Business Times

Recruiter’s dilemma

Gene Weingarten won a Pulitzer Prize for his article ‘Pearls before Breakfast’ Washington Post, April 8, 2007. He documented a real life study on a world-class violinist named Joshua Bell who became a street musician for 45 minutes in a Washington D.C. Metro station. It was a Friday and the time was 7.51 am when approximately 1,097 commuters walked past. Bell played Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Partita in D minor for Solo Violin’ on a $3.5 million violin made by Antonio Stradivari.

Now let me put forward what Gene asked his readers. In any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape, each passerby had a quick choice to make: ‘Do you stop and listen? …Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he's really bad? What if he's really good?’

How often does one get to hear a renowned musician on the streets absolutely free of charge? Do we recognize him from the way he looks or from the way he plays? Before revealing the result on the above experiment, what do you think happened?

1) They closed down the Metro because people stopped and refused to leave the station.

2) Roughly 1096 people did not recognize him.

Can we really identify the value and the eminence of a person or his product without getting distracted? More often than not, we make assessments about quality, based on the context and opinions of the rest of the herd. Yes, the answer to the question is that Bell went unrecognized by almost everyone.
The million dollar question; how do you recognize the one you want to recruit?
Some say recruitment is a gamble, a call for trial and error or a gut feeling. However, I think recruitment is an art.

You choose a job but it also chooses you. This is what is called person-job fit. Do a thorough analysis of the job at hand; look for the most essential knowledge and skills. Personify the job and check for the traits that it requires, such as attention to detail in a finance job or extraversion in a marketing job. Sometimes, it is not much about the skill, as the employee can be trained on this. In terms of the human element involved in the job and company culture, it is mostly about the personality match, value match and attitude.

Selection Process
Once you have the profile of what you are looking for, plan the selection process. The interviews should be pre-planned and structured. You could design situational and/or behavioural interviews, or even an assessment centre that capture the competencies you are looking for. Use general ability testing and psychosomatics as supplementary tools that could give a better overall picture of the person. Research states that these tools individually and collectively are predictive of future job performance.

The Balance
A candidate’s education and work experience maybe important on paper but not so pertinent in the real world. There is no guarantee that a senior manager from the aviation industry with a general MBA will be an ideal candidate of a startup operation. Experience and education are very important but there has to be more to what we are looking for. We should not just look for diamonds in the rough; we want diamonds that shine.

Hire Infected People
So, what is the additional prerequisite on top of right background and experience? The candidate has to be infected with a love of your service or product and should emanate enthusiasm and enjoyment in doing the job. This is why we have a probation period mentioned in the employment contracts. Challenge them with a difficult task. Sell your vision and get them to work with your best performers. In the end, have fair standards of measurement of the outcome.

Hire ‘Better- than-me’ People
Hiring people who are better than us always takes self confidence and self-awareness. If we are concerned about the company, its long term strategy and future, we should hire people who have the potential to grow. The famous saying sums it all; ‘A players hire A players; B players hire C players,’ meaning that great people are not threatened by another great person coming into his/her team. On the other hand, some of us hire candidates who are not as good as we are, so that we could feel superior and maintain our status as boss. However, if the company as a whole starts practicing this method, it would become a slippery slope and land on more and more inept players. This will result in a Bozo explosion which will have devastating ramifications that would one day bring the company to a pathetic grinding halt.

Behaviours, Impressions and Biases
The selection process is a crucial event and in most cases the applicant is likely to be highly motivated to impress the assessors. At interviews, candidates should be checked for both their positive and negative behaviours. When it feels that the candidate has lied, the interviewer should probe further and challenge the candidate to answer more truthfully.

The halo effect is a bias whereby the perception of one characteristic of a person is influenced by the perception of another characteristic of the same person. An example would be judging a good-looking person as more intelligent.

In the assessor’s head, there is an expectancy created by the documented biographical sources such as the application form or the curriculum vitae. The candidate’s behaviour at interviews, both verbal and non-verbal information add on to create or change the assessor’s perceptions towards the candidate. This expectancy together with these perceptions at an interview, make the assessor to form an overall impression about the candidate which ultimately decides the final ‘hire’ or ‘don’t hire’.

Check your Intuition
Most of us remember intuition only when it has been right but in reality it probably is wrong as often as it is right. Hence, it is best not to base our opinions or decisions on first impressions. It is best to take extensive notes at the interview and cross question the candidate for more clarity. Check for references independent of what has been mentioned in the CV. If we want exceptional candidates, we have to look for them. Bells could be around us in ordinary jeans, but there are also con artists in branded clothes.

ever judge a book by its cover!

(The writer is a Business Psychologist and could be reached at

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