Stop The Vanilla Blog

Getting The Candidate In Their Underwear


Do you dislike interviewing candidates for an open position? I know I did until I learned to do behavioral interviewing. With behavioral science, you know the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses even before you meet the person. Now, I enjoy interviewing because I am getting to the answer at hand, and that is whether the person is a good fit for the position.

We like to call it “getting the candidate in his underwear”.   A customized and candid interview to understand if this person is the best fit for the position. It is all good because it is in the best interest of both the candidate and the company to be the right fit. Not being behaviorally fit for the position is typically not a happy place to be.   And having a resume that looks like a job hopper is not good for the candidate.   For the company, considering that hiring costs is roughly three to five times the position’s annual salary, hiring the right person is critical to the bottom line.

The key to getting the candidate in their proverbial underwear is using behavioral science. Each candidate takes an online behavioral assessment. At SM Advisors, we are certified in and apply four behavioral sciences.  Can you imagine having 72 pages of content on each candidate and the customized interview questions you can create from it? You are able to tailor your questions to what you really need to know to make the right decision.   In many cases, it gives you more information about the candidate than he or she knows themselves.   Its’ science.

One of the first steps we recommend in behavioral interviewing is to look for transparency and honesty. You can do that by asking a question that you already know the answer to from the behavioral assessments.

It is important to remember that every candidate will have weaknesses in their style. The question is whether those weaknesses will impact a key requirement of the position. Any style can be in any position but all styles are more comfortable in certain positions.   The greatest level of success comes from matching your natural behavioral style to the position.

In behavioral interviewing you ask questions that the candidate has never heard before. You get what we call “Dog Ears”.   You know how when you talk to your dog he turns his head.   That is what the candidate does because they don’t have a pre-rehearsed answer to the question. Watching how they think through the question can be as equally important as to how they answer it. When you ask a unique question, you are more likely to get an honest, heartfelt answer.

Here’s an example: If you are interviewing someone for a leadership position and the candidate has a low dominance in their behavioral style, you would ask questions to see how they handle employee issues. So you could ask: “What was the toughest personnel situation that you ever dealt with and what did you learn from it?” Typically, someone with a lower dominance style will avoid conflict and consequently will let underperforming situations linger.

Every individual has strengths in their style that make him a better fit for certain positons. Your job as the hiring manager, leader or HR is to match the candidate’s style with the requirements of the position.

A process to make the right hire the first time looks like this:

1) Narrow down the list of candidates to the top three or four, based on their hard skills (education and experience on resume).

2) Have them take a behavioral assessment of your choice

3) Review their assessment results and create customized interview questions for each candidate.

4) Complete your interview and do not share the assessment results with the candidate.

5) Rank candidates based on hard skills, behavioral fit and their interview/cultural fit

6) Make an informed and confident hiring decision.

7) Use the assessment results to create a first year development plan for the candidate you select

Behavioral interviewing has been a breakthrough for many companies. Talent becomes part of your competitive advantage. Research shows that if you use one behavioral science, your chance of hiring the right candidate is 60-percent. If you use two sciences, that goes up to 80-percent. And if you use three behavioral science tools, the hiring success rate goes up to 94-percent. How many hiring decisions do you ever make with this level of confidence?

Behavioral science does not make decisions for you, but it does help you make more informed decisions. Which is your job! Turn interviewing from something that is a chore for you into something that is a strength of yours and your company.   Become an identifier, developer and retainer of talent.   Remember: Those who plan, profit!

Making The Right Hire Led To The Stanley Cup

Brendan and I

It was March 2008 and Brendan Bruss had just become the team president of the Green Bay Gamblers. Like most sports franchise leaders, the most important decision lay ahead of him: the hiring of the head coach. And it was no different for Brendan.

He and his team completed a typical search that resulted in three finalists for the position. The candidate pool included a coach from a respected Division 1 Program, a second well-respected and tenured coach, and a coach with much less name recognition.

After the last interview, Brendan feared that if the committee reconvened without a clear decision model, the group dynamics would not be unanimous behind the candidate that Brendan’s gut was telling him fit the vision for Gamblers Hockey. He was struggling with the decision so he reached out to SM Advisors to help him walk through a proven interviewing and hiring process.

The first step in any search is to define what you are looking for in the position – to establish a target. Job benchmarking defines what an optimum performer looks like in the position.

An optimum performer for the Gamblers head coach at that time was summarized as follows:

  • Someone who knew the landscape of junior hockey.
  • An identifier and developer of talent.
  • A proven winner.
  • The organization needed a new face. A charismatic leader that the players, the organization, the community and the fans could believe in and would follow.

Once we had the benchmark completed, we used three behavioral sciences to assess each candidate. We then used a gap report to compare each candidate against the benchmark.

After I had completed a behavioral analysis of each candidate, I held an assessment debriefing with Brendan. We discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate’s behavioral style and their fit to the benchmark.

The “safe” decision was to hire the experienced, well-known coach. But it became apparent the right decision was the coach who matched the job benchmark — and that coach was Jon Cooper.

Like most team presidents, the toughest decision became his first hiring decision. Based on the confidence he gained through the process, Brendan made the tough decision. He made the right hire, not the “safe” hire.

Brendan said the process really helped him gain confidence in his decision because it defined the traits they were looking for in a head coach. The process clearly identified which attributes were most directly related to success. “We needed to develop a culture of winning for the Gamblers. We needed a team with some swagger,” he said. “We could see from the analysis that Cooper was wired to be a persuader, a leader and a team builder. He was more than a technician. You can always get that with an assistant coach.

“When it came to making the decision with the hiring committee, we had the factual behavioral science evidence, not just the emotional feeling about the hiring of Coach Cooper. The process really confirmed for us that we were making the right decision.”

When the Gamblers hired Cooper, the results were immediate, posting the largest single season turnaround in USHL history, with a 26-win differential. The next season, the team had the third most wins in USHL History, they won the Clark Cup and Coach Cooper was named Coach and GM of the year. After his two highly successful seasons with the Gamblers, Cooper went on to be a head coach in the American Hockey League and then to the NHL. As you know if you follow hockey, his Tampa Bay Lightning team is now an elite team, after going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in a close, hard fought series.

Making the right hire the first time is essential to winning your Stanley Cup for your organization. Every business leader wants a winning team, and to do that you must know what attributes drive success in each position to make confident talent decisions. Like building a winning team, you must stick to those attributes and not allow justifying that you can adapt someone else to fit that role. That singular decision to hire the right coach and leader has led to the Green Bay Gamblers becoming one of the most respected hockey organizations in the league. Remember: Those who plan, profit!

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