Objectivity Trumps Bias

We are all biased, it is simply how we are wired no matter what people believe.  Our brains have the innate ability to categorize – a distinct survival mechanism for sure.  This ability becomes problematic in the hiring process as hiring managers can often be influenced by their own biases when making hiring decisions.  To be blunt, hiring managers are prewired to clone themselves in their hires.

So what of this?  Does it matter?  If your hiring manager is strong, especially a sales manager, wouldn’t it be best to clone them?

No.  End of post…ok, I won’t be so short.  The key to successful hiring, especially as it pertains to sales hiring, is to maintain objectivity for as long as possible in your process.  This is part of the process we teach to companies as they move to improve and strengthen their sales hiring results.  The key to objectivity is that it trumps bias.  It provides a rational, unemotional view of a candidate before our natural biases and intuition can start forming our decision.

Some thoughts on how to improve the objectivity in your process:

  1. Your first contact with the candidate should be a phone interview.  The phone is a natural barrier that removes visual biases.  When done correctly, you would be shocked at how much you can learn about a candidate during a 30 min. phone call.
  2. Secondly, use an online assessment to “x-ray” the candidates communication style, motivations, aptitudes, skills, etc.  This is self-serving, but it may be the most critical step in the process.  The computer is unbiased to a fault.  The information provides a look into the candidate’s abilities in a way that is next to impossible to deceive.  The right tools can provide more information about an external candidate than you probably know about your current team!
  3. Lastly, use a team approach to the first interview – more people, more viewpoints, less bias.  I am a strong proponent of team interviews, especially in the sales world.  Each person on the hiring side of the table will have a slightly different take on the candidate and their responses, fit, approach, etc.  This is valuable as the team can debrief after each initial interview.  The secondary benefit is that it puts pressure on the candidate.  The candidates that handle this pressure and excel are noteworthy and memorable.  They are the ones to give strong consideration to for moving forward in your process.

If you incorporate those 3 concepts into your hiring process, I guarantee you will improve your objectivity immensely.  The increased objectivity will lead to stronger hires with far fewer misalignments on your growing team.

How GPA’s Matter In Hiring

They don’t.  That is the conclusion from Google based on their own internal research.  Some info from the New York Times article:

“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation,” Bock said. “Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.

Mind you, this is research from inside Google – they know a thing or two about data analysis.  I’ve told many hiring companies that GPA’s just don’t matter in the real world, especially for sales hiring.  Give me a street savvy, strong qualifying salesperson any day over a book smart, ivory tower salesperson.  It is best to find candidates that fit both criteria, but GPA is not a reliable predictor of future success.

The feedback from Google’s research on the best strategy for successful hiring (emphasis mine):

Bock said it’s better to use questions like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.” He added: “The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable ‘meta’ information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.”

Yes, drill down is what we like to call it.  I believe it is the single most important interview skill – you must be able to drill down on responses to peel back the veneer and get to the core of the candidate’s response.

Most Overused Word

My vote for the most overused word in resumes:

Dynamic

It has become cliché in my eyes.

Sourcing Stories

I have been swamped with sourcing activities over the past couple weeks as we work on multiple projects.  I am definitely seeing an upclick in hiring activities which is normally preceded by increases in our assessment work.  We have seen a tremendous increase in assessments so I take that as a good sign.

So a quick sourcing story for you – I’m on the phone with a gentleman and we are deep into the phone interview.  He interrupts me to say he needs to step away as his 5 year-old son has gone to the bathroom and the candidate needs to go “wipe his butt.”  He proceeds to set the phone on the counter and I hear the entire conversation regarding the success of the young boy’s bowel movement.

The candidate returns to the phone and proceeds to describe to me the enormity of his son’s…bowel movement.  Unbelievable.  It was all I had not to laugh on the phone.

Doing Or Helping

This may sound like a fine delineation, but I thought it was rather profound.  One of our customers mentioned that he had people who could “do” certain tasks in a hiring process.  However, these people were not able to provide “help” in the hiring process.  That may sound like he is splitting hairs, but I find that point to be extremely important.

One of the struggles in assisting companies in their hiring process is that most companies, unless quite large, tend to hire on a need basis.  This means they do not spend their entire time hiring.  In fact, it often is pushed into the margins of their day.  Other tasks take priority and the mundane work of sorting resumes, answering candidate questions and scheduling phone screens and interviews gets pushed to others.

If these important tasks get pushed to people who simply do the task, you run the risk of neutering the efficacy of your hiring process.

The key is to push these tasks to people who can help in the process.  Not only do they complete the task, they bring extra value to it.  In many small companies, this “help” can only  come from the hiring manager.  In larger companies, there are simply more options to choose from in terms of specific tasks in the process.

My point here is to highlight that hiring is a critical process…one that should not be completed by whomever is available to quickly check a  task off of a list.

Social Skills vs. Sales Skills

If you’re talking you’re not selling.  That is an old axiom I learned early in my sales career and it is always true.  Talking does not equal selling.

Unfortunately, people not experienced in sales hiring often have the opposite view.  Their stereotypical belief is that the best salespeople are the ones who are perceived to be the best talkers.  This misguided view often leads to bad hires.

Here is where the mistake occurs – hiring managers assume that social skills are equivalent to sales skills.  Ok, maybe that is too strong, but the assumption is that the social skills are the key to successful selling.  Social skills are a component to selling, but they are not indicative of sales skills.

Social Skills

Social skills are important to sales and certainly are not to be ignored.  However, my experience has been that the truly terrible sales hires usually involved bad salespeople with good social skills.  These salespeople had excellent empathetic skills – they could read body language, adjust their tonality, find common ground with the hiring manager.  Again, all valuable skills.  However, they had next to no sales skills which became evident once they were on the payroll torpedoing good prospects.

The danger here is that these social skills are quite disarming.  They can be used to get the strongest of interviewers off their game.  I have seen many sales candidates who possessed remarkable social skills but little in the way of sales skills.

Sales Skills

These skills are the ones that lead to profitable revenue generation.  The main skill set involves qualifying.  If there was only one ability you could have in a salesperson, qualifying would be it.  This skill involves asking the right questions to learn about a potential customers’ budget, need, time frame, decision process and more.  This skill is where salespeople earn their keep.

Other sales skills areas are prospecting, influencing, closing and presenting.  These areas are also important to successful selling.  In terms of sales candidates, these skills are more difficult to discover.  The best approach is to assess for these skills and then follow up a face-to-face interview with the candidate to probe the information you have gathered through the assessment.

Objectivity is key and it is critical in making a hiring decision.  The strongest sales candidate isn’t necessarily the most talkative, humorous or outgoing.  Pay close attention to the questions they ask and the answers they provide to your probing questions about their sales skills.

And be sure to assess them.

End My Hiring Misery

Here is a good read from Inc.com on improving your hiring process.  The pull quote for me:

In my opinion, one of the reasons people do such a poor job in hiring, is that they just want to get it over with,” Matuson says. “Really take your time, do it right, and ask yourself the question, constantly, ‘is this person good enough? Is this really the right person, or am I just trying to end my misery?”

Umm, yes, I have seen that first hand on many occasions…from my customers!  Anyway, there is some good information in the article along with some cliché advice.  Here is some of the good:

So, in addition to a summary of the position, detailed bullet points describing the job’s main tasks and the minimum education and experience requirements, great listings incorporate behavioral characteristics. For instance, instead of a bullet point reading “10+ years experience required,” consider something along the lines of “Team player with strong leadership skills and 10 or more years of demonstrated ability to manage effectively.

I prefer skills and success over tenure and you should too.

In sales hiring, we see hiring managers often focus on hiring salespeople from their industry.  I realize there are some benefits to this approach (know the competition, understand the pace of the sale, etc.), but it is better to hire the right skills and talent no matter what industry background they possess.  One of the allures of industry-based hiring is related to this excerpt from the article:

Especially if your company lacks an HR department or a formal training program, managers should make it a priority to schedule face-time with a new employee within the first day or two. Making it a point to give detailed instructions on tasks at hand, coupled with pointed questions about how the new hire is feeling and what they think would help them out in their job are keys to making them feel comfortable and useful.

I often see managers who want to simply plug in a new salesperson and expect them to ramp up to revenue themselves.  BIG mistake.  Even experienced salespeople need a structured onboarding (we call it onramping for sales) process with face time with their sales manager.  Failing to spend this time with your new hire delays the ramp to revenue and invites unneeded/unintended stress into the new relationship.

Twice The Fun

Here’s a headscratcher from an ad I read today, Sept. 10:

On September 30, 2009, ABC Company will be upgrading the technology we use to receive job applications. Due to the upgrade, you will be asked to reapply to any jobs you have bid on. Any job applications, resumes, and/or cover letters that are submitted to ABC Company prior to September 30th, will not be converted to the new system.

They are advertising for a sales position…today.  So my assumption is that if I am a candidate, I can apply today and hope they are so overwhelmed they contact me immediately.  Right?  Otherwise, I will need to reapply in a few weeks.

If they are going to Taleo their entire process is whacked.

Proper Interview Follow-Up

As an employer what type of follow up should you expect from a candidate?  Should you receive a thank you?  Should that thank you be a hand written mailed thank you, an email thank you or a quick text on your cell phone?

Did that last one get your attention?  It did mine as I read a post from Steven Rothberg.  The post used a couple of quotes from hiring managers that were offended by candidates sending out an email from a blackberry within minutes of the interview and a text message to the managers cell phone.  The hiring manager that received the text felt her “personal space” was infringed on. 

If you agree with these hiring managers then you need to change your thought process.  With all the technology at our disposal, we shouldn’t be surprised or taken aback with almost instant feedback or correspondence (especially with Gen Y).  This may not be how I would send the thank you, but I shouldn’t be offended if a generation who has grown up with all this technology uses it to it’s fullest.  I agree with Steven’s point that if you hand out your business card with your contact information then how can receiving a text be an infringement on your personal space?

Which leads me to this question – how quickly do you get back to candidates after an interview?  I hear from candidates all the time that they are constantly left in the dark as to where they are in the hiring process.  If you have an interest you should never leave them hanging.  We have heard of companies that wait weeks before getting back to candidates.  

I doubt that is an image you want to give candidates at this step in the process.  I know you have a lot going on and hiring is only a small part of all the responsibilities you have, but bottom line, you don’t want to turn off strong candidates.  You have spent a lot of time and money getting a candidate to this point in the process so keep things moving.  If you don’t have an interest in a candidate then tell them.  They won’t like it, but they will respect it.  As we have said before, during the hiring process you will see the candidates at their best.  The same holds true for you the hiring company and manager.

Trophy Hires

Some companies focus on hiring from their competition almost exclusively and I am not exactly sure why.  I realize they believe they are bolstering their sales department while depleting their competition’s.  But taken too far, this approach becomes a detriment to a successful hiring campaign.

I’ve seen it with one of our customers who has become infatuated with hiring someone away from a certain competitor.  His desire to do so is driven by the fact that a third competitor recently hired someone from the second competitor.  It doesn’t matter if you tracked that last sentence, the fact of the matter is still the same.

I now refer to this approach as a “trophy hire.”  It doesn’t matter if any of the salespeople from this competitor are strong, a good fit or worth the money it will take to pull them out.  Our customer wants to be able to tell others in the industry that he recruited and hired a salesperson from this competitor.

To be fair, there may be a strong salesperson in this competitor’s company.  We just haven’t found them yet.  In the meantime, our customer has passed on a handful of strong salespeople not from this competitor.

Frustrating.