The Weekly Reid: 3 Critical Weaknesses that Often Disguise as Strengths

If you’re a regular reader, you already know how seriously I take interviewing. How much respect I have for the art and science of it. I will never proclaim to be a great interviewer, because as soon as I do, I’ll be proven wrong. But I do care about interviewing. I want to be a better interviewer, as I’m sure you do. And so, I try, with every interview, to get a little better.

I have noticed recently, some interviewers getting fooled by weaknesses that disguise themselves as strengths. On the surface, they seem to indicate confidence, experience, reliability, when in actual fact, they are red flags. I’m going to share them with you and give some advice on how to adjust your interview style to discover them sooner. I hope this is helpful to you.

Absolute Certainty

One thing I am 100% sure about is that you should never hire someone who operates with absolute certainty. (See what I did there 😊) Ok, this is a tricky one and possibly a little controversial, so let’s give it a go. With the benefit of 20 years’ experience, I have come to appreciate that we are never really certain about anything. We execute with best practices. We build models. We test solutions. We do research. We do these things to maximize our chances of success, but we never really know for certain. Sometimes, you think you know, but then you realize, you don’t. It happens over and over and over again. That’s just the nature of the game.

The world is changing. Rapidly. What worked yesterday, may not work tomorrow. The path you took to reach the level of success you have today, will not lead you to the successes you long for in the future.

I get worried, whenever I work with people who are overly certain about things. People who speak in absolutes.

There is only one way to do this.

We MUST choose this option.

I’m 100% sure this is the right course of action.

When I hear people talk like this, I get nervous. It looks like confidence, but it’s actually naivety. Or hubris. Or a lack of experience. It sounds great in an interview. Decisive. Clear. Enthusiastic. But is it real? Can you trust this level of certainty? In my experience, people who operate with absolute certainty can be dangerous to your team. They can very confidently lead you over a cliff.

My advice to hiring managers is to look for candidates who possess an appreciation for how uncertain business is. Look for candidates who have built decision making processes and models that allow for variance. Look for candidates who think in terms of probabilities instead of absolutes. They may not seem as confident in the interview, but their value will show through when tested in the uncertain realties of work life. I recommend adding questions to your interview repertoire designed to probe into how the candidate thinks about decision making.

Tell me about a tough decision you had to make recently?

How did you know it was the right one?

What would have had to happen for you to change your perspective?

What would you have done if you were wrong?

Process Possessing Intrinsic Value

All of us want to improve our processes. Our companies and teams are growing so quickly we feel starved for process. Our teams often operate in what seems like chaos, to produce and deliver amidst so much change and uncertainty. We are so desperate for a little control that we can be wooed by weaknesses masquerading as strengths during the interview process.

I’m going to overly simplify for a moment to illustrate a point – I realize the world is not quite this simple. Nevertheless, in my experience, there are two kinds of process oriented people in business. The first, are people who believe process is a valuable means to an end. They identify a valuable business outcome to pursue, and they build a process for attaining it. They can be excellent additions to your team as it grows. The second, are people who believe business process has its own intrinsic value. They believe the process itself, is the valuable outcome to pursue. They conflate process outcomes and business outcomes. They can be very determinantal to your team. Discerning between these two types of candidates can be trickier than it appears.

My advice to hiring managers is to ask questions designed to probe more deeply into a candidate’s view of process.

How much process is too much?

How do you measure the value of a process?

How do you know when a process is no longer effective?

How do you create alignment around a process?

By going one level deeper in your questioning, you’ll have more information to be able to determine whether or not you’re hiring someone who will help or hurt your team.

Binary Thinking

When I look back on the teams I have managed, the most valuable contributors were those who possessed the ability to perform integrative thinking. They were creative. They could look at two seemingly fixed options, and imagine a third possibility. Integrative thinkers can be game changers for your team and company. Finding them is the tricky part.

While there is value in being able to perform rigorous, logical analysis to make a well-judged decision between to options, you can run into problems when you build a team of people who can only think in black and white. A group of people whose thinking is constrained and rigid. Hiring a team of binary thinkers can limit the potential of your team to be creative.

My advice to hiring managers is to seek out integrative thinkers and be wary of hiring too many binary thinkers. You can have a mix of both on your team, but integrative thinkers are certainly scarcer. With that in mind, I recommend crafting interview questions designed to discern between the integrative thinkers and the more constrained, binary thinkers.

How do you decide between two seemingly equal choices?

Who would you assign to manage your highest performing product? Your best person or your weakest? (note – you are looking for the candidate to pose a third alternative)

Craft questions that force candidates to reveal how they think about problems. It will provide another data point you can use to make a solid hiring decision for your team.

Interviewing is hard – did I say that already? Sometimes, candidates who seem decisive are actually naïve. Sometimes, candidates who appear to be strong process oriented leaders are not focused enough on driving real business outcomes. Sometimes, logical decision makers are unable to be conceive of creative alternatives. It’s hard to tell the difference. I hope this blog will help make it a little easier.

The Weekly Reid: 4 tips to maintain your hiring standard … even when you’re desperate

It’s hard, seeing your team underwater, struggling under the weight of an ever-increasing workload, while you have 20 open positions to fill.

It’s painful, saying “no” to candidate after candidate when you know your team is falling further and further behind.

It hurts, to disappoint the managers on your team by pushing back on “ok” candidates, when you know how badly they want the position filled.

In times like these, when hiring is so tough, we need to add rigor to our recruitment process. If our emotions had their way, we’d hire anyone resembling a qualified candidate just to make some progress. So, we need to lean on structure and principles to help us make the right decisions in the face of such intense pressure.

Here are four tips that help me make solid hiring decisions, especially when I feel desperate. I rely on these to continue building a great team, even when the recruiting environment seems bleak. They help me double and triple check we’re hiring the right person, so we don’t inadvertently let emotions trick us into poor hiring decisions. I hope they are helpful to you.

Reward tough decisions

This one is critical if you manage other hiring managers. As much as you want to fill your open positions quickly, you cannot support hiring “so-so” candidates. There is nothing more important than building a high-quality team of amazing people. You can never let desperation trick you into hiring below your standard. As painful as it may feel to be short staffed, it is much more painful to be fully staffed with the wrong people. As leaders, we need to strike a fine balance between putting pressure on our team members to hire quickly, and insisting they hire only the highest quality candidates.

My advice to leaders is to constantly reinforce the need for high standards in hiring. Your team members need to know you support them, especially when they make a tough call to pass on an “ok” candidate. Your team members need your help to maintain the bar for quality. Whenever I get the chance, especially when I know managers on my team are feeling desperate, I make a point of recognizing them for upholding our high standard. It’s not always easy to do, when you’re feeling as desperate as they are, but your team and your company will thank you in the long run.

Add another check and balance

I often assign short projects to final stage candidates as a check and balance in my hiring process. It’s especially helpful when I know I’m feeling the pressure of a recruiting void. It’s an extra step that helps me gain a little more confidence in how a person will actually perform on the job. From a candidate’s perspective, this can sometimes feel like a burden – to be assigned work before even having the job, but I find it very effective to forecast how a personal will perform.

My recommendation to managers is to assign a 90-minute or two-hour project to all final stage candidates (usually no more than 2-3). Then invite the candidates to present their work to you as the last step in the hiring process. Most of the time, this extra step validates the decision you were already leaning towards. But sometimes, it will reveal a serious weakness you didn’t pick up on during the interview. It can save you (and the candidate) a lot of pain and heartache.

Doublecheck your forensic analysis

When I’m feeling the pressure to hire, I double down on the vetting of candidates. I review the resume like I’m a forensic detective. I search for red flags … anything that I might have missed through a cloud of desperation.

What companies have they worked for? Did they have great cultures or bad reputations?

How long have their tenures been? Do they hop from job to job? Did someone else value them enough to keep them for a long time?

Have they had promotions while at a company or have they only made vertical jumps by leaving?

Have they worked in a business model like yours? Will they give you scale or will you just have to spend more time managing them?

My advice to managers is to take one extra pass through resumes and perform some forensic analysis before hiring. It’s a great extra layer of security when hiring in desperate times.

Add a social encounter

When I’m hiring for a critical role, or if I’m not 100% sure about a candidate after the standard interview process has completed, I like to meet them socially. It’s an additional step in the hiring process but it can be exactly what you need to make a more confident hiring decision. I find a social encounter to be especially valuable when hiring senior level people, or anyone who will be a cultural leader in the organization.

We spend a lot of time testing for skills and competencies, and validating experience, but ultimately you need to enjoy working with a person for the relationship to be a success in the long run. A one-hour coffee or drink or meal, can give you one more window into the candidate, which can make all the difference in the world.

My advice to managers is to consider adding a social meeting to your process when you’re unsure about a candidate or feeling an unusual amount of pressure to fill a position. It will give you more confidence to make the right decision.

The war on talent has heated to unprecedented levels. Employers are pulling out all the stops to retain and engage their best people. The impact on hiring is being felt by all of us. Lately it feels harder than ever to find and hire amazing talent. You can go months and quarters without filling key positions. The team you have in place gets tired as you ask them to handle an unrealistic amount of work. The pressure we feel as hiring managers can lead us to make sub-optimal decisions because we’re desperate. When I’m feeling this way, I place additional rigor into my recruitment process to ensure I don’t let my emotions trick me into making bad hires. I hope these were helpful to you, and as always, I’d love to hear any tips that have worked for you.