Insights from Recruitment
February 15th, 2013
As Chair of a social enterprise called DECIPHer Impact, I was recently involved in recruiting the organisation’s first Chief Executive. The process proved incredibly insightful for both me and the organisation. Here are a few of the insights:
Insight 1: The Importance of Multiple ‘Touches’
One of the key insights was the importance of having multiple phases, or ‘touches’ to the process. The first reason for this is because the role required multiple competencies and so multiple opportunities were needed to thoroughly examine and test them all. This leads on to the next reason – the need to explicitly test for the essential competencies. While important from my perspective (to ensure claims made in CVs had substance), feedback suggested that candidates also benefited. Specifically, testing allowed them to really see and experience what would be expected of them, if they were successful. This leads on to the third reason for multiple ‘touches’ - it encourages recruitment to be a genuinely two way process. There were multiple opportunities for candidates to ask questions and observe our organisation ‘in action’. There would have been no point in us deciding upon a candidate, if they still felt ‘in the dark’ about the role, the organisation or the staff.
The idea of multiple ‘touches’ also recognises that recruitment is first and foremost the start of a relationship. I learnt this very early on in my career when I went through the recruitment process at the management consultancy firm, McKinsey & Company. McKinsey is widely recognised for the analytical expertise it provides to clients and while this featured heavily at interview, significant weight was placed on the interpersonal qualities and potential ‘fit’ of a candidate. So much so that they gave it a name; ‘The Pittsburgh Airport Test’. The name stems from the fact that Pittsburgh Airport is more susceptible to bad weather than many airports. Consequently, the ‘test’ is based on the following hypothetical scenario;
‘I’m in Pittsburgh airport on a Friday night, trying to get home. The candidate, who now works for my organisation, is in the airport with me. The public address system announces that due to fog the airport is temporarily closed. Do I turn to the candidate and think; ‘Not only am I stuck in Pittsburgh, but I’m stuck here with you!’ Or do I think; ‘Well at least I’m here with you and we can go for a drink/meal to pass the time.’
At McKinsey, the test was often conducted quite subtly: they would book interview rooms in the 20th floor of a building, but the interviewer would come down and meet the candidate at the ground floor reception. The ‘Pittsburgh Airport Test’ was effectively what happened in the five minutes between the reception and the 20th floor. Was the candidate completely silent? Was the conversation completely work focused? Was the conversation genuine?
The final reason for multiple ‘touches’ is based on an appreciation that we are all human. We have good days, bad days and mediocre days. While steps can be taken to maximise the likelihood of an interview falling on a good day, it is not always possible. Consequently, such a process mitigates against the ‘all or nothing’ stakes that go with single interviews.
Insight 2: Keeping it Simple – Focusing on the Answers to 3 Questions
A multiple ‘touch’ process enables more informed decision making. However, what is it that you should be deciding upon? While detailed marking frameworks have their place, for me decision making is based on three simple questions:
- Can this person do the job?
- Will this person fit in?
- Will this person do the job?
The first of these questions can readily be answered by how a candidate performs in the practical tests. The second is answered through the ‘Pittsburgh Airport Test’. Answering the third, is less straight forward, as a judgement needs to be made on a candidate’s motivations for applying. Again, having multiple ‘touches’ is helpful in this regard, as it’s likely to put off those with only a passing interest. However, remembering to ask the obvious questions is also important e.g. Why this organisation? Why this role? So can paying attention to the type and order of a candidate’s questions e.g. Is salary the first thing they ask about?
Valuing one’s intuition is also important: when they explain why they want this job, do you really believe what they’re saying?
Insight 3: If in Doubt, Don’t
‘Our people are our most important asset’.
This is a cliché I came to respect during the recruitment process. Consequently, if I couldn’t give a strong ‘Yes’ to the three questions above, candidates did not progress, no matter how much I liked them, or how skillful they were in certain areas.
But it Takes Too Long and Costs Too Much
In terms of time and money, the above process may appear overly onerous. However, with recent research indicating that it’s two and a half times more expensive to replace a staff member than to retain them, getting it right first time is likely to pay off in the long run.
Time will tell whether it worked for us!