Interviewing Is Little Better Than Flipping A Coin — Here’s How To Improve Your Odds

Interviewing Is Little Better Than Flipping A Coin -- Here's How To Improve Your Odds

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

I was interviewed by Jeff Hyman for his Strong Suit podcast. In his introduction, he mentioned that 50% of new hires fail within a year of their starting work. Some of the most common statistics that exist have been compiled by Dr. John Sullivan, a staffing SME, who points out that 46% of new hires fail within 18 months, between 40 and 60% of new management hires fail and nearly 50% of executive hires are also judged failures within that time frame. Equally damning is one more statistic: Only 19% are judged as “unequivocal” successes.

This all begs the question: What goes wrong? It isn’t like these people suddenly became incompetent or stupid. If the odds of a new hire working out are little better than flipping a coin, why go through all the effort? Where does the process break down?

I worked in search for more than 40 years and filled more than 1,200 full-time positions (plus consulting assignments) during that time. Generally, what I saw boiled down to three huge mistakes.

1. There is a lack of clarity regarding a manager’s reasons for hiring. Skills and experiences are identified in huge laundry lists of requirements that don’t weight the scale for items of greater or lesser importance. Even the term “requirements” becomes fuzzy as the search goes on and hiring managers become distracted by day-to-day responsibilities and the pressure to make a decision.

2. There is little or no clarity as to how to evaluate the potential hire’s knowledge and experience. When I still worked in executive search, I was so frustrated by leaders passing a person off to a subordinate to interview with little time for them to prepare, let alone understand what to interview them for or how to evaluate them. As a result, the questions asked are arbitrary, the subordinate often finds that this person might manage them, and they act out by asking obscure questions that require someone to thread a needle to answer, only to reject them to their boss as being “too in the weeds” for the position. I suspect they would have been rejected for “not knowing anything” if they hadn’t answered the question right.

3. Hiring for fit doesn’t work. When I started in recruiting, it didn’t take me more than a week or two to realize that everyone is on good behavior when they interview. The potential hire is presenting their knowledge as vast and deep. Hiring managers are also on good behavior. After all, I’ve never heard a hiring manager say to a potential hire, “We are in trouble. My last two predecessors in this role were fired, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out my butt is on the line and I need help to save it.” No, they put on happy faces, talking about challenging work, a terrific team of people (remember half of your hires are failures in your mind) and how they are a happy family of professionals. Everyone is posturing for what they want: one as a hiring manager and the other as a potential hire. How can you determine fit when you are lying to one another?

What can you do instead?

1. Develop a weighted scale of your priorities for a potential hire’s experiences and knowledge. All knowledge and experience are not of equal value. In fact, many skills will be used so infrequently that a person’s expertise in that attribute will atrophy. Emphasize the important, and train for the rest.

2. When you involve others in evaluating people, be specific about what you want them to screen for and how you want someone critiqued. Bias has a way of rearing its head during interviews when questions are not standardized and direction isn’t offered. As recently as a week ago, I listened to an awful story of someone interviewing for a job and being asked questions with no relevance to the role. Is the interviewer a loose cannon or a bigot? You don’t want to have your firm negatively (and publicly) reviewed for doing this.

3. Stop trying to evaluate for fit. You can’t truly do so unless you open up about the struggles you are having first. Be authentic. Be open about your problems and your issues. If you can’t do that, the new hire will find out shortly after they join anyway, and they will either become disengaged from their work or just not give their best effort. Your courage to open up first will engage them in the opportunity or chase them away. You want the ones who won’t be frightened off.

Three small changes will improve the effectiveness of your new hires and open the door toward being more effective with your evaluation and assessment process. It all starts with you and your courage to change — and your willingness to put in the effort to change what you have been tolerating. Make no changes and you’ll get more of what you’ve been getting.


© The Big Game Hunter, Inc. Asheville, NC  2018, 2021, 2023


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People hire Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter to provide No BS Career Advice globally because he makes many things in peoples’ careers easier. Those things can involve job search, hiring more effectively, managing and leading better, career transition, as well as advice about resolving workplace issues. 

He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with over 2900 episodes.

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