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Under Pressure

eggShould we put candidates under extra pressure at interview? 

Is that a good way of assessing how well they deal with pressure in the job?  Is this also an assessment of their leadership potential?

This is a question we get asked a fair amount, because it is often a requirement of the job for people to cope well under pressure.  Our response, as usual, is a few more questions.

  • In what context is the person in their role likely to be under pressure?
  • What might the experience be like?
  • How can you simulate that particular kind of pressure in the assessment process?
  • What does a good response to that assessment look like?

These questions are critical because they can unearth different assumptions from each of the people involved in the assessment process.  In one example we heard that one assessor thought the candidates needed to remain calm and smiling whilst being fired quick and difficult questions, whereas the ultimate decision-maker was looking for someone who would take charge of the situation and ask the interviewer to ask one question at a time.

This highlights how we can come into a process all wanting different things – and of course the outcome can be a fair few arguments in the wash-up session because one person thought the candidate responded well under pressure and another person thought they did terribly.

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Let’s explore each of the questions in a bit more depth:

In what context is the person in their role likely to be under pressure?  What might the experience be like?

There is a difference between responding well to a tight deadline and dealing with a really difficult customer.  How we cope under pressure is not consistent across different types of pressure.  Have you ever met someone who works well against a deadline, yet cannot speak confidently to an angry person?

Or have you come across someone who falls apart when there are too many things to get done, yet they seem very happy and open discussing that with their manager or team?  These are examples of the fact that we each respond differently to each kind of pressure.  So we need to understand the kind of pressure a candidate might be under in the actual job, in order to assess the right kind of behaviour at interview.

How can you simulate that particular kind of pressure in the assessment process?

Once you know exactly what behaviour you are looking for, you are better able to design an assessment or interview process that measures this.  If it’s deadline pressure for example that you need people to cope with, then you could ask the interview question, “when have you dealt with a tight deadline?” or you could set up an assessment exercise where the time is tight and see how they cope.

Alternatively if you were more interested in how candidates cope with difficult customers or high pressure client meetings, you might have an exercise that replicates this context or ask, “when have you been in a high pressure client meeting?”

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What does a good response to that assessment look like?

With any of the examples above, it is critical for there to be agreement on what a good response looks like.  This is how you can be sure that five different assessors are all using the same criteria to make their recommendations.

Ideally make some notes on what a great response, a good response and a not-so-good response might look like, so that there can be consistent rating of behaviour, rather than a subjective evaluation of “I don’t think they handled it well.”

The point with all of this is that we each have different ideas of what we’re looking for, so we need to get all that out in the open if we are going to be able to trust others’ evaluations and comments.

If you would like support with your interviewers or hiring managers, helping them ask great questions and interview effectively, do get in touch.  We’d love to see how we can help.

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Burning Questions

Kettenreaktion - Konzept mit ZündhölzernWhat questions your hiring managers are failing to ask at interview and how that burns through your bottom line.

How do you encourage hiring managers to interview more effectively?  Where do you start?  What skills do they need?  How will they know what questions to ask?  And once they’ve learned the skills, how can you be sure they’ll use them?!

Bringing in external consultants to interview and assess candidates can be highly beneficial for large volume and senior level appointments.  It can certainly be expensive and after that external person gives you a recommendation, what next? And what about all the other roles you recruit for?

When we ask managers to use a new system or process, we provide guidance or training.  Sadly, as with many people management skills, this tends to get missed for interviewing and hiring candidates.  So if you’re considering doing something about this, where can you start? What challenges might you face and how can you overcome them?

Getting Started

Gaining buy in to the time out of a busy workload can be a challenge, so managers will need a good reason to be doing this, seeing both personal and commercial benefits.

Companies we work with have used various combinations of the following to explain the need for change;

We need to be consistent – we don’t have a consistent view on what good looks like, so we risk making decisions that aren’t right for the whole business.

You haven’t had any support and we want to change that. We feel we’re letting you down if we don’t give you the core skills required to interview and select candidates.

We’re losing money, wasting time, making work harder and upsetting the rest of the team. Making a bad hire takes up management time, lowers morale and costs hundreds of thousands. Let’s avoid these pains by making more robust decisions – it will make your life easier.

Prepare for the future. Few other decisions we make as managers can affect the business for five, ten or twenty years. If we’re bringing someone in who might stay a long time, let’s make sure they’re the right person.

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Back up what you already know and build your skills for your future.  If you’ve been interviewing for 10 years already, you’ve probably got a way you like you do it and habits that work for you. Let’s learn from each other, find out the science behind what works and all become better interviewers, a key skill for future careers.

Learning Content

Once you have a group of people to work with, what will you cover on a skills workshop?

Two key principles are critical with this content. Firstly, make sure it is a facilitated, adult conversation. It’s easy to sound patronising without ever intending to, simply because this content can be assumed to be something we all already know.  Ask people what already works for them and what they find challenging.

Secondly, make sure the focus is on more objectively agreeing criteria and more objectively assessing candidates against that.  This is the single most important learning point, yet workshops on this topic often end up stuck on debates about whether we should put candidates under pressure or not, how we should avoid too many CVs, what to do when you know in the first two minutes the candidate is no good etc.

Whilst those questions are valid, the focus should be on the criteria for the role.

And that’s what is usually missed before and during interview – which causes bad hiring decisions and burns through your bottom line: A full understanding and assessment of the needs for the role.

Encourage hiring managers to ask questions amongst themselves before advertising a role like:

  • Why does this job exist?
  • What value will it add to my team / department / business?
  • What might be some success measures of the role?  How would I know after say 12 months that someone is doing well in this job?
  • What skills, knowledge and previous experience would be essential for someone to fulfil all of the above in my team / department / business?

And then the interview questions are written for you.  Let’s say for example that answers to the final two questions brought up things like “increase sales by 10%, so I need to see they have a track record in sales – particularly in a saturated market.”  So the interview question can be written: “when have you delivered sales increases in a saturated market?  What was the context?  What did you do?  How did you achieve growth through those challenges?”  And so on.

Or the questions raise people management needs like “turn around team performance to deliver better results (as measured through KPIs).”  The interview question could start along the lines of… “when have you turned around a team’s performance?  How did you go about it?  What was your understanding of why the team was not performing at their best?  How did the team respond to your approach?”

For fear of stating the obvious (but since when is common sense common action as we always hear?!) the simplest way to interview most effectively is to clarify what the role really needs – and ask questions against those criteria.

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Using Psychometrics

Candy backgroundHow to maximise the value from these tools.

If you are using ability tests and/or personality questionnaires as part of your recruitment and selection process, you will need to be following some best practice steps.  These will ensure you both maintain the ethical and legal requirements surrounding the use of psychometrics, and you will gain more value from the process.

Our five best practice tips are:

  • Know what you’re looking for
  • Use tests as part of a wider process
  • Link test results to other parts of your assessment process
  • Tell candidates what they will be doing
  • Develop and follow a test policy

Know what you’re looking for

So often we are looking for a person for a job that has not been clearly defined.  This is not always in our direct control – the recruiting manager may not have the time to write a more detailed job description, or it may be a new role that lacks definition at the moment.

The problem is, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, everything else you do is a waste of time and money.  Job adverts, your time spent CV-sifting and interviewing – it is all a waste if you are not clear on the parameters of the role.

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So prioritise.  You do not need to know everything there is to know about the role, but you need to know the non-negotiables.  If you or the hiring manager does not have the time to write a job description, and even if they do, we would still recommend a little follow-up, just go through the following questions:

  • What are the key responsibilities of the role?
  • When typical ‘critical incidents’ occur, like complaints, key projects, tight deadlines etc – what have you seen (or if this is a new role, do you envisage) makes the greatest difference to a successful person in this role

Use tests as part of a wider process

Psychometric tests cannot tell you everything you need to know about a candidate.  Ability tests are often used as a first stage screening process, to limit the number of candidates you need to interview, but these cannot be used to make an overall decision on who to hire.

Your selection process needs to best reflect the needs of the role.  If the role involves practical, physical work, it is wise for you to include an assessment of physical fitness.  If the role involves influencing and communicating, you might include a presentation or role-play exercise to see how the candidate displays these skills.

Link test results to other parts of your assessment process

The way to get the best value from psychometric tests is to link them into the other aspects of your assessment.  For example, danger zoning, recommendations and interview questions.

Tell candidates what they will be doing and ask them to declare any disabilities

The more tests are used, particularly in the growing realm of online testing, the more we are learning about the fairness of adjusting administration times.  There is an ongoing debate on how best to address candidates with disabilities, but the one consistent response is, you must understand the nature of an individual’s needs in order to make the best judgement.

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So the best thing you can do is ensure that you know what your candidates need.  Then, if you don’t feel confident making a decision about adjustments to your process, give your test publisher a call

Develop and follow a test policy

Tests are frequently mis-used, varying in level of concern from a candidate not being offered test feedback to completely unethical use of tests resulting in a tribunal.

Having a policy in place for test use, then ensuring that policy is adhered to and regularly reviewed, is your way of protecting your prospective candidates and your organisation.

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