Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, May 25, 2020
About 30 million men and women in the U.S. are currently unemployed. In the next few months, almost all of them are going to try to return to work. Some will go back to jobs that are waiting, and some will go looking for new jobs. And some of those people are going to come knocking on your door.
And, you, resilient entrepreneur, are going to be interviewing those folks to determine if they fit the job you are hiring for. By most accounts, you will get it wrong. You are lousy at interviewing and hiring. You think you can do it, you know your gut, you can ask the standard questions, you know what you are looking for, you have studied the Enneagram, you know what you know, but unfortunately, statistically, you are going to miss the mark more frequently than not. Hiring is the single most difficult job that a CEO faces.
So, let’s turn to Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, for some guidance. Grant says, “For decades, managers have bet on the wrong people — and rejected the right ones.” He tells of classic rejections, including Walt Disney, the Beatles, Madonna and the classic of all time — 30 NFL teams passed on drafting Tom Brady. So, fellow CEO, you are in good company when you let the potential rock star slip out the door
Grant calls out three basic mistakes. The first one is asking the right questions. The interview process at Google ranks right up there with the Ironman in Hawaii. “Hiring took six to nine months and I sat for 15 to 20 interviews,” said Laszlo Bock, a former senior vice president at Google. Google accepts 0.2 percent of its applicants; your odds are better for getting into Harvard.
Grant encourages two kinds of questions. “Tell me about the time …” is a classic, and even better is the infamous, “What would you do if? …” I will share a quick personal story. I applied to Brandeis University shortly after the Civil War, and the only question I was asked in my personal interview was how to spell the word “bicycle.” (I had spent the summer riding around England and Scotland). I did not get accepted, but for the record, I did spell it correctly.
A second error, according to Grant, is “focusing on the wrong criteria.” The dark sentence here is that is code for where did you go to school, do you look like me, what is your socio-economic status etc. This is particularly virulent at banks and law firms. To highlight this anomaly, Grant notes that “bald men are seen as having more leadership potential if they shave their heads.” Give me a break, what about people who are slowly going bald (like me) but have not yet achieved the full luminosity?
Finally, Grant’s third rule of stupid hiring mistakes is getting dazzled by “candidates who are the best talkers.” This is the sword that CEOs impale themselves on most frequently. The candidate talks quickly, spins together multiple sentences, throws in some references to obscure technology, waves his arms, never takes a breath and mentions that he was an intern on the regional blah blah at the Federal Reserve. Grant says that “credentials are overrated and motivation is underrated.”
Grant notes that in first job interviews “90 percent of college seniors stretch the truth” to make a better impression or improve their odds. “I was on the rugby team” is not quite the same as “I gathered the towels and wiped off the football.”
Grant’s antidote to the above is simple — please show me a piece of work you did or could do for me now. My classic gambit is to ask for a sample of their writing. Even if I am hiring a coding genius, I want to see if he or she can string together five sentences with subjects and verbs — and it would be particularly nice if the spelling was correct.
One example of interviewing is David Chang, chef at Momofuku. He asks job candidates to make a simple omelet. “You can tell a lot about a person by the way they crack the eggs.” And finally, the truth across all categories, also from Chang, is “I’ll take hungry and eager over super talented any day of the week.”
Rule No. 660
“You have to crack some
eggs to make an omelet.”