How Interviews Can be Too Much of a Good Thing

I was listening to a local radio show and the host and expert were talking about the rise in the number of interviews candidates are being asked to go through.  I didn’t hear any data to support this claim (perhaps it was given before I got into the car), but the conversation about interviewing, including call ins) caught my attention.  It was filled with all kinds of bad practices and assumptions about the interview process that can be easily addressed.  These included:

  • Lots of people should get to conduct their own interviews. The biggest issue here is that different interviewers are going to hear different information from the candidates.  Or, hear the same information, but interpret it differently.  This means that determining who did the best in the interviews can become a debating contest among interviewers rather than an evaluation of the candidates’ skill and abilities.  Having a panel of about 3 interviewers conduct a single interview will be more accurate in that everyone will hear and evaluate the same information.  Then any disagreements in interpretation can be based on the same set of data.
  • The more interviews, the better. Somewhat related to the above, there is only so much relevant information that a candidate can give a company.  One good structured (see below) panel interview will tell you what you need to know.  Everything else is costing you staff time with very little return on the expenditure.  The streamlining of the process also makes for a better candidate experience, which can pay off in the engagement of those hired and your reputation as an employer with those who are not.
  • Interviews are the best way to learn about a person’s skills and abilities. This may be true if your interview is well constructed, including:
    1. Questions are written based on reviewing the skills and abilities required for the job instead of using a “favorite” question.
    2. Candidates for the same job are asked the same questions.
    3. There is an objective scoring guide used to evaluate answers to the questions.

However, if your interview is more free flowing, then there are several types of techniques (such as ability tests, asking a person perform part of the work expected, and personality tests) which are much better.

I appreciated that the hosts mentioned that effective selection systems use other assessments in addition to interviews.  You should also remember that different selection tools measure different things and that interviews rarely can cover all of the skills and abilities required of many jobs.

The moral to this story is interview less and interview better.

Selecting the Go-Getters

There have been many words written about “quiet quitting” and people being more committed to work-life balance since the beginning of the pandemic.  Of course, trends do not include everyone, so while there may not be as many ambitious job candidates available as before (or you’d like), they are certainly out there.  The issue is how do you identify them?

It may be easier to identify those with strong work drives than before the pandemic.  This is because it has become acceptable for someone to say in a job interview that they aren’t interested in pulling long days/weeks.  Also, people are likely to feel less compelled to present themselves as having strong work drives on a pre-employment test.

This also dovetails with how best to select people who can work well in a hybrid environment. Among the skills and personal characteristics you would want to consider for hybrid employees are:

  • Time Management—what tools and experiences do they use to get things done when they control their own schedule?
  • Tolerance for Ambiguity—how well can they perform in a role where they will have to make some decisions on their own with incomplete data?
  • Communication—how willing are they to reach out to others in order to complete tasks and build relationships?
  • Work drive (since I mentioned it)—what do they view as the right amount of work? And, can they accomplish a lot in a short period of time?

There are no “magic” assessments for all positions and you want to create a selection process that meets the knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal characteristics of the specific job.  Remember that differences in candidates are your friend when making hiring decisions.  If someone shows signs of not having the level of drive you need for a position, they have just done you a huge favor.  You just want to be sure that you have a valid way of recognizing it.

Candidate candidness about how hard they are willing to work can be a hiring advantage for companies that use valid tools.

When Should You Stop Using an Assessment?

I’m guessing that you would not expect me to write about discontinuing the use of a pre-employment or pre-promotional assessment.  But, there are instances when it is appropriate to do so.

For instance, the National Football League (NFL) has decided to stop using an intelligence test that they had been using for years to evaluate new players.  I have written about the league’s use of the test before, so I won’t rehash the arguments about it here.  However, its reasoning for not using it any more really comes down to:

  1. They did not feel it was predictive.
  2. It led to a poor candidate experience (which, to the NFL means bad publicity).
  3. And those are two very good reasons not to use a test.

Another reason to discontinue the use of a test is when knowledge, skills, abilities, or personal characteristics (KSAPs) required of a job change.  At some point, administrative assistants stopped typing pages of documents, so a test of how quickly someone could manipulate a keyboard no longer made sense.  Changes in customer dynamics can impact KSAPs as well.  When working with a call center client, our validation data showed that personality tests that predicted performance for those taking phone calls were not effective for those who took customer inquiries via e-mail or chat.  This led to a change to how the tests were scored depending on the open position.

This does not mean you should automatically drop using assessments because a job changes or has converted to WFH from an office position.  However, knowing that for many people WFH is the new normal, it may be time to see if the work has really changed and the if that impacts the KSAPs.  If the status quo has held, you have your answer.  If there are some changes, then another validation study is likely in order.

The use of assessments, like many HR procedures, tends to take on a life of its own.  Once they are in place, there is a lot inertia (we have always done it this way) keeping them there.  It does not have to be that way.  A good job analysis and validation study can help you modify your testing tools so that you get high value from them.

Adjusting HR to Robotic Process Automation in a Post-COVID World

Regular readers have seen my posts on how automation has impacted the skills required for jobs among hourly workers.  Since the beginning of the industrial age, technology has been used to reduce physical labor and repetitive tasks.  Whether it is in fast food or warehouses, technology has changes how humans fit into the labor equation.

The COVID pandemic has accelerated this process.  While futurists can disagree about how fast technology changes were coming to work, labor being forced to be away from the office has accelerated the pace in which companies have implemented robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) in order to meet customer needs and improve efficiency.  What is different now is that this technology is being applied more to salaried positions than before.  Whether the new jobs in creating this tech will be equal to the number of people displaced by it is an important question for future college graduates.  But these changes should also get companies thinking about their recruitment, validated selection, and training processes.

One of my clients does back office processing of financial information.  This is exactly the kind of thing where RPA can eventually take over some the tasks currently done by their analysts.  Currently, we test job candidates for their willingness to follow procedures and their detail orientation (among other characteristics).  If RPA were applied to this job, we would need to analyze what the skills, abilities, and personal characteristics were still valid and what any new ones would be.  This would likely lead to the elimination of certain parts of the current test and emphasizing others. This would likely impact recruiting and training as well. In a broader sense, when organizational change comes, the updating of recruitment, selection, and training of employees usually is done (seemingly) as an afterthought.  As companies apply RPA and AI, and nearly all of them will in one way or another, they should be prepared for the impact on how employees do their work, not just whether they will still have a job.

Skills of the Future

The nature of work has always changed and will continue to do so.  This report from the World Economic Forum outlining trends and predictions came out a year ago.  I find its conclusions as true today as they were when it was first published.  It is a bit of a long read, but does break things out by country which shortens the time required a bit.

The net of the study is in the table below.

The Declining skills are instructive.  Not surprising, the list contains skills which are being automated (management of resources, quality control, manual dexterity, etc.).  Others are in response to a change in workplace culture which places higher value autonomy (management of personnel).  We can have a separate conversation as to what it means that active listening is on the Declining list.  What that leaves us with (see the Trending column) are the skills that are becoming more important in the near future.  Innovation and learning top the list with plenty of problem solving skills.  Seeing emotional intelligence on the list made me throw up in my mouth a bit, but there is no surprise about social influence.

The practical aspect of the report is to get us thinking about the skills that we really need for jobs in the 2020’s.  As we automate more, how does that change our expectations of employees?  At McDonald’s, automation means more interaction between staff and guests.  With managers being freed from coordination and time management, what is it that we will want them to do?

Here’s how to keep up:

  1. You probably need to review your job descriptions more often than you think.  And you should definitely do so after introducing new technology.

  2. Updated job descriptions should feed into your recruitment process.  Be sure that you are not advertising for yesterday’s jobs.

  3. The Trending list throws down the gauntlet as to how we select candidates.  Whether it be updating tests, interviews, or what we look for on resumes, knowing that we need more creativity and leadership, and less management, from those who direct the activities of others is a BIG difference.  If our selection tools are to be valid, they need to keep up with changing jobs.

By making these updates, we can drive the recruitment and selection of employees with the right skill sets.  It also provides us with a framework of being ahead of futures skill changes.

Can we Predict Karma in Applicants?

We would all like to think that doing well towards others will benefit us in this (and future?) life.  At the same time, capitalism can encourage some people to act entirely in their self-interest in order to get ahead and create efficient organizations.  So, should we hire good or successful people?

Altruism is a part of the “Big 5” personality construct of Agreeableness.  In business settings, we would consider it how much a person makes other feel welcome versus looking down on others.  Agreeableness has been established as a reasonably good predictor of job performance.

In this study, researchers dug into altruism and how it affected life outcomes, including income.  There are two things that I found interesting and useful about their results:

  • We should not be surprised that altruism leads to financial success in environments that involve teamwork. Working with others is about making 2+2=5 and people need to be willing to think about others to make that happen.  It is important to note that this research did not look at specific occupations.  One can see how altruism would be a bigger plus for some professions (health care) but not in others (sales).
  • Generally, the results showed a straight-line relationship between altruistic motivations and income. However, when looking at altruistic behaviors, there was a point where there could be too much of a good thing an income went down among those who reported the most altruistic behaviors.  This is important from a selection perspective because if you were to use a personality measure (Compared to most people I know, I am very altruistic.), you would want to score it as higher is better.  However, if using a biodata approach (How many times have you given your time to someone else in the past year?), then a curvilinear scoring may be more accurate.

Of course, deciding on any pre-employment screen first requires a good job analysis first.  This study provides an interesting window into how one sub-facet of personality can potentially be predictive of important job behaviors.

It also reminds us to look at the value of pro-social behaviors in the workplace and look for opportunities for employees to do them together.  It builds a culture of altruism that may also lead to greater business success.

Overcoming Selection Buzzwords

When doing a job analysis or writing job descriptions, one of the terms that comes up that makes my hair stand on end is “multi-tasking.”  While our bodies can perform automated functions simultaneously (e.g., driving and talking), our brains cannot consciously do two things at once.  Rather, when I’m “multi-tasking” (like checking my phone and looking up data), what I am really doing is switching quickly (hopefully) between two tasks.  Oh, and recent research shows that men and woman are equally bad at it.

When seeking to understand what managers really want people to do, it is important that we challenge them on vague terms like “multi-task” and “empower.”  When we really get to the meaning of these terms, multi-tasking is being able to handle several projects at once and empower is delegating effectively.  Those are behaviors selection specialists can work with in designing assessments and interviews.

As buzzwords find their way into our conversations about what employees do, our job is to determine the behaviors behind them.  Doing so assigns meaning to the words and starts us on the path of objectively measuring them as part of validated selection systems.

What are your least favorite job description buzzwords?

Adapting to Changes in Job Duties

I wrote a couple of months ago about how McDonald’s is changing the cognitive requirements of some of its jobs by adding channels for customers to order food. I argued that such a development should get them thinking about who they hire and how they train new employees.

If you have recently wandered into one of their stores, you probably noticed that, if it is not too busy, a McDonald’s employee may bring you your order. OK, this is not particularly revolutionary. But, to quote a franchisee in an article, “We’re bringing the employees from behind the counter out front to engage, in a more personal way, with our customers.” Maybe I am making more out of this particular example than it warrants, but this strikes me a really upping the customer service requirements of a McDonald’s employee. And I am guessing that a fair amount of the employees are not going to meet it. It’s just not what they signed up for.

This is not about whether McDonald’s employees are capable of providing the additional service or whether their ability to do it well affects the customer experience and/or sales. Rather, it appears to be an example of company changing job requirements and then assuming that people hired using a process that does not account for the new skills will be able to carry out the new duties.

Changing skills requirements is a good thing. It shows adaptation to technology and customer needs and makes the work experience more interesting for people in repetitive jobs. But, companies cannot assume that the incumbents can magically adapt without training and revised performance expectations.

This change also requires updating validation selection processes. Whether it means increasing the weight given to certain aspects or validating a new test, we must adapt our workforce to new job requirements on the front end. As jobs change, hiring practices should as well.

Technology and customers are big drivers of change in the skills, abilities, and personality characteristics required of employees. Smart companies not only redesign work to account for this, but they also update how they train and hire to help their workforce adapt.

Adapting Selection Systems After the Robots Take Over

I am not sure that any HR futurist can tell us how many jobs will be displaced by automation over the next 5, 10, or 20 years. The answer is clearly more than zero. The latest example of this can be read here. The theme of the article is, “Really, a formula can make predictions better than a person’s intuition?” In psychology (well, industrial psychology), we have only known this since the mid-1950s (see this book), so I can see why the idea is just catching on.

Any kind of judgment that is made based on accumulating data will ALWAYS be more accurate over time when done by a machine than a person. This is because the machine is not biased by what has happened most recently, how impacted it is by the decision, how attractive the others who are involved are, etc. While this type of analysis is somewhat difficult for people to do consistently well, it is simple math for a computer. There is really no reason, besides stroking someone’s ego, to have humans do it.

As computers continue to remove the computational portions of jobs, such as analyzing trends, making buying decisions, they will impact HR in the following ways:

• Fewer customer facing jobs to manage, but more IT related ones.

• Many of the remaining jobs will require less cognitive ability and more interpersonal skills. This is because these employees could potentially spend more time meeting specific customer needs and being the interface between end users and the algorithms.

• The key predictors of job success would potentially become conscientiousness, agreeableness, and customer service orientation rather than problem solving ability.

• Developing a validating a different set of pre-employment tests.

• Recruiters will need to source people with very specific skills (cognitive ability for programmers and willingness to get along with others for many other jobs).

The challenge to industrial psychology continues to be developing more valid measures of personality. Tests of cognitive ability predict job performance about twice as well as those of “soft” skills, even in those that already have a high personality component (such as customer service). This also means developing better measures of performance (e.g., how interpersonal skills impact business outcomes).

Or, maybe the robots will do it for us.

Ways That We Punish, Rather Than Coach, Poor Performers

During the 4th of July holiday, I was binge watching an Australian cooking competition show with my family. It was pretty mindless and entertaining stuff. The gist of each episode was that contestants competed in a theme-based challenge. One was selected as the best for the day. Two others were deemed the poorest performers and then they competed to stay on the show. What I found most interesting was that they task they were given to avoid elimination (getting fired) was harder (by design) than the original one.

Of course, there is not necessarily a straight line to be drawn between entertainment shows and the work place. But this did get me thinking about how we develop poor performers. While it seems intuitive that resources spent on improving their performance would have a significant return-on-investment, data show that high performers generally benefit more from training than low ones do.

HR needs to consider how to develop all levels of talent. With the current low unemployment rates, companies are losing some of their control over their talent levels, especially now there is more job hopping. There are a few considerations in developing low performers:

• Are you rewarding progress until the person is capable of delivering results? The key here is that improving performance requires changes in behavior. If they are reinforced, the new behaviors are more likely to be learned. Telling people “try harder” or dangling a future carrot are not good strategies for improving performance.

• Are they sufficiently skilled in the tasks you expecting them to do? Before concluding that the person is not going to be a good employee, be sure that they have the basic skills/experience to perform the job. You should not expect someone to be a pastry chef if s/he does not know how to make a cake. This is where valid pre-employment testing programs are valuable.

• Are there other areas of the business that appeal more to their interests? I have a client that staffs its own call center. They have higher than average turnover in the call center, but somewhat lower in the company overall, because after people spend 6 months there they can bid for any other open position in the company for which they are qualified. Allowing easy lateral transfers helps you keep good employees who may just be in jobs they do not find engaging.

Low unemployment rates mean that new talent is going to be more expensive. It may indicate a good return-on-investment in developing under-performing talent than usual. However, getting people in the right place and having alternate reward strategies are essential to getting the most out of their development.

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