Thoughts on Lou Adler’s “Hire with your Head”


By | Hiring Process ,Interviews ,Leadership ,News ,Selection | October 15, 2014 | 0 comment

“We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship.” This quote of Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google appearing in an article in the New York Times on June 19, 2013 demonstrates the clear need for a better way to hire.

Without a doubt, one of the recent classics on systematic hiring is “Hire with your Head” by Lou Adler (available through Amazon).

Following the theme I developed in my previous blog (eliminating the “gut feel” in hiring by objectively and quantitatively assessing candidates against a scorecard developed from desired performance outcomes), this book lays out a complete strategy for all the major components of the hiring process:

  • Define what you are looking for
  • Candidate sourcing
  • Interview preparation
  • Interview questions
  • Candidate evaluation
  • Selection
  • Offer negotiation

In the pivotal chapter on interviewing entitled “The Two-Question Performance-Based Interview” Adler builds a case for focusing on the two traits of results orientation and critical thinking/problem solving. His first question is “Of all the things you have accomplished in your career, what stands out as the most significant?  Tell me about it.”  The second is “If you were to get this job, how would you go about solving ________ (describe a typical problem).”

I agree that it is vitally important to:

  • Analyze what you are trying to accomplish in the position in terms of outcomes
  • Identify the traits necessary to drive those outcomes
  • Focus on the top 2 or 3 traits, at least at the initial stages in the interview process

However, interviews can devolve into an acting job for your candidates if the questions are not based on past performance but are purely hypothetical. Questions like Adler’s second one (“If you were to get this job, how would you…”) allow candidates to take a flight of fancy and answer the way they feel the interviewer wants.   A much stronger approach would be along the lines of “One of the major challenges you will face here is _________.  Tell me about a time you faced a similar challenge, and how you handled it.”

To avoid this common trap of asking hypothetical questions:

  • Build interview questions to evaluate your candidates on the top 2 or 3 traits you are feel are critical to achieving the outcomes you are looking for from the position
  • Present your questions in a way that forces them to answer from their actual experience, and not by guessing what you are hoping to hear

Finally, in order to assess all of your candidates fairly and impartially:

  • Develop a scorecard (see Chapter 5 of Adler’s book, or my previous blog post)
  • Ask each candidate the same series of questions, using the scorecard to evaluate their answer
  • As Adler states, consciously “wait 30 minutes and measure the impact of first impressions at the end of the interview.”

Bruce McAlpine is President of Fulcrum Search Science Inc., a Toronto-based Executive Search Firm. To learn more, please contact him at 416.847.4989, or bruce.mcalpine@fulcrumsearchscience.com.

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