the sky floor

Why Corporate Hiring is Broken and How to Fix It

April 15, 2021

The first-date interview is broken. 

I still can’t believe it when I hear a friend is being interviewed for a new job, and the entire process centers around the first date interview. You know the kind, sit down over coffee or a meal and decide if you can spend the rest of your working life with each other. 

The reality is, we are terrible judges of who someone is if we are like them. What ends up happening is the interview processes based on the first date interview format hire a disproportionate amount of similar people – employees who mirror the hiring manager in race, gender, socio-economic background, etc. Kellogg School of Management professor Lauren Rivera has found that managers tend to hire employees who might become friends. 

Also, let’s all forget about these questions:

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Why do you want to work here above all other places?
  • What is your greatest strength?
  • What is your greatest weakness?

These will have almost no impact on hiring the right person!

Without a repeatable set of interview standards, we tend to default on our judgment which invariably leads to homogenous hiring. How do you hire great employees then?

It’s all about attitude and the ability to learn. 

You have to test potential workers’ ability to have a correct locus of control, learn new ideas, and creatively solve problems. 

What is a locus of control? If you are in the hiring business, you probably already know. Still, for the rest of us: The locus of control is the degree to which people believe that instead of external forces, they control the outcome of events in their lives. (Wikipedia

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Generally speaking, workers with a higher internal locus of control makes better employees. Why? They are more likely to perceive that their work has potential rewards. They also see setbacks as a challenge to overcome. 

We have all met that person who has a million excuses for why they haven’t done X; “my boss is terrible,” “the rest of the team is dragging me down,” etc. The person with a generally external locus will get stuck in the sinking sand of these thoughts and not move forward. 

It is worth noting that this is a general rule. A person who internalizes a distinctly external force is equally unhealthy and inefficient at work. 

Stemming from the foundation of locus of control is the ability to learn new information and problem-solve creatively. Is the potential hire good at inventing new solutions to old problems? Finding workers who are lifetime learners is invaluable to your team. 

You will have to develop your method for discovering these qualities in future workers, but please make sure it is more than a first-date compatibility test!

The importance of feedback and tangible results

Great workers crave feedback and measuring the tangible. You can short circuit much of the pain of the interview process by first hiring internally. 

Once you have worked with a team for a while, you learn who meets the above qualities – no need to rely on a first-date interview. 

The final giant giraffe in the room of corporate hiring is the failure to promote from within into critical positions. According to the Harvard Business Review, outside hires take three years to perform as well as internal hires at the same job – it also takes seven years to match the internal hire’s pay to what you have to pay an external person. It is better for the business and better for the employee. 

Why do businesses seek outside employment then? It is the obsession with on-paper qualifications. 

The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Benjamin worked at Acme Cogs and Sporks for over four years and had outlasted and outperformed all of his colleagues. He was thrilled when the manager above him left her job; here was the rare chance to move on up at the company. 

Ben was no ordinary worker. He took great care to learn each task and bring new ideas to the table. He also had become an adjunct professor teaching his skills to college students in the past couple of years – not bad for a resume with this much job consistency. 

He updated each line of his resume, hoping to tailor it to the new position. The hiring managers already knew him and what a great worker he is, but he still had to have a first-date interview with them – he aced it. How could he not? Ben knows the ins and outs of this company. He understands the culture. 

Weeks drag on into months. The powers that be tell him they are going to look outside the company too, “in the interest of fairness.” Finally, he gets an email; he didn’t get the job. Why? Benjamin didn’t have an advanced degree. 

We watched this story unfold with one of our larger clients six years ago. I have never forgotten how stupid this paper requirement was. Ben was highly qualified and knew the business. They could pay him less than a new hire, and he would outperform them. Win-win. 

In the end, Ben left the job shortly after because it was frustrating and the new manager disrupted his team – the new manager wasn’t even competent. The new manager also didn’t last long. Lose-lose. 

How to fix it

If you are in charge of or just adjacent to hiring – get past the first-date interview mindset. It would be best if you decided what you value in workers and creatively discover that within them, no first-date required.

Better yet, if you are looking to hire, look within before you post that job online.