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The Slow Approach to Hiring

New research finds almost half of hiring managers have made a decision on a candidate within the first five minutes of an interview, but hiring experts say those managers who rush to judgment could risk passing over worthy candidates.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014
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While many hiring managers brag they can quickly spot lousy job candidates within the first few minutes of an interview, experts question the wisdom of rushing to judgment – and perhaps the possible ineffectiveness of those in charge of granting interviews in the first place.

A new CareerBuilder survey of 2,201 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes finds that 49 percent of employers know within the first five minutes of an interview whether a candidate is a good or bad fit for the position, and 87 percent know within the first 15 minutes.

Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder in Chicago, said that many hiring managers are able to quickly spot in an interview when candidates may be lacking traits such as confidence, assertiveness and adaptability – traits that are equally as important as the types of job experience and technical skills listed on their resumes.

Still, ruling out a candidate in five minutes because they may not have made good eye contact could be a mistake, Haefner says.

"If you spot an area of concern, you owe it to yourself to focus a few more questions on it so you can more fully know if it's in fact a deficiency or explained by things like nerves," she says. "If it is nerves, you're not going to make the candidate more comfortable by asking point blank, 'Are you nervous?'"

Instead, hiring managers should take another approach, Haefner says, and ask for examples of how a candidate's approach might change in different settings, such as high-stress versus low-stress settings; tight deadlines that constantly change versus set project plans; or when they participate in team projects versus working by themselves.

Ravin Jesuthasan, the global head of talent management at Towers Watson in Chicago, said the bigger problem with snap judgments is that hiring managers all too often make up their minds based on their personal preferences of what ideal candidates should look like, versus what is "good enough" for the actual job at hand.

"Hiring managers should ask themselves, 'Where do we truly need players that make a difference?'" Jesuthasan says. "Perhaps for software developer positions in tech firms, A players are necessary, but if they're hiring an IT person for a utility company, than a B player could suffice."

Hiring managers should also employ assessment tests that are "personality-agnostic," for certain positions, such as for a compliance officer or a risk manager, in which "an entrepreneurial spirit" may not be as critical, he says.

The idea that managers can tell within the first five or 15 minutes is often misleading, based on several decades of research about interview effectiveness, says Bruce Barge, a Los Angeles-based partner in Mercer's talent-management practice.

"To me, that's like asking people if they are good drivers," he says. "Most say 'yes,' but when you go out on the road, you notice something a little different."

The most effective interviews are those in which the hiring manager asks questions related to the requirements of the specific job at hand, he says. Likewise, any assessment tests should pertain to the specific job requirements.

"Simulations can be particularly helpful, if they are very close to the job requirements," Barge says. "Start-ups are throwing in video game simulations, which can help show how people make decisions and analyze facts."

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If hiring managers are ruling out candidates within the first five minutes, that can indicate a disconnect between what they are looking for and what their recruiters are delivering, particularly if they are using recruitment outsourcing providers, says Jay Floersch, solutions architect at Aon Hewitt's client solutions and strategies practice in Kansas City, Mo.

Hiring managers should re-communicate their specific requirements to recruiters, and then get them to conduct procedures that help weed out potential job candidates before they have a chance to interview, Floersch says. The first procedure could be finding ways for unfit candidates to opt out of the application process themselves.

"For example, people applying to be mechanics of garbage trucks could watch a realistic video of the work environment, and see that they would have to handle maggots that have accumulated underneath the truck," he says. "If they're not into maggots, they're going to self-select out of that application process and not take up the recruiter and hiring manager's time."

Initial assessment tests with bell curve results can also help weed out the most unfit candidates before interviews are scheduled, Floersch says. Recruiters can also have potential candidates record initial digital interviews on their own computers, asking a few general questions to further hone in on the best candidates to actually be interviewed in person by the hiring manager. In these digital interviews, recruiters could get potential candidates to talk about what they liked best about their past jobs and what they are looking for in their careers.

"Candidates then have already gone through a rigorous process by the recruiter, and so the organization doesn't have to spend time and money on travel for a longer interview and the hiring manager's time isn't wasted," he says. "That's driving down the hiring manager interview-to-hire ratio, so that hiring managers don't have to see a lot of candidates that they rule out in the first five minutes."

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