The Not-So-Gentle Art of Fostering Self Selection

By Eliza Stoker

We often forget that  hiring is a two-way street—but we forget this at our own peril. The best, most enduring hires work out that way not only because the candidate is right for the company but also because the company is right for that candidate. We all know that candidates can look great on paper, interview well and still disappoint. So what is the secret to making a truly great, long-lasting hire? It can be as simple as allowing the candi- date to decide for him or her- self whether he or she will be happy working for you.

Unhappy employees are not productive employees. Why not do your best to predict this prospective employee’s happiness before extending an offer? Below are three basic tips for allowing candidates to self-select in, or out, of your company.

Disclose Everything

Describe your culture and your expectations accurately, even the challenging parts—especially the challenging parts. This does not mean throwing your employer under the bus or creating a negative impression. But if your company is full of sharp-elbowed, competitive, “type A” personalities, you need to say so. Some candidates will be really turned off by that. Are those the candidates you want to hire? Not if that’s the kind of attitude it takes to be successful at your shop. Does the sales team view your legal department as an unnecessary roadblock? If so, you need to warn  candidates in advance that building the necessary relationships  will be an important first accomplishment—and explain why. Otherwise, that JD/MBA combined candidate with big ideas about how quickly she might advance within your organization can be sorely disappointed once the honeymoon period ends. That is not a recipe for success. Whether you do your own hiring or you work with a search professional, you want to make sure that the real story about life at your company is being shared with candidates. Do not waste your time on people who will be unhappy working for you.

Use Behavioral Interviewing

Most candidates will answer interview questions with generalities and hypotheticals. If you ever hear a response that begins with, “Well normally I would,” or “Usually what I do is,” stop them right then and there. That candidate is not about to give you a description of their own actual behavior, but rather a description of how they think you want them to act.

In order to get past the most obvious shortcomings of any job interview, you need to learn more about what specific actions this person has taken in the past and what results those actions garnered. Behavioral interviews are a series of four- part questions: What was the situation/context? What did you do? What was the result? What did you learn? It’s harder than it sounds because candidates will always attempt to stray from the specific situation they started with. You need to refocus them back on the story they chose to share. It takes diligence and dog-gedness to keep that candidate on topic because this is not the natural way for interviews to go.

If we go back to the example of the employer with a sharp-elbowed, competitive workforce, a great behavioral interview question might be: “Describe a time when you felt the need to push back on a colleague.”  Don’t let them tell you what they think is the best way to handle such a situation; make them describe an actual situation from their past and remember to ask all four of the questions above.

Pay attention to all parts of the story. Did this sound like an occasion where pushback was warranted? Does it sound like he or she waited too long to speak up? What form did the pushback take and  was  it appropriate? How effective was it; did he or she get a good result? Even if there was no good result, did he or she learn from the experience? While listening, you should also be watching. Body language can answer many behind-the- scenes questions, such as whether the candidate is com- fortable telling this story and okay with sometimes getting a bad result.

I consider this part of allowing candidates to self-select into or out of your process. Candidates really should intuit why you are asking these specific questions. If they don’t, then they most  likely  are  not a good fit for your team. Additionally, the behavior candidates have displayed at work so far is a great window into their workplace preferences. If the story they tell you is some- thing you could never see playing out at your company, then they have preferences you are unlikely to accommodate.

One additional benefit of behavioral interviewing is that  if you come across a candidate who is unable to play within the rules set forth by your questions, that person is probably not right for your team. Candidates who ignore the form of your questions are either bad listeners or believe their agenda is more important than yours. If anyone should know how to answer a narrow question, it’s a lawyer. Whether they realize it or not, they are signaling a self-selection process if they only want to work for companies

Pressure Test at the Finish Line

Every candidate has a sore spot. A final round interview is a good opportunity to find it. By now, you have an opinion as to who this person is and how they would function at your company. You are going to challenge that opinion by finding their scab and picking at it a little.For example, some candidates present with an impressive swagger. Try giving that kind of candidate some negative feedback to see how they react. You will eventually have to give negative feedback to every individual on your team so why not take a trial run during an interview? If they don’t like your approach, find out now. An example: “This is  a good opportunity for me to share my concerns regarding your candidacy; I worry that you are overstating your experience  with.”  You  probably really are worried they are overstating their experience; all hiring managers share that worry about every candidate they meet. You aren’t lying, but you are testing to see how they they might be able to make you more comfortable with their experience? Candidates who get defensive are sending the signal that they aren’t ready to work with you yet. Regardless of how you source your candidates, you will eventually need to interview and make decisions. When you make a hire, you are putting your reputation on the line, and you need to hire a candidate who will live up to expectations. That hire becomes your legacy. Improve the chances that your legacy is positive by hiring people who would actively choose to be in your environment. They are more likely to be successful once there.


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This article was originally featured on Corporate Counsel on February, 2018.

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Eliza StokerEliza Stoker is Executive Director for our In-House Practice Group. Eliza's focus has switched from actively recruiting for in-house roles to overseeing the collective efforts of our Eastern Region in the U.S. She is a trained public speaker whose favorite topics include diversity and retention, market trends, and compensation.


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