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Performance-based hiring processes

Amal Ravindran
January 31, 2023
Lessons from Lou Adler

In our all-too-brief moments of downtime, we like to mine the Intrro library for some words of recruiting wisdom. And one book well worth a read is Hire With Your Head by Lou Adler, the CEO and founder of Performance-based Hiring Learning Systems.

The book was originally published in 2007 but contains lessons that will echo throughout the ages (ages, ages). The main premise is that the most suitable candidate doesn’t always get the job – it’s often the person with the best interview skills. All too often, we recruiters mistake interview performance for on-the-job performance, which is what really matters.

As Lou writes, “If you want to hire superior people, use a system designed to hire superior people, not one designed to fill jobs”.

Key to understanding this is to look at hiring mistakes and where these originate. Part of the problem, according to Lou, is that the qualities that emerge in the interview format – like the chemistry between the candidate and interviewer – have little bearing on future outcomes once that person starts the job.

“One of the biggest problems is that too much emphasis is placed on the interaction between the candidate and the interviewer, and too little on the candidate’s ability and motivation to do the job. This is the primary cause of hiring mistakes.”

Here’s a visual which illustrates how an overreliance on relationship-based decision-making can backfire:

As our oft-quoted pal Gergely Orosz observes, software engineers are discovering that “learning to be good at this game” (interviewing) leads to “outsized rewards”. The danger is that you might spend more on a developer who’s great at telling anecdotes, but can’t code very well.

In contrast, hiring accuracy increases when the key criteria is job performance, rather than the candidate’s propensity to answer interview questions well, or as Lou writes, display those potentially misleading factors like “personality, first impression, handshake, affability, social confidence, assertiveness, appearance, extroversion, and verbal communications”. Here’s how Lou explains this in a fancy graph.

“There is a natural tendency to overemphasise the ‘getting the job’ skills when assessing a candidate, rather than the person’s ability to ‘do the job’”, Lou writes.

So, how can recruiters identify the ‘doing the job’ skills? Lou highlights some examples as follows:

  • Drive
  • Team skills
  • Achieving objectives
  • Technical competence
  • Management and organisational skills
  • Intellect
  • Leadership.

In summary, the job itself should be the “dominant selection criteria”. In practice, some folks recommend using a candidate scorecard to assess someone’s real worth. Geoff Smart and Randy Street’s book, Who: The A Method for Hiring, includes the below example. 

While we’re on scorecards, the Intrro Interview Round Rubric is another useful resource that shares some examples of good questions (and answers), and can help you record the potential of each candidate. 

Ultimately, you don’t want to hire a suave and sophisticated candidate, only to find out weeks later that they’re mismatched for the role. Equally, that shy and ‘socially awkward’ interviewee could be the genius you never knew you needed.

For more insights on some of these themes, you may find the below Intrro guides helpful:

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