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Your Very Bad Day

By Joe Stimac
This week’s guest columnist is Joe Stimac, CEO of AccuHire and creator of Joe is a research scientist and a sought-after speaker with over two decades of experience training global organizations, Tier1 DoD commands, government agencies, universities, schools, startups, and non-profit organizations on how to make simple changes that dramatically improve the quality of hires. His clients report a significant increase in employee engagement and retention. He and his team created Interview Builder to help hiring managers quickly create structured, competency-based job interview packets, control the interview, and get the information they need to make an informed, defensible hiring decision.
To submit a guest column, please email it to our Marketing Coordinator, Nicole Mailhoit at [email protected].

Picture the following scenario. You are about to go to bed feeling great, no worries, but then everything changes when you get a call that one of your employees was caught on video bragging to an undercover reporter about how they do not hire Catholics, older people, and conservatives.

Your mood goes from calm to panic in the span of a few seconds.  How could this happen? What do I do now? How do I conduct damage control? How do I prevent this from happening again? How will this impact my job?

You send out an emergency press release stating that you put the employee on leave and that you do not condone any opinions that promote discriminatory hiring practices.

Your week gets worse as the story goes viral and attracts the attention of the Governor, the state Department of Education, the First Selectman, the state’s Attorney General, and national news outlets.

The events mentioned are real and happened in the Greenwich, CT school district. Conduct a search on “Greenwich CT assistant principal” and read the numerous stories. The undercover video shows the Cos Cob assistant principal stating that he would not hire Catholics, conservatives, older applicants, or anyone he did not believe was progressive. He was placed on administrative leave as the story went viral and garnered the attention of Governor Ned Lamont who stated, “Discrimination of any kind has no place in Connecticut, especially in our public schools. This is not aligned with our Connecticut values.”

Greenwich Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones stated: “Late last evening, we were made aware of a video that had gone viral with a current administrator from Cos Cob School. “We intend to do a full investigation and until that time, we will not make any public statements. We ask that you respect the investigation process during this time. We do not, however, support any opinions that promote discriminatory hiring practices based on race, religion, gender, or age in any way, and we want to remind our entire community that our curriculum policies and procedures are strictly enforced by our Board.”

This is not an isolated case since many organizations do not adequately train their employees on how to conduct structured job interviews.  Interviewing is an easily learned skill with the right training. The right tools help your hiring managers quickly create structured, job-relevant interview packets and minimize discriminatory hiring practices.

Bad hiring is not just a school problem; it is a nationwide employer problem. During the training, I ask class participants to tell me a question they have asked during a previous interview. Many of the questions are not relevant to the job. Most are opinion questions, while others resemble statements that expect the applicant to concur with the untrained interviewer’s point of view.

Your interview questions need to target specific tasks or situations.  The candidate’s responses would be compared to how your high and low performers perform the specific task or in the specific situation and scored accordingly. Hypothetical interview questions ask for opinions. They often start with “How would you…? The applicant hears the hypothetical interview question and responds with a hypothetical answer that sounds reasonable and credible but may not be a true reflection of how they would perform the task.

How can you tell if your interview question is high or low value? Look at the question. If it ends in a question mark, it could be hypothetical. For example: “How would you discipline a subordinate?”  The candidate hears the hypothetical question and responds with a hypothetical answer. Psychologists call this socially desirable responding – the tendency to offer answers that would be judged favorably, but not offer the true way they feel or would perform the task. Listen for answers that include “I probably would, I think, I feel, I want to say, etc.

If you want a genuine response, direct the candidate to give you a specific example by using directive statements. “Tell me about a time you had to discipline a subordinate.”  Notice that the question is not a question since it ends in a period. That minor change makes an enormous difference in how the candidate will answer.

The directive statement forces the candidate to recall and describe a specific event where they had this experience. The follow-up questions extract the details that help the interviewer obtain deep insight into the candidate’s actual past performance. Interviewers can compare the candidate’s answers and assign scores based on how closely they align with how their high performers perform the specific task (anchors).

Unstructured interviews do not lend themselves to rating candidate responses and the hire/do not hire decisions are often based on biases, first impressions, and gut instinct. I have heard untrained interviewers openly state “that’s what I like to hear,” or “great answer,” during an unstructured interview. The problem is that the “great answer” cannot be verified or has any context. Desirable answers also demonstrate confirmation bias, the tendency to search for, interpret, and favor information in a way that confirms or supports one’s beliefs or values.

Organization leaders that do not train their employees how to conduct structured, job-relevant interviews may learn the hard way that one of their hiring managers asked inappropriate interview questions that candidates could perceive as discriminatory.

The fix is easy. Train your employees who will be involved in a hiring decision to create a set of position-specific, job-relevant Behavioral interview questions that target the key job requirements and ask all applicants the same questions to avoid discriminatory hiring practices.

Laszlo Bock, Google’s former SVP of People Operations conducted a deep dive into their interview process and concluded their brainteaser questions were a complete waste of time. The article is worth a quick read. He also concluded that structured Behavioral interviews were vital to good hiring decisions.

There are tools that can help your employees quickly build structured, Behavioral interview packets. The added benefit is the employer controls the content and can compare candidates against job-related criteria, not applicants against each other.

Using a structured interview (focused, job-relevant interview questions) helps the candidates feel that they were evaluated fairly and that the questions were relevant to the job. Structured interviews help keep the interview on track.

Interviewers are trained to stick to the script, guide the conversation and let the candidate do most of the talking (this helps prevent interviewers from saying something that could be construed as discriminatory).

An additional benefit of asking job-relevant interview questions is that they give the candidate a realistic job preview that allows the interviewer to “test the job offer” at the end of the interview by asking the candidate to think over the interview and provide one hesitation or reservation they have about the job.

Clients are amazed at what they learn when they test the job offer.  Candidates have stated, “your questions helped me understand the job better and it’s not what I want to do any longer; I don’t feel I am well suited for this job; Will you offer training in XX to help me perform at the level you want; I only need this job for nine months until we move to NC, and the worst one, “I thought I was being interviewed for a different job.”  Testing the job offer helps identify those hidden reservations, minimize poor hiring decisions, and maximize job offer acceptance rates.

Training your employees to conduct a structured job interview can help avoid situations like the one mentioned at the beginning of this article and help you build a high-performing organization that has high engagement, is inclusive, diverse, and has low turnover.

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