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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.

Totem Gummi Bears

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?”

Totem Lollipops

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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AI in Recruitment

The robots are coming!

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in recruitment has been attracting lots of attention lately.  But the question remains, is this a useful technology?

Although there have been exciting advancements to this category of technology, it’s still far from perfect. Amazon recently discovered that their AI algorithms were discriminating against women. And if Amazon can’t get it right…

All evidence suggests that was because Amazon’s computer models were built using resumes submitted to the company over a 10-year period – mostly resumes from men, a reflection of male dominance across the tech industry. In effect, Amazon’s system taught itself that male candidates were preferable.

Thankfully, Amazon have shut this programme down, redistributed the design team and have assured us that this algorithm was never used in a live recruiting environment. But it has raised some interesting questions about the use of AI, and its impact in the HR industry in general.

For companies facing stiff competition in the job market, particularly for jobs that attract too many irrelevant applicants, the possibility of using algorithms to do the grunt work is extremely attractive.

Erica Titchener, Global Head of Technology at talent management consultancy, Alexander Mann Solutions suggests. She states that algorithms, “can aid the identification of the right talent, remove a level of human error and reduce the risk of recruiters missing qualified candidates.”

Whilst we’re inclined to agree with her in concept, Amazon’s experience suggests that an AI programme is only as good as its makers – and the data it is built from. Can we remove human error from the source code? Can we accurately describe to the programme what “the right talent” is?

In our experience, when a firm is seeking to recruit to a role, it’s seeking a balance between a candidate’s personality fit within the organisation versus what the candidate has achieved and the skills they possess.

Currently, AI can identify candidates with the right work histories and screen for certain qualifications, educational history, work experience and other limited factors that may be useful in the role. But it’s basically playing snap with job descriptions and resumés.

This in itself is hugely useful in reducing the work load of sifting through potentially thousands of CVs. With each CV being given a fair assessment based on its content, without bias to the ethnicity of the name on the CV, the individual’s age or the school they attended. Reviewed by a programme that doesn’t get tired, have “bad days” or spill tea all over a pile of CVs.

At the heart of recruitment lays this insightful quote from Chris Nicholson, co-founder and CEO of AI firm Skymind, “the question everyone’s trying to answer through all the interviews, screenings, tech and coding challenges, is, ‘How can I predict someone’s performance?’”

Does AI have the ability to establish what an employee’s performance will be? We don’t think so just yet. But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the technology.

The main benefit of AI in recruitment is that it will save your organisation’s HR department time – certainly in the initial hiring phase. This saved time can then be spent working to improve the later stages of your recruitment process.


There’s a great article in the Harvard Business review by Satya Ramaswamy that dives deeper into the concept of AI in the recruitment space, it’s well worth a read!

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