Terrie's Job Tips -- Getting a Second Opinion, Part II: Managing the Process

Last week I talked about making sure that, as a hiring manager, you get proper input from the rest of the team of people involved in the hiring process before making a candidate an offer. Besides being good practical advice, it is also important legally. Once you or your company make that job offer to the candidate, you are legally bound to hire the person. Suddenly having one of your internal team members oppose a hiring (which subsequently requires you to withdraw a job offer) opens you up to a lawsuit and claims for compensation. This is especially so if the candidate can prove that they have already resigned from their existing job on the basis of having received your offer. The last thing you want is to have to pay some disappointed candidate’s salary for three months or more while they find a replacement job – not to mention having to deal with their anger over your causing them to put their personal financial security and career at risk.

But while getting sign-off/agreement from the rest of the hiring team is important, it also needs to be balanced with the need to get the hiring done. If hirings and the teams that make them are not properly managed, you can become so hung up on getting buy-in from everyone that even one unsure or dissenting person can derail or delay a candidate’s application for weeks. This is an undesirable situation for both the company and the candidate, and will create a negative impression of the firm in the candidate’s mind. Two-to-three weeks to process interviews and respond to a candidate are about right. Anything much longer than this should result in either the HR/recruiting manager or you as the hiring manager stepping in and showing some leadership.

So is there any room for trusting your gut instinct and moving to an offer more quickly? Actually, I am a strong believer that most experienced interviewers can tell what their future relationship/interaction is going to be with a candidate within a few minutes of having met them. At a superficial level, people do fit into certain personality types and value systems. Thus if you really do like a certain candidate, providing you can step back and objectively listen to the impressions of the rest of the hiring team, as well as of course wait for the candidate to pass their aptitude and other tests, then I think it is OK for a motivated manager to quickly “shepherd” the team through to a desired decision. In our company, sometimes we see a candidate we just know we have to move quickly for, and on such occasions I will personally get involved and do the rounds of each of the hiring team members, getting input and providing feedback. In this way, we can turn a candidate around in two-to-three days without subverting the group process.

Making a quick decision on a candidate is not a comfortable thing to do. We all prefer to reach a steady and logical consensus and share the risks with our group of peers. However, if you do have to move quickly, I think you should be comforted by the fact that choosing a new employee is not an exact science and we all get it wrong sometimes. Currently, I would say that my strike rate in terms of guessing what a person is going to be like is about 70%, depending on what kind of position I’m filling – and whether they were deliberately concealing some information from the interview process.

Indeed, deliberate concealment can be the name of some candidates’ game. An intelligent but troubled person is not likely to show you their negative side in their interview (actually, does anyone?) and they can be very hard to spot. My feeling is that since you’re a business person and not a psychotherapist, you’re allowed to make some mistakes.

I once got fooled by a high-level CEO candidate with an already proven track record as a CEO. Unfortunately over time we found out that an advanced tertiary degree he claimed to hold was never actually awarded. In such cases, especially where the lie is a large one and not just some minor tinkering of employment dates, I don’t think you can keep the person on. The bond of trust is broken, and for a high-level position this is a fatal condition for the board of directors to have to deal with.

In addition to the person’s character, other issues may also arise to spoil what might have been a perfectly acceptable candidate. These are outside your control, but none-the-less contribute to a lowered batting average. For example, through out our lives, most of us will have to deal with divorces, child accidents, deaths in the family, and other emotional traumas; developing health issues and legal problems; or just simply running out of cash. Candidates can have any of these issues develop shortly after joining your firm, and you’re not going to be able to pick them up with a slew of interviews and tests.

Probably the best way to compensate for not having a 100% batting average is to use the probation period properly, and to be prepared to move quickly if a person turns out to not be a good fit. Since the traditional period of three months is not really long enough to discover a person’s shortcomings, confront and counsel them, provide a remedial plan, then wait for the desired results, the answer is to have a game plan just for new hires (versus your remedial program for regular employees). Ours is that we either set smaller and more achievable goals if someone new is struggling with their job – often accompanied by a renegotiation of their compensation, and/or an extension of the probation by up to another three months – or simply cut our losses and let them go.

This article is the second in a series of several on interviewing that will continue next week.