Incorrectly Assessing A Job Applicant's Motivation

Company employees who lack hiring skills are making hiring decisions everyday that cost their employers money. In the Hire Authority workshops that teach Motivation-Based Interviewing, more than 80% of the attendees admit that even though they have hiring authority, they have no formal training on selecting the best employees. The remainder of the attendees who had received some prior training knew only the legal do's and don'ts of hiring or behavioral interviewing basics. Despite quality staffing and retention being the number one concern of senior management, few companies realize the actual costs of poor hiring decisions. Poor employee selection not only adds to the regular costs attached to staffing, it also adds to the hard-to-calculate costs. According to the authors of The 2000 Percent Solution, Coles and Metz, a company can run as much as 2000 percent less efficiently due to complacent employees. Many marginal job performers have learned how to get hired by becoming interview-savvy. Once in the door, these polished applicants become lackadaisical, doing only enough to get by. Lower productivity, damage to customer relationships, lost sales and bad business decisions are only a few of the problems that are difficult to put a dollar figure on. These costs may never be tallied nor accredited to the real problem - poor employee selection. In today's highly competitive and turbulent business environment, hiring average employees can spell "failure". Companies can not afford mediocrity while their competitors are striving to be the best. Hiring impacts profits in more ways than most companies realize. A Harvard Business School study determined that more than 75% of turnover could be traced back to poor hiring practices. The decision to hire -or not to hire- plays a significant role in turnover. Does the applicant have the ability to do the job they were hired for? Are they motivated? Will they achieve tough goals? Will the applicant's desires and goals be met on the job? Is the job being represented accurately? Has the applicant left previous jobs for reasons that also exist in your environment? The leading contributor to turnover is often not what happens after the employee is hired, but rather the process leading up to it. And turnover is not always bad if it's a bad hire that's leaving. You have to wonder if you really are hiring the best we can.

Many interviewers feel that because they have hired some successful employees they are good interviewers. But, the true measure of an interviewer's skill is the effectiveness of all their hiring decisions, not just the successful ones. Often times, interviewers are unaware of what else there is to learn. If you cannot answer the question, what makes a High Performer go above and beyond and not stop at average, it's unlikely you can skillfully distinguish the cream of the crop. Unfortunately, interviewing experience alone does not teach an interviewer everything nor do many workshops. Effective interviewing is a skill that every interviewer should learn just like any other required job skill. Surprisingly, hiring is one of the few jobs that employees are allowed to perform even if they lack adequate training. As managers are promoted, often it is assumed they can hire well. Research has found that without good interviewing skills, employee selection can be less effective than a flip of a coin.

The System:

Interviewers must understand the environment in which they are gathering applicant information. The relationship that exists between the interviewer and the applicant is a game of control - over the job offer. Initially, the interviewer has the control and the applicant wants it. To win, the applicant just has to receive an offer but does not have to accept it. The applicant is forced into the role of marketing himself by accentuating the positive and minimizing the negative. To make matters more challenging, the interviewer has a relatively short time period to gather relevant information in order to make a good hiring decision. Some interviewers, without ever knowing, set up their applicants to fail. Instead of encouraging open dialogue, they stifle it. This game is called "The Interview Relationship" and it automatically exists between every interviewer and applicant. Gathering useful information can be tough, especially for untrained interviewers. Applicants go to interviews on their best behavior and with their guard up, revealing only a small piece of who they are. The applicants are reading the many books offering advice and tips on how to get a job. They use prepared answers and particular examples of past behavior that show successes without ever revealing their real pattern of behavior until after they are hired. An acquaintance recently shared with me several experiences she had as an applicant with the popular interview question "Tell about your weaknesses." She said the first time she was asked this question she answered it honestly, spilling damaging information about herself. Later, after reading articles on how to land a job and after gaining additional interviewing experience, she learned to provide answers that actually diverted away from her weaknesses. Instead of mentioning that she usually runs late she stated she was a workaholic that sometimes has trouble juggling everything she is trying to accomplish. She further added comments about how she had improved herself by finding better ways to get more done, all a prepared marketing strategy to avoid divulging her actual weakness.

In this labor market where many employees stay at jobs an average of 2-3 years, applicants are learning how to maneuver through interviews better than others before them have. Applicants have learned more about getting a job than interviewers have learned about hiring well. The interviewers are not keeping up in the hiring game. According to countless interviewers, many disappointing hires showed no warning signs during the interview. Since most people do not dramatically change from one moment to the next, the employee who turned out to be a bad hire was the same person who applied for the job. Interviewers must take responsibility for their hiring results and their interviewing skills. Interviewing becomes a waste of time if the interviewer is unable to accurately determine a candidate's true qualities.

The Misconception:

Many interviewers are unsure or even incorrect about what applicant information is relevant and irrelevant for predicting high performers. A misconception many interviewers (including experienced interviewers) have when interviewing and assessing applicants is that skill level equates to performance level. They believe the presence of good job skills and work history will guarantee a top performer. Many spend as much as 90% of their interviewing time assessing the applicant's skill level. Even though skill assessment is important, it is not the most important factor. Because skills are only enablers and are not motivators, they do not guarantee any specific level of performance. In fact, the best job performer may not be the applicant who possesses the perfect skill set. Skills and motivation are separate issues and should be assessed separately. Some skilled employees may lack motivation while some unskilled or under skilled employees may be highly motivated. Skill development is ongoing. If an applicant lacks the right skill set at the time of the job interview it does not necessarily mean he is unmotivated. Because of The Interview Relationship, most applicants, whether a high performer or not, will market themselves as one. All high achievers share certain similarities that are lacking in those they outperform. Most of these common traits cannot be taught, trained or added after the hire to those who lack them. It becomes imperative that these traits are accurately assessed during the interview in order to guarantee that the best employees are hired. Even though assessment is not difficult to learn, many interviewers believe they already correctly assessed this information when in fact they do not.

Motivation Assessment:

Past behavior is said to be the best predictor of future behavior. But this is not always true. Because of The Interview Relationship soliciting past behaviors will most often produce the applicant's best and brightest examples. Without understanding the dynamics of motivation, it is very difficult to determine if an applicant is sharing examples of consistent or inconsistent past behavior. Consistent behavior is the behavior that is likely to recur in the future whereas inconsistent behavior is just that, inconsistent. Past behaviors are only reliable predictors when they are examples of predominant behavior. Interviewers often make the mistake of assuming the applicant is providing examples of consistent behavior. Examples of behavior that are exceptions from normal, everyday behavior can easily deceive untrained interviewers. An example of this would be an applicant who normally only provides average customer service but who chooses to talk about an isolated example when he gave exceptional service. The interviewer may rate the applicant high and hire him based on this. Once hired, the applicant is more likely to continue providing mostly average service. Hiring decisions based on infrequent behavior increase the chances of a bad hire. In most cases, bad hiring occurs because the interviewer didn't gather the right applicant information. Accurately predicting an applicant's future job performance goes beyond selecting perfect interview questions or judging individual behaviors and skills. Understanding the dynamics of motivation is essential in employee selection. Since there is no such thing as zero motivation, every applicant can talk about a time they were motivated, took initiative or had a success (even if they could not provide a good example, it does not rule out a high performer). Motivation ranges from the ability to strongly motivate oneself (internal motivation) down to requiring a push (external motivation). Interviewers must learn how to determine whether or not an applicant required external motivation to produce past results or if they produced it on their own. Both types of motivation (internal and external) will produce some results however those requiring an external source for motivation will not produce as well as those who are able to motivate themselves. No smart applicant will ever blurt out "I'm not very motivated and I do only enough to get by," however it is imperative an interviewer uncover this information.

Interviewers must learn how to accurately assess applicants. Determining motivation first requires that the interviewer have a basic understanding of motivation. Additionally, it requires that the interviewer learn what to look and listen for during the interview, prompting additional information as needed. Learning how to look beyond an applicant's polished presentation and words is necessary to determine their predominant behavior. The more the interviewer learns about motivation and human behavior, the more accurately they can assess applicants. Understanding the traits and, more importantly, the attitudes that are shared by all high performers can increase the interviewer's effectiveness. Many companies have discovered the importance of hiring employees with the right attitude or willingness to achieve and teach the skills. Fewer companies however, have figured exactly how to accomplish this. It is not necessary for interviewers to have a degree in psychology however they do need a basic understanding of human behavior. Since many interviewers do not understand these basics, the best hiring decisions are often not made.

Training Interviewers:

The solutions are NOT complex. Understanding the relationships between the interview, motivation and job performance are relatively easy to learn. Good interviewer training not only teaches interviewers what information to gather and how to assess it but also how to obtain it from interview-savvy applicants. The most effective training builds upon an interviewers own natural style. Requiring an interviewer to simulate a style that feels awkward is unnecessary and unproductive. Most hiring processes are only as good as the interviewers using them. Interviewer training should not require that a company replace their existing hiring process. Often, the process is sufficient; the problem is that the people making hiring decisions are simply untrained. Untrained interviewers reduce the effectiveness of any hiring process, escalate turnover and damage a company's overall performance. Training interviewers will not eliminate turnover or insure that only High Performers are hired. However, good training will improve the caliber of employees hired, reduce turnover, and pay for itself, all of which have a positive impact on the bottom line. The past decade or so has provided phenomenal advancements in employee selection. There is every reason to believe that further improvements will continue. We must not assume we have learned everything there is to learn about staffing and retention. With the introduction of Locus of Control (internal and external motivation) and Motivation-Based Interviewing, in addition to the improvements made to behavioral-based interviewing, this next century of staffing and retention is off to a good start.


CAROL QUINN'S Interviewer Training (#11): 5 Reasons Behavior-based Interviewing DOESN'T Work!

Carol Quinn has more than 25 years’ experience in interviewing and hiring. She is president of Hire Authority, Inc., a company that teaches corporations how to hire more High Performers. Clients include small and medium-sized companies as well as BP, the second-largest energy company in the world, which nominated ...

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