and People (e.g., networking, influencing, etc.).  Those categories can be used as a guide for deciphering the competencies underpinning a job description.  For example, while reading the job description, you could ask yourself, “What thinking-related competencies seem needed for this role?”, “What results-related competencies seem needed for this role?”, and so on.

Once you’ve identified the competencies required for a job, the next step is to recall instances from your work experience when you evidenced those competencies:

  • Recall examples that occurred within the last year or less (the more recent, the better). They’ll be easier to remember and share details about.  Further, behavioral interviewers usually require examples to be relatively recent.
  • Avoid getting caught-up in trying to identify the biggest, best, or most elaborate example you can think of. I’ve interviewed many people who had difficulty giving examples because they didn’t feel the example was sophisticated or spectacular enough to share.  Behavioral interviewers tend to focus more on the how than the what in the examples you provide.  For instance, you probably take a similar approach to delegating work whether a project is large or small, but it’d be easier to convey the details of the smaller project when the interviewer asks.
  • Don’t let an undesired outcome keep you from sharing what would otherwise be a good example. I see this often, for example, when asking people to describe a time when they had to influence upward (e.g., gain buy-in from senior leadership, change their boss’s opinion, etc.).  They hesitate to share an example because they were unsuccessful at influencing upward.  However, once they share the example it’s clear (to me as a behavioral interviewer) that their approach to influencing was sound, despite senior leadership choosing not to buy-in.

How to Respond to Behavioral Interview Questions

Now that you’ve identified the competencies required for a job and some examples from your work experience that illustrate those skills, the final step is to refine how you’ll communicate those examples:

  • Answer the question the interviewer asks. Seems intuitive, but I still come across candidates who give examples they believe will make them look good, rather than examples that fit the questions asked.  The behavioral interview method requires clear examples from candidates that match specific competency areas, and so it’s not the time to respond like a politician.  For instance, if the interviewer asks you for an example of how you dealt with a customer complaint, you won’t be able to get by with an example of how you exceeded your sales goals for the year.  Similarly, if you find yourself falling back into the traditional interview habit of responding to questions with guesses about what you would do in a hypothetical scenario, be prepared to be asked again about what you did do in an actual situation.
  • Center your responses on describing your actions and involvement in the examples you provide. Remember, in most instances, the interviewer is seeking to understand what you did so they can draw conclusions about your skills, abilities, and fit for a job.  For instances when you were part of a team, you can start your example with, “As part of a team I… (and then talk specifically about what you did or the role you played on the team)”.
  • Be concise. Interview time is limited, and interviewers typically have several competency areas to cover.  Communicating only the essentials of each example (e.g., the who, what, where, when, and how) will help ensure you don’t run short on time.  Keep in mind that interviewers can ask you for more detail if they need it, but in contrast, it’s difficult to make up for time lost on longwinded examples.  Moreover, interviewers are likely to be gauging how well you communicate, as many jobs require strong verbal communication skills.
  • Practice to ensure examples are fresh in your mind, but do not over-rehearse or read from your notes during an interview. Behaviorally based interviews are not like school exams that can be “passed” by giving certain “right” answers.  As alluded to previously, interviewers will likely be evaluating how you communicate, think on your feet, handle pressure, etc., while you are responding.  Having a few notes (such as bullet points to jog your memory) is usually fine, but coming across as scripted, robotic, or rigid during an interview is not.
  • Finally, don’t be shy about taking time to think before responding (especially if you’re asked a question you weren’t expecting). It’s much better to take a few moments to recall an example that is fitting and straightforward than it is to respond quickly with an example that’s mismatched or convoluted.

I sincerely hope you found this article to be helpful.  Please visit Select Human Resources or my website at garydumais.com for more useful articles and contact information.  You can also connect with me via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/garydumais/

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The Difference Between Recruiters and Business Psychologists

Gary Duamis Recruiters and Business Psychologists

When I tell people I’m a Business Psychologist that helps companies choose the right people for key roles, many respond with, “Oh, you’re a Recruiter”.  Recruiters can play an important part in the hiring process, but what Business Psychologist do is very different.

To make a simple comparison, Recruiters are like Real Estate Agents, and Business Psychologists are like Home Inspectors:

Anyone who has searched for a home knows about Real Estate Agents.  They’re adept at understanding what’s available on the market and providing properties to choose from.  The best Real Estate Agents understand your needs and find homes that meet your criteria (while the worst agents are “salesy” and try to convince you that whatever homes they have are what you really need).  Recruiters work in a similar way.  They’re usually well-networked and provide a variety of job applicants for you to choose from.

In contrast, Home Inspectors are adept at appraising a property and evaluating if it has any problems (e.g., cracks in the foundation).  They have special training, tools, and techniques for testing the home and objectively assessing its value so you can “know what you’re getting” when making a buying decision.  Business Psychologists work in a similar way.  They use psychological assessments, interview techniques, and other methods (e.g., Assessment Centers) to provide an objective evaluation of a candidate so you can “know what you’re getting” when making a hiring decision.

Finally, it’s important to consider the difference between how Recruiters and Business Psychologists are incentivized.  Recruiters get paid for placing candidates.  Just like Real Estate Agents, they get a commission for getting you to say, “Yes, I’ll take it” (sometimes equal to as much as 20% of a candidate’s starting salary).  However, Business Psychologists get paid for correctly screening candidates.  Just like Home Inspectors, they don’t get paid any more for swaying your decision one way or another.  Rather, Business Psychologist get repeat business by being objective and providing the information you need to make wise hiring and promotion decisions.

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The Costs of Bad Hires; getting senior leadership to take action

Rising costs of a bad hire by Gary Dumais

What’s a company’s greatest expense?  Many might guess it’s the cost of producing products, research and development, or marketing and advertising.  However, for most companies, their greatest expense by far is employees.  Just think about the costs associated with paying salaries, benefits, etc., multiply them across all the employees in a company, and then it’s easy to understand how Human Capital is a company’s greatest investment.

With all that in mind, what’s the best way to quantify the cost of a bad hire?  And how can managers and Human Resource professionals help senior leadership understand the gravity of those costs so they’ll invest in better recruiting and selection processes?

In my experience as a Business Psychologist, I’ve found the following questions to be especially helpful.  First, I ask members of senior leadership teams to think about one of their best employees and one of their worst employees.  Once they have people in mind, I then ask them to describe the impact those employees have had on the company.  -Their responses are usually quick, passionate, and visceral.  People can readily recall the sizable benefits a high-performing employee has brought to the company (e.g., increasing profits, making wise decisions, solving problems, championing change, etc.).  Likewise, senior leaders can also quickly recall the damage a bad employee caused (e.g., costly mistakes, decisions that led the company down the wrong road, low morale, higher employee turnover, etc.).  Recalling those first-hand experiences is often far more powerful and convincing than calculating a specific dollar value associated with the cost of a bad hire.  For example, while it’s impactful to cite that $100,000 was wasted on hiring and training a manager who underperformed anyway, helping senior leadership to recall that the same manger made a decision that botched a new product launch and cost the company millions is even more impactful (and provides deeper insight into the issue).

Once senior leaders fully recognize and “feel” the costs associated with bad hires, it’s much easier for them to see the huge return on investment that can come from improving recruiting and selection processes.

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Interviewing People: The importance of building and maintaining rapport

Gary Dumais explains building rapport

Strike-up a conversation with Human Resource professionals and Psychologists about best practices related to interviewing and you’ll quickly hear discussion about using behaviorally based interview techniques, asking questions about what people did do in business situations rather than what they would do, listening for behavioral anchors that align with company competency models, etc.

However, in contrast, I never hear people mention the importance of building and maintaining rapport with the person being interviewed, and that’s unfortunate because it provides the foundation for whatever interview technique you chose to use.

If you think about it, the person being interviewed has obviously been with themselves their entire life and is most likely to have deep knowledge of their strengths, weaknesses, personality characteristics, likes and dislikes, etc.  With that in mind, a sizable part of being an adept interviewer or assessor is simply making people feel comfortable about speaking about themselves.  While I have nearly a decade of experience working with high-level managers and executives, I am often described as a soft-spoken, introverted, “nice guy”.  While some have suggested that I work on being more assertive, outspoken, or “edgy”, I reserve that kind of approach for instances that truly call for it (e.g., when advocating for adherence to ethical practices).  Otherwise, my gentle and soft-spoken approach makes it easy for people to feel comfortable speaking with me.  Similarly, I act on opportunities to show I’m listening intently and understanding what they are saying (e.g., by paraphrasing, empathizing, and utilizing other active-listening techniques).  Moreover, I continually monitor my interaction with interviewees and adjust in real-time to maintain good rapport (e.g., by asking a person to elaborate about positive things such as their strengths if they begin to show signs of anxiety during the interview).

Bottom line: as an interviewer, it’s important to keep in mind that people tend to share the most useful information when they feel comfortable, and are more likely to become closed-off when they don’t.    

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