Human Resources: Boost your hiring IQ with these key methods

Studies have found many hiring decisions are made within the first three minutes of an interview. Interviewing is an investigative process that needs a structured approach, rather than just a reliance on a "gut feeling." Avoid the headaches of a bad hire using these key techniques from the experts.

Using insider knowledge and expertise, the Generator Group's articles in our Expert Network are designed to present thought-provoking ideas, information and workplace trends that will help manufacturers and retailers alike acquire, retain or develop their workforce to drive business success.

The brain is a remarkable biological machine, molded through millions of years of evolutionary pressure. Neuroscientists are convinced that recent changes in our lives have created a gap between the world for which our brains were developed, and the world in which we currently live. This mismatch creates constraints for many aspects of management and leadership. We suffer from strong biases that hinder good decision-making and often fail to develop realistic perceptions of others and of ourselves. This is most apparent when we are considering someone to join our “pack.”

Studies have found many hiring decisions are made within the first three minutes of an interview. If that’s the case, what is the decision based upon? Chances are it’s predicated on the interviewer’s comfort zone -- the inner messaging that comes from scanning for signals and cues, such as looks, a handshake and general demeanor, that lead us to believe this unknown person will be “safe” or “fit” our culture.

While initial impressions may point to the potential for a good hire, the vast majority of the time, you still need more than instinct to guide selection of top talent. We all have some level of a gut feeling. Your job is to use the interview to channel your instincts and ask questions that will bring out the skills, abilities, traits and past behaviors of the candidate. The goal is to get tangible data from the person in a short amount of time.

To boost your hiring IQ in time for the next candidate interview, keep these two components in mind:

  1. Understand the job that you're trying to fill, and identify the human skills and traits necessary for a person to succeed in the job.

  2. Understand the candidate. Does the candidate possess the skills and traits you're looking for? Simply put: Good hiring boils down to knowing what you're look for, and using a process to assess the candidate's qualifications.

Unfortunately, managers frequently begin a job search with a sketchy -- or no -- idea of what they're looking for in a candidate. Some companies understand what they need, but haven't created a formal process for evaluating candidates and have people conducting interviews who have no idea what they're doing. These folks make hiring decisions that rely solely on their "gut feel," using pet theories to find candidates they think can do the job.

Hiring methods

While hiring is arguably one the most important activities performed in a business, many companies do not approach it systematically. They have established procedures for processing orders, invoicing customers, handling collections, and even enrolling employees in their healthcare plan, but hiring is well... kind of “helter-skelter.” Every hiring need is handled differently, with managers espousing their own methods on how it should be done.

Great companies recognize the importance of hiring systematically and believe that hiring well is a key component of their strategic plans.

They have defined job requirements and hiring standards for every key position. They know what they're looking for in candidates. They have identified and defined the key human skills and characteristics needed to succeed and help the company accomplish their objectives.

Interviewing is an investigative process. The price for not investing in a structured approach is the uncertainty of bad hires, misfits and legal hassles that accompany terminations. 

Fortunately, there is a practical framework to improve hiring methods and avoid pitfalls, including:

  • Assess the job before the interview. Sounds silly, but interview departing employees about their jobs before they leave to find out what the job entails. Ask how the job could be done more efficiently, such as adding or deleting tasks based on the feedback. Also, talk to customers or end users to assess their needs.

  • Identify the “key factors” for success. Know what knowledge-based experience is needed for the job, including education, certifications and other qualifications. Ascertain what transferable skills are necessary to succeed and what personality traits are needed to do this job.

  • Prepare questions to ask during the interview. First, ask questions based on the “key factors” for the position. Next, include questions that solicit examples of past behavior in previous jobs. Finally, prepare a list of secondary questions to probe deeper.

  • Include all interviewers in the planning and process. Provide each interviewer with a list of key factors required for the job. Make a list of suggested interview questions for each interviewer, and have each one cover a specific area of concern.
  • Objectively review the results and rate the candidate after the interview. Collect input from each interview. Rate each candidate using the key factors on a scale from 1 to 5. Make a hiring decision based on feedback, but don’t expect consensus -- it’s your job to decide.

--Elaine Lees

Elaine Lees is a partner and vice president of talent management at the Generator Group, which is an integrated talent management services firm delivering executive search and talent management consulting to brands in apparel, footwear, hardgoods and softgoods, retail and more. For more information about the group’s work or working with it, go to