Hiring in a Hurry? Don't.
Nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not strategies. - Lawrence Bossidy, former COO of G.E.
Have you ever failed a job interview before even meeting the interviewers? Turns out it’s not only possible but a part of the hiring culture at certain organizations.
John Matthews was excited to have landed a job interview with Zappos, one of the most successful shoe companies in the US. He had made it past the initial stages of the hiring process and had been invited to meet with the hiring manager in person in Las Vegas. As his flight landed in McCarran, he found a shuttle sent by Zappos, waiting to drive him to the interview.
John barely noticed the driver as he got on the bus, busy on his phone. The driver kept attempting to make conversation with him on the way but John was too preoccupied to pay any attention. When they arrived at their destination, John picked up his bags and left without a backward glance. He had to mentally prepare to talk to the entire upper management team at Zappos. He needed to review his notes and be ready.
John didn’t realize it at the time, but he had already failed the interview. Zappos would not be offering him a job that day. Why? Because, secretly, the interview had already begun. It had started when the shuttle greeted John at the airport, and it had ended, because of his ambivalence towards the shuttle driver. John had just failed Zappos’ Nice Guy test. By being dismissive to the shuttle driver, John had shown that he did not share the same values as Zappos and immediately disqualified himself.
The Nice Guy test is simply one among several unique tests that Zappos conducts before they hire a new employee. They, and other companies like them, believe that careful hiring is key to running a successful business. This article will examine three hiring philosophies that can help make sure that every hire you make is the right one.
Don’t be afraid to be picky with the candidates you invite for an interview. Sometimes, maintaining a high standard of performance requires that you take time to find people who are best suited to the job, rather than just the best available. Finding the best requires patience, but companies that choose to be cautious in the hiring process (and have a reputation for careful hiring) will also attract the best people. These are some of the strategies you can adopt to make your hiring process more discerning:
Have a small candidate pool: The hiring industry always talks about creating a wide funnel, with as many people as possible applying for a job, but only the best making it to the interview. Research at Harvard now suggests that it might be better to have a narrow funnel, with fewer applicants, but a larger percentage of those who might make it to the interview. By having a smaller, but more qualified candidate pool, the interview process becomes more cost-effective and you get a better selection of applicants to choose from.
Have high standards: Don’t feel like you have to compromise on your expectations. Especially, if the role is important to the company. It's better, and cheaper, to disqualify mediocre candidates early despite an internal urgency to fill the position, rather than be forced to let go of them after they’ve been hired. One way of checking a candidate’s aptitude is through a test. Give candidates a task to perform, something central to the job description, and be exacting with the results.
Use AI: Artificial Intelligence and applicant tracking systems are quickly becoming an industry standard for recruitment. These recruitment tools can help hiring managers and recruiters sift through large amounts of application in a relatively small amount of time, making the process a lot more efficient. They can also be programmed to weed out less-qualified candidates and rank the best applications for consideration.
Amazon Bar Raisers
Amazon has long had a policy of choosing their hires carefully. In the words of their former CEO, Jeff Bezos,
“I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”
Their hiring process is rooted in the company’s 14 Leadership Principles, requiring them to hire employees who raise the bar with every performance and expect relentlessly high standards (that are described, in the company’s own literature, as unreasonably high). These standards are ensured during the hiring process by a Bar Raiser.
A Bar Raiser is an external interviewer (but still an Amazon employee) who is invited to participate in the hiring process as an objective third- party. In addition to their regular roles at Amazon, they are selected to undergo lengthy training in the interview process. By bringing in someone from the outside the team, the company can ensure that candidates are being hired are suitable to the company as a whole and not just the team. Bar Raisers are also expected to ensure that the hiring process is in keeping with the 14 Leadership Principles.
Bar Raisers make the Amazon interview process fairer and more in-depth. They also help the hiring managers make decisions that are in keeping with the company’s values. The biggest drawback, however, to the Bar Raiser program is that though it helps Amazon make better hiring decisions, the Bar Raisers themselves aren’t always happy to be nominated. It creates a lot more work for them, at no extra pay, and they are expected to continue performing to high standards at their regular jobs. Despite these complaints, most bar raisers agree that the program helps Amazon make better hires. And the program is voluntary, so employees can refuse to become bar raisers.
Amazon continues to be one of the most attractive companies for people to work at. LinkedIn gave Amazon the number 1 spot in 2021, on its Top Companies to Work For List, three places up from 2019, which means that despite its reputation, a job at Amazon continues to be highly sought after. This, along with a hiring process determined to filter out anything but the best, ensures that Amazon regularly makes some of the best hiring decisions of any organization today.
If the culture fits
When you check for a culture fit in hiring, you are looking at the kind of cultural impact the candidate would have on the company. You look to pick candidates whose values, beliefs, and behaviors, would align with yours.
Culture fit as a concept in recruiting has existed since the 1980s. The original idea behind culture fit was that individuals who were hired for their personalities and values, and not just their professional skills, would 'fit' better at the organization. This idea has grown in the last few years and it is increasingly becoming the basis on which companies plan their hiring strategies. As companies focus more on developing a strong and positive organizational culture, they are looking to hire people who will not only fit into this culture but enhance it.
Why does it matter?
Most companies now recognize culture fit as an essential factor in the hiring process. Employees who don’t fit in with an organization’s culture can negatively impact their team’s motivation, enthusiasm, and dynamics. They, in turn, can be negatively affected by being the odd-one-out within the organization, which will impact their productivity.
On the other hand, hiring individuals who are in alignment with the organization’s culture will increase employee engagement. An employee who agrees with the company’s values and beliefs will find it easier to adopt them.
The Zappos Test
Zappos takes culture fit very seriously when hiring. So seriously, in fact, they will pay you $3000 to leave if you don't fit in. This is because they take their company culture and organizational values very seriously as well. According to the late Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos,
“We’ve actually passed on a lot of really smart, talented people that we know can make an immediate impact on our top or bottom line, but if they’re not good for the company culture, we won’t hire them for that reason alone.”
Zappos is so committed to maintaining their organizational culture that they have devised a set of unique, if somewhat idiosyncratic, hiring techniques to ensure that they pick the right people.
The Social Test: Candidates are required to meet with multiple Zappos employees, in a social, informal setting, as a part of the hiring process. They are invited to attend a department or company event where they get to meet with the other people in their department. This way both the candidates and the current employees get an opportunity to get to know each other a little better, and the company can get a sense of whether or not the candidate will be a good fit at the organization.
The Nice Guy Test: You already know this one.
The Service Test: New hires at Zappos are expected to spend their first four weeks answering phones at their call center and dealing with customer queries. The process helps new employees get immersed in one of the company’s core values, their approach to customer care. This understanding can then be applied in their regular roles as well.
The Ultimate Test: This is the last, and quite possibly oddest, test. About a week into their call center training, new employees are taken aside and offered $3000, roughly a month’s pay, to leave the company and never return. If the employee feels committed to the company’s values and culture, they would turn down the payment and choose to stay on. If they accept it and leave, that just proves that they were not going to stick around for the long haul anyway. By identifying a bad hire early in the process, Zappos is saved from investing in bad performances in the future.
Watch out for bias
If you are wondering whether or not your hiring process is being influenced by unconscious biases, the answer is that they almost certainly are. Unconscious biases are pervasive, and as the name suggests, unconscious, silently coloring our world view. The best way to watch out for unconscious biases is to understand them a little better.
What is unconscious bias?
Unconscious bias is social behavior based on learned stereotypes that work without our conscious knowledge when we interact with other people. Ingrained ideas about a person’s identity can affect the way we interact with them. But because these ideas are implicit, we are influenced by them without always realizing it.
Unconscious biases are hard to control because they are hard to spot. It has been suggested that unconscious biases are a way for the human brain to process and assimilate large amounts of information at once. Our brain automatically classifies people into easily understood boxes in order to process interactions with them quicker. But in the process mistakes happen, leading to unfair discrimination.
Similarity bias is another problem where people are influenced by those they perceive to have common backgrounds or experiences. This is something all humans are affected by without knowing it. A positive similarity bias is great for making friends and connecting with people, and to a larger extent is what communities are built upon. But sometimes a strong similarity bias can keep you from connecting with people from backgrounds different from yours. A negative similarity bias can lead to a lack of diversity within a community or an organization.
Why does it matter when hiring?
Unconscious biases in the workplace can lead to discriminatory hiring practices. It has been found that unconscious biases relating to race, gender, and age, are especially impactful at work and can disproportionately affect women and minorities.
A study conducted by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that mainstream negative stereotypes about African Americans have a significant effect on employment decisions in the federal sector. In another instance, a Yale University study, conducted on a group of male and female scientists, found that the group preferred to hire male over female, and would be willing to pay $4,000 more to the men.
How do you deal with it?
It’s sobering to consider our unconscious bias towards candidates, based on how they look or speak. But it is also important to recognize them and work consciously to keep them out of our professional interactions. While no good manager wants to make biased decisions, we need to acknowledge that they can creep into our decision-making regardless and find ways to combat them.
Be Aware: The first step towards addressing an imbalance is by becoming aware of it. Awareness training will help employees recognize biases within themselves, and spot them when making hiring decisions.
Make resume selection ‘blind’: One way to ensure a level playing field is by focusing on the candidate’s qualification and work experience until the interview. You can ask for applications to be ranked ‘blindly’ i.e., with all references to the candidate's name, gender, age, or ethnicity, etc. being removed before selection.
Conduct sample tests: You can ask the candidate to perform a sample task, similar to what they would be likely to perform on the job. If the candidate successfully completes the task this would qualify them to proceed to the next round of selection, based only on their aptitude.
Make diversity a core policy: By making diversity a core policy, you place it at the center of your hiring practices. Hiring managers and recruiters will know automatically to try and find a more diverse group of candidates to invite to interviews.
Good hiring strategies are crucial for good performance, no matter what business you are in. In any organization, it is the employees who make it what it is—the ones doing the work and building the culture. A good hire can positively impact the way a company operates, add value to their role, enhance the company’s culture, and boost performance in the process. On the other hand, a bad hire can negatively impact performance, create a toxic atmosphere at work, and reduce effectiveness. It is better to take your time and make the right decision than to settle for the first acceptable candidate only to have it backfire later.
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About the Company:
Peterson Technology Partners (PTP) has been Chicago's premier Information Technology (IT) staffing, consulting, and recruiting firm for over 22+ years. Named after Chicago's historic Peterson Avenue, PTP has built its reputation by developing lasting relationships, leading digital transformation, and inspiring technical innovation throughout Chicagoland.
Based in Park Ridge, IL, PTP's 250+ employees have a narrow focus on a single market (Chicago) and expertise in 4 innovative technical areas;
Cloud & DevOps
PTP exists to ensure that all of our partners (clients and candidates alike) make the best hiring and career decisions.
Peterson Technology Partners is an equal opportunity employer.