Does Character matter in the Interview & Selection process?

I’ve been involved in recruiting and staffing for the last 30 years of my professional life in Human Resources. Twenty years of that in the Fortune industry of banking and electric utility.

In the mid-90’s the concept of Behavior Based Interview’s began to gain traction. Simply put ‘the best predictor of future behavior, is past behavior’.

The company I was with at the time was a Charlotte, NC based IT Consulting company focused in the banking and financial industry. We engaged an HR Consulting Company to help us implement this program. We were to interview the ‘top performers’ in each of the select jobs we deemed as ‘critical’ hires. The goal was to ask a series of specific questions of each individual that demonstrated the leaderships ‘success profile’ in that role. We would then look for patterns in their responses to determine similar behaviors, characteristics and traits.

The result was a clear view of similar behaviors demonstrated by the individuals who were successful in their specific roles. For instance, individuals who were the top performing ‘Project Managers’ demonstrated skills of effective communication. They gave their team members an opportunity to be heard. They were collaborators. They were able to effectively manager their time. Not just their time but their team as well. They were able to clearly define project goals and objectives. They were problem solvers. So many times, when a project wasn’t meeting objectives there was a lot of finger pointing and blaming. The successful Project Managers were able to create an environment where each team member was acknowledged for their ability to identify the ‘risks’ at various stages of the project. Perhaps the single most important trait, is one we called ‘Forward Looking’ That is someone who is able to predict the future. No, they didn’t have a crystal ball or a skill of reading tea leaves. They were able to assess and evaluate the many variables of a project and see where a project might get off track. Not just that, but they had the ability to make adjustments before the project got to ‘critical path’ and make the necessary adjustments before hand.

I think with the above example you begin to get a glimpse of the type of person who was highly successful in the role of a Project Manager. As a Staffing Team, we would then develop questions that would helps us determine which questions to ask in an interview. They were always team based interviews. Typically, the team selected to interview would be peers of the selected hire, other Project Managers. Then finally, the key hiring decision makers would have a ‘final interview’ with the candidate.

Each interviewer was given an opportunity to ‘score’ the individual on their responses and finally all the scores were tallied and a meeting of the HR team and the Hiring Manager was scheduled to discuss the cumulative results. Ultimately there was a ranking of all the interviewed candidates and an offer was extended based on those results.

The program was determined to be immediately effective and Leadership at all levels within the organization begin to see the positive results and recognize the value of the process.

As a Staffing professional with years of experience, what I began to see were Character Traits. Not just demonstrated skills but the elements of a persons character that motivated them to behave in a certain way.

This is were describing the process begins to become more difficult. Behavior traits like honesty, integrity, work ethic and trustworthiness would be the topics of conversation.

Then the question became, were these traits and values learned? Were they bestowed at birth? Were they inherent in each individual and developed during a persons life path?

All valid questions, right? It becomes less clear how to measure and quantify these traits. I would ask the question. If you take the business case of the former company called Enron. What do you think were the traits and skills of the individuals who were considered valuable and successful? What were the behaviors of the individuals at the top of the organization in key leadership roles? Were these the traits and behaviors that were deemed valuable and then became the traits that would create someone to get hired?

If we can have a conversation about that company and the behaviors of individuals that created the demise of that company, could we not also have a conversation about a company that might be on the other end of the spectrum?

I have some in mind, but I’ll leave it to you ask yourself the question and consider the answer and conclusion you come to.

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