About five months ago, we hired a new supervisor for administrative support. This is a position that supervises the secretaries and office employees. We had four finalists, one who was working as a secretary, the president’s assistant who was performing the role on an interim basis, an outside candidate whom we did not know and an outside candidate who had held this same job four years ago.
Here’s some background: In the past four years, we’ve had two people hold this job, one for 2-1/2 years and the other for 1-1/2 years. Neither one was very successful. We fired the first one for lack of performance and the second one resigned under pressure amid turmoil in the work area. I’m not so sure the fault was entirely with those individuals, though. This is a tough group of employees with strong ideas and firm opinions.
We began the search for the new supervisor, and as the HR manager, I spent time reviewing the current job description and meeting with the employees to whom this role reports to put together a list of qualifications that we would use in seeking applicants. Then we posted the job internally and externally. We screened the applicants to the four finalists I mentioned above. An interview committee was formed, comprised of two peer-level positions, the boss, several employees from the work area and me.
Here’s where the plot thickens. The two peer supervisors had previously worked with the applicant who quit four years ago. They and the employees (who had also previously worked with this candidate) deemed her to be the one to hire. The boss felt the other external candidate was the right hire. I thought the president’s assistant was the right choice, even though she did the worst job in the interview. She appeared to be very nervous. My thinking was that her work in the interim had been very strong and that this made up for her poor interview showing.
Against my recommendation, the decision was made to rehire the external candidate who had worked with us previously. Now, some five months later, the situation is as bad or worse than prior to bringing her onboard. As I expected, she is too much of an employee advocate (they appear to be the ones running the show, not her), avoids conflicts and lacks discipline in setting standards and holding people accountable.
Unless things really turn around, I see her getting fired. Then, we will have to start the hiring process all over again. What can we do to avoid repeating the mistakes we made last time?
What you describe is one of the most obvious problems with relying too heavily on the employment interview when you make hiring decisions. Although the interview is perhaps the most widely used employment selection device, it is also notorious for its lack of reliability.
There are several reasons for this. Interviewers are not always properly trained to optimally perform the role. Questions may not be relevant to predicting job success. Interviewees may be more skilled at interviewing than performing the duties of the job. The list could continue, but the point is that unless what goes on during the interview is helpful in determining who will or will not succeed on the job, the interview may be nothing more than an exercise in futility.
So, what do you need to do to ensure that your interviews are maximally predictive of job success? Here are some quick thoughts:
1. Conduct a thorough job analysis
Analyze the job vacancy in terms of both its task (i.e., what are the duties of the job? What tools, equipment, etc. are used? What is the nature of the reporting relationships that attach? What education or certification is necessary? What prior experience is needed?) and human elements (i.e., what knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal attributes (KSAPs) are necessary for successful job performance?)
2. Construct a position specification
Based on No. 1, above, identify those critical tasks and associated competencies that will make for a successful person-job fit.
3. Advertise the
job opening
With the specification in-hand, solicit applicants for the position. Traditionally, newspaper advertising has been a primary vehicle for doing this. In today’s job market, though, you will want to make use of both electronic and print media. Depending upon the nature of the assignment, you may also want to consider making use of professional and trade associations, job fairs, and college and university postings.
4. Screen the applicants
Develop a multiple-step selection process in which each step probes the applicant’s capabilities in different ways. For instance, with the tasks and KSAPs well documented, you could make use of the following multiple-step strategy: (a) review of resume or application blank; (b) telephone interview conducted by HR; (c) in-person interview conducted by hiring manager; (d) day-long site visit and meeting with various key constituents such as employees from the work area, colleagues from other departments and other key contacts (i.e., supervisors or managers); (e) reference checks, and (f) offer of The goal at each step in the process is to eliminate applicants who lack the qualifications necessary for success so that only viable candidates move along.
For the process outlined above to work really well, the people who are involved in it must be reading from the same page. To me, this jumps out as not happening in the situation you outlined in your question. When you have an interview panel arriving at three different end points, something has gone wrong. People must have been looking at different aspects of the candidates’ capabilities.
Quite obviously, the fact that one of the candidates was a known commodity may have biased interviewers regarding her capabilities. When bias or error become too great, the selection process becomes less effective. This appears to be what happened in your situation.
To minimize the chances of bias affecting your hiring processes in the future, criteria must be attached to each stage of the screening process. These criteria should emanate from the job analysis that is performed up-front. Quantifiable or observable indicators must be specified.
For instance, what does exemplary performance look likeâ when this task is carried out? Or, if someone were to demonstrate outstanding skill in performing this aspect of the job, how would we know it?
By probing into the nature of the job and the KSAPs that are necessary, it is more likely that bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQs) will be identified. These can be used as targets for constructing interview questions.
In doing so, criteria that indicate good and not-so-good responses can be formulated. If you want to do so, these criteria can be used to rate each candidate who is interviewed. Subsequently, people involved in the interview process (such as the interview panel you reference in your question) can be exposed to the questions and the associated criteria.
Doing so will boost the reliability of the interview overall. More importantly, doing so will boost the inter-rater reliability so that the chance will be minimized of a panel arriving at three different conclusions as to who is the best candidate.
One final word is that even the structured process I outline above is no guarantee that a perfect selection methodology will be created. Interviewing is, by definition, a subjective process. Accordingly, you may want to use the job analysis to identify areas that can be objectively evaluated using work samples or other tests/measures. This will allow for the most comprehensive range of information in order to make the best hiring decision.
Daniel Schroeder, Ph.D., of Organization Development Consultants, Inc. (ODC)
in Brookfield, provides "HR Connection."
Small Business Times readers who would like
to see an issue addressed in a column may reach him at (262) 827-1901, via fax at (262) 827-8383, via e-mail at schroeder@odcons.com or via the internet at www.odcons.com.
November 12, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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