Smart ways to identify the best candidate for a job

It’s been a while since I’ve been on the “receiving end” of a traditional interview, but I still find myself part of the hiring team on interviews, and still have painful memories of dotcom jobs and the resulting cascade of grossly unqualified resumes we received every week.
I’ve experienced cover letters with misspellings, cover letters that are obviously and embarrassingly form letters (‘like Dear __hiring manager___“), missing cover letters, resumes with typos or formatting glitches, pointers to online work where the URLs don’t work, and much, much worse.
But they’re not the most annoying part of the process. The most frustrating, time-wasting part of hiring is one-on-one interviewing. You can easily waste 20-30 minutes per candidate, even by phone, and an aggressive culling can still produce a dozen or more apparently qualified candidates.


That’s why when my colleague and friend Brad Fallon shared with me how he qualifies his candidates prior to any direct communication, I was sufficiently impressed that I asked if I could blog about it!
In a nutshell, Brad asks all potential candidates to fill in a series of essay questions before he’ll talk with them directly. Most of them are basic interview questions like “why did you leave your last job?”, but the set of questions are smart and thoughtful, and the entire technique is terrific.
Here’s a sampling of some of his more interesting questions:

  • Think of the boss that was the most challenging to deal with. Why was it challenging and how did you handle it? What would he or she say about you?
  • Are you a detail person or a big picture person? How do you think this natural tendency affects your potential?
  • What motivates you to work at your highest level of productivity at work? In short, how should you be managed?
  • Do you tend to think about work at home or on weekends or do you just shut it out of your mind and try not to worry about things when you’re not “on the clock.”
  • We can only hire one person for this critical role. Why are you the best candidate for this position?

Candidates are pointed to a Web page that includes all of the questions along with a fax number (not an email address or regular mailing address) as a secondary “hoop” to jump through.
Another colleague of mine, Randy Cassingham, has a more complex hoop: his job listings include a Web page address that has no further contact information. If the candidate can’t figure out that they need to click through to the main Web site, then click to a contact page to actually respond to the listing, they’re not going to be the right person for the job.
Google has gotten some press for its puzzles that are aimed at potential candidates, but frankly, I first encountered tough hiring practices when I worked at HP’s R&D Labs, where interviews were with a dozen people and lasted a day. Somewhere during that day you were given problems to solve (or to talk through a solution path), and the majority of candidates did not survive the experience.
With the rise of online recruiting systems and one-button “apply for job” capabilities, I can only imagine the difficulty of culling out the very best resumes from the flood that arise each time a job is listed in Yahoo Jobs, Monster, or any other employment engine.
There are new challenges and new solutions. What’s your approach to managing, controlling and taming the hiring process for your company?

6 comments on “Smart ways to identify the best candidate for a job

  1. Very interesting! A friend of mine pointed me to this article/blog b/c of all of the entertainment I have provided him over the years with my wacky hiring stories. I DO use Monster.com as I have found that to be the most effective for my company–and other job sites poach Monster and post my listing free (bonus!).
    I do a couple of things with culling:
    1) I require a cover letter and resume be faxed or mailed instead of click-thru – not too much to ask but 1/3 still click thru and 1/3 more just send resume or fax/memo cover letter.
    2) Remaining 1/3 gets reviewed for typos and all of the other stuff listed in the article – leaving 10% who actually follow directions and have a decent cover letter/resume.
    3) The last 10% receives an e-mail further outlining the position available – including a number of what some might perceive as bad points (hours, project work, time off) and are instructed to follow-up if interested. That leaves 3-4% who do follow-up.
    4) Those last folks are given an interview. At the end of interview, if I feel they would be good for position, I instruct them to follow-up with references if they are interested in position (allow 2 days tops for this). This usually narrows it down to 1%.
    It is an amazing process and I am pleased that the system I developed over the years has become so efficient. Unfortunately, sometimes there are NO qualified candidates and that’s where the real challenge starts…

  2. No wonder I’ve lost all interest in being an “employee”. Long ago I concluded that corporate bureaucracies are over-populated with control freaks. Definition: a control freak is someone whose primary interest is that you “follow directions”. I’m a problem solver; I work best on the kind of problems where the very concept of “directions” has no meaning.
    It’s been a number of years since I was a “hiring manager”, but if I was doing it again today, I’d simply do a Google search on the person’s name and actually see what they’ve been up to. My main question (that I would have to answer myself) is whether they are truly a “professional” with interests in their profession, or are they basically just a direction-following clock-watcher?
    — Jack Krupansky

  3. I understand Mr. Krupansky’s position on this issue, but still must deem it irrelevant. It is a well known fact that to be a good leader, you must be a good follower. We tend to send mixed signals to “hourly” employees; telling them to “quit watching the clock but don’t go over 40, it’s unauthorized and you’ll be written up.” What we are looking for are the natural time managers, people who know how to get a specified job done in a specified amount of time even with interruptions and obstacles. These are the ones who go far in the company because they can remain focused on the task at hand. These people are also, generally, already employed and require a degree of recruitment skills from “hiring managers”.

  4. Keep in mind that everyone who interviews with your company goes away with an impression of your company that they will remember for a long time and likely share with others. People you discard don’t disappear. They end up working for your competitors, vendors, and customers. You will see them again.

  5. An excellent point, Fred, and one worth thinking about when your company has a policy of “no rejection letters or other communication” as all too many companies have nowadays.

  6. Selecting the best candidate for a job is a challenge of intangibles – discovering whether the candidate has the motivation to do the job in the way you, as the manager of the designated position, and the person who assesses and rewards the jobholder’s performance, wants the job done, is a more difficult challenge.

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