By Norman Sherman, Partner
Troyanos Group Executive Search & Consulting
What is it that makes one company different from another? Is it their new office? The quality of the products they manufacture? The level of customer satisfaction? All may be true, but most companies will point to their people and their culture as their competitive advantage and what makes them special. As such, hiring and retaining the best talent is critical to their continued success. So why is it that most companies do such a bad job of hiring the best people?
There are many reasons, but the one I’m going to focus on today is hiring by committee. How many times have you been asked to be part of an interview committee and the only background you’ve been given is the person’s resume and maybe the job title the person is interviewing for. If you’ve been given a job description it’s probably a laundry list of the 12 job responsibilities and the 10 experience requirements. No one has spent the appropriate time with you going through the critical job responsibilities, and what kind of person is likely to be successful…from an experience basis and a cultural perspective.
Given the lack of importance it seems your role is in this process, you probably spend precious little time preparing for the interview. I can’t begin to count the number of times people in this situation look at a candidate and ask “Now why am I seeing you? Oh, do you have a resume?” Imagine the message that gives to this prospective candidate…ostensibly one that the hiring manager is interested in and thinks can do the job.
But that’s only part of the problem. These interview committees are often 3 or 4 people, and sometimes as many as 7 or 8. And all of these people have received the same (miniscule) amount of input and direction.
So what happens? The hiring manager inevitably asks “So what did you think.” And generally the response is something like “Well I thought she was pretty good. Did some interesting things. But I’m concerned about the number of job changes. And she really didn’t seem energized about the role.” (Big surprise, when being interviewed by a person who was totally unprepared.) Time and again members of the interview committee tend to focus on the issues; the problems they identified. It’s almost as though they view their role as “Chief Problem Finder” and that’s how they can add value to the hiring decision.
And what’s worse is trying to get all members of the interview committee to agree on any one candidate. Good luck when they see their role as “Chief Problem Finder.” And so it goes. The hiring manager is looking for consensus and rarely gets it. And in those situations where consensus is reached it’s often because the candidate wasn’t objectionable; nothing really negative stands out. Oh by the way, candidates like this are rarely rock stars. Because if they were you can almost guarantee that something about them would have created a question or a discomfort in the mind of someone in the interview committee. So, what do you wind up with?…a non-offensive mediocre candidate.
So what’s the solution? Interview committees are fine if the hiring manager isn’t looking for consensus, but rather is looking for specific input to help him/her decide on a candidate. That hiring manager should: 1) formulate a clear vision for the position in question; 2) make sure the interview committee understands the key skill sets required; and 3) give each member of the interview committee a separate area you’d like them to pressure test. You’re not asking if they would hire this individual. You’re not asking if they found any problems. You’re asking for their assessment of the individual on the specific area against which you wanted them to vet the candidate.
The hiring manager then gets all the input that he/she was looking for. And it is now up to that individual to make the hiring decision. No looking for consensus. No looking for candidates that don’t have any issues (By the way, we all do.) But rather demonstrating strong leadership skills in getting the requisite input and owning the decision for better or worse.
I can guarantee that if your company implements this approach you will do a much better job of evaluating prospective candidates. The hiring manager will own the decision on who to hire and will be more invested in that person’s success. And the quality of the talent you attract to the company will rise. Give it a try, and you actually may find that your people really are your competitive advantage.
Norman Sherman is a partner in The Troyanos Group Ltd., an executive search and consulting firm focused in the marketing, advertising and communications space. Prior to entering the executive search field Norm held a variety of senior management roles at several prestigious advertising and marketing service firms. He was Managing Director of the New York office of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, ran their Canadian operations, and was responsible for management of all global Procter & Gamble healthcare businesses. He was Executive Vice President at Hill Holliday, where he created and built a freestanding healthcare communications group.
Norm can be reached at email@example.com and 914-479-1802