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How To Select The Right Person For The Job - The Three Essentials
by Bob Selden

Have you ever recruited someone who looked good at interview only to find out when they started that they "Were not up to it" or, "They just didn't seem to fit in". Most of us have made these mistakes (if you haven't, then you are probably new to management). Why?

• We often rely too much on the interview as the main selection process, or

• We place too much emphasis on professional credentials at the expense of ability to do the job and best values fit, or

• We recruit too often "in our own likeness".

What's the best way of finding out whether someone can do the job? Try them out. Not all of us have the resources to be able to "give someone a go", unless we are recruiting for a position such as "air traffic controller". As a regular flyer, I know that I would be worried if the recruitment process for air traffic controllers relied principally on the interview! Having worked with a number of air traffic controllers, I now rest easy knowing that a major part of the selection process is simulations of actual flight control. So, if you have the resources, go for simulation.

Without simulations, we must still rely on the interview. Unfortunately, numerous studies suggest that the interview (by itself) is an ineffective selection method. Why? Let me pose the question -- "How similar is an interview to the type of work the person is expected to do?" If interviewing is not a major part of the normal day to day activities of the position for which you are recruiting, then the selection interview is not replicating the work, but is merely a discussion on what the person has done or might be able to do. Take for example the following questions, often asked:

• Tell me about your duties in your last position.

• What did you like most about the job?

• What did you like least about the job?

• Why do you want this job?

• Where do you want to be five years from now?

• How do you feel about working for a demanding boss?

• What is your management [or marketing etc] philosophy?

• What would you do if you were working for a manager who refuses to set priorities for you?

• Tell me what you would do in your first few weeks in this role.

Before you reach for your pen to jot down a "new one" you liked, let me make a point. Not one of these questions works! None of them helps predict future behaviour in the job for which you are recruiting.

So, how can you improve the interview? A technique known as "Behaviour Description (or Event) Interviewing (BDI) has been shown to improve interview effectiveness by as much as four times. Mind you, you should still use more than the interview, but more of that later.

Read the following question asked of a candidate in relation to a job requirement of "managing poor performance" and see how it differs from the previous list of questions:

• Tell me about the last time you faced the situation of an employee who wasn't performing.

• What was the situation?

• How did you deal with it?

• What did you do?

• What did you say?

• What did he/she say?

• How did you respond?

• What was the outcome?

By comparison to our previous questions, BDI asks for examples of past behaviour that the candidate has experienced, that are likely to indicate how the candidate might perform in similar situations in the current position.

It specifically calls for the descriptions of events, not thoughts, feelings or hypotheses. Additionally, it prevents the candidate from lying or exaggerating as the following parts of the question will soon catch them out.

So, the BDI interviewing process becomes:

1. Describe an event.

2. Describe the behaviour (what happened).

3. Describe the outcomes.

In addition to the BDI interview, what do you need to add to your selection armoury? Depending on the position, there are of course the professional qualifications, but we all know that these merely get the candidate through the gate -- it's what he or she can do with their qualifications that we are interested in. For some positions, you may also decide that IQ, EQ or personality tests are useful (these need to be shown to be reliable tests by correlation with previous successful candidates).

Then of course there's the reference. Written references are almost useless and phone references are generally ineffective for the same reasons as the standard employment interview. However, you can increase the effectiveness of references by using the BDI method over the phone with the candidate's referee.

In addition to finding out whether someone can do the job, there's also the very important aspect of "values fit". Will the person fit in with the people and the culture? There are numerous values questionnaires on the market that you may try, however I have two simple techniques that could save you money. Both of these are dependent on the fact that you already know what values you are looking for (that's for another article). The first is to ask the applicant to describe their "ideal organisation". In doing so, they will always describe the values they hold dear when looking for an employer. The second is to ask your team (the people the candidate will be working alongside) to also do a short interview -- this can often be achieved in conjunction with a plant or office tour.

Finally, a word of warning. One of the most frequent mistakes I see is managers recruiting in their own likeness, i.e. people who are similar to themselves in many ways. This is a natural tendency of human nature, but can be avoided if you use the BDI method, together with your team members and perhaps peers assisting in the selection of the final candidate.

Bob Selden used to think that his ability to select the right people was due to his undoubted intuitive powers. His illusion of self importance was burst when he discovered that the selection method he was using was in fact a well researched and tested technique -- Behaviour Description Interviewing. For more info contact Bob via Bob Selden may be contacted at


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