How to Pick Um
Interviews are close to worthless in selecting great people for an organization. Regardless of the question, the response favors the slick talker. And even when people are honest, they may not know themselves. Why else would over 80% of executives and managers rate themselves as well above average?
Two short pieces in Inc.’s newsletter profile refreshing options to listening to candidates talk. One by Kelly Main (1/11/22) is entitled “Elon Musk’s Brilliant Hiring Strategy uses the 2-Hands Test—instead of degrees. Musk puts skills and experience far above formal education when hiring for Tesla or SpaceX. Candidates are given a task or assignment and observed while they complete it. Musk is impressed by people who literally use their hands to accomplish things.
Cast back almost a century to Thomas Edison. Jessica Stillman’s Inc column (1/12/22) recounts how Edison would invite prospective research assistants to lunch and order soup for the table. He wanted to see if they put salt and pepper in the soup before tasting. Those that did were not hired. They they came with an assumption and a habit, not an open mind.
Note how simple these two approaches are to setting up a situation in which behavior can be seen.
Questions can also work when the focus is on the choice of an answer rather than the details. For example, I have worked with venture investors interested in capability to change behavior. To learn this, they asked two simple questions:
- Can you tell a failure story? Please describe something in which you were involved that fell short or flat. Simply put investors wanted to know if the person could talk about something in which they were involved that went badly astray. Legendary macro-engineer Frank Davidson once dismissed the head of MIT’s Sloan School of Management during his talk to Frank’s course on failure. This person could only speak to his least impressive success. Oops!
- What went wrong? Tell us why this failed? Investors look for the distinction between those many persons who blame outside factors and those rarer persons who said they screwed up. The latter are the learners. As Mark Twain once observed, it’s tough to learn from mistakes you never made.