Shun them at your organization’s peril.
By Gabriel Fairman
As a society, we should have mastered the art of hiring long ago, but we’re still trying to figure it out. At least know that it’s basically a question of belongingness: Does the candidate belong in that role, and in that organization?
Yet instead of approaching hiring from an angle of belongingness, we typically come at it based on the past, labels, hard skills, and any other hard evidence that will maximize the chances of the candidate’s success in any given role. Because that approach is fundamentally flawed, we end up ignoring key traits during the process. Like these.
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Hiring Trait #1: Micro-Gestures and Body Language
Believe it or not, most interviewers aren’t trained in the art of interviewing. They may be HR experts or managers, but they aren’t necessarily phenomenal at the art of reading people. Few people are. That’s why we miss so much of what goes left unsaid during an interview.
Some body language is basic and overt, like crossing your arms or biting your fingernails. But so much is so subtle. What’s happening to the candidate’s eyes as they formulate their answers? Are they looking straight at you, or do they frequently look elsewhere? How do they move their hands and gesture while they’re talking? Is the body language coherent with what’s being said?
It’s hard to pick up on these things, harder to document them, and hardest to make any of these assessments look objective. So what do we do? We forget them and focus on the candidate’s resume, likeability, and past experiences.
Hiring Trait #2: Brutally Honest Answers
Most interviewers already have the dream answers they’d like to hear during the interview:
“Can you work during the weekends?” “YES!”
“Do you have a positive attitude with change?” “YES!”
The list goes on. Not only are these questions designed to elicit specific answers, but they’re dead ends that don’t lead to any additional dialogue.
“How do you feel about having to work on a Saturday?” This is essentially the same question that invites a more thoughtful response. Now, does the candidate take the opportunity to describe how they really feel, or are they just going to say that they have no problem coming in on a Saturday?
And when was it a discredit to not want to come on weekends? I’m the CEO of my organization and I profoundly dislike having to work on a weekend. I try to structure my life so that most of the work gets done from Monday through Thursday.
If I don’t like it, and I’m the most interested party in the success of my organization, how can I expect that others will? Even when given the clear opportunity, will a candidate take advantage and be truthful, or will they be unable to drop the candidate act?
Hiring Trait #3: Deeper Motivations
Sure, everyone wants a high-paying job … or any job that pays the bills, for that matter. But what else do they care about? What’s beneath it all that’s driving them forward? What are their deeper values and aspirations in life? Is it about wealth and ambition? Personal growth? Providing for their family? There are no right answers. But listening to deeper motivations provides a ton of insight into the likelihood of a potential fit given the company’s culture.
Long-term job success is fueled by a deep cultural fit, not just a superficial job-opening fit. Typically when there’s an opening, there’s an immediate, sometimes even desperate need. The intensity of that need can blind the organization from looking for the deeper connections.
Yes, you can fill that opening, but is the candidate likely to enjoy working there and remain for 5-plus years in the organization? Hiring is so expensive, and it takes so long for employees to truly learn and absorb company culture, that short-term solutions are nearly always more harmful than helpful for the company’s overall trajectory.
Hiring Trait #4: Self-Awareness
When evaluating candidates, interviewers typically look at traits such as confidence, clarity, command over discourse, and other elements that shape candidates as optimal. But we typically don’t place much emphasis on self-awareness. If you start from the premise that candidates are essentially joining a community of others, you’ll conclude that a community of people who have some degree of self-awareness is easier to manage than one that doesn’t have self-awareness.
Self-awareness allows people to improve because they know their strengths and weaknesses. It allows them to take feedback constructively because they’re aware they’re not perfect and able to understand that even though they might have dedicated their best efforts, the results may not be good enough.
Interviewers typically ask canned questions like, “How do you react to negative feedback?” that invite more canned responses. Again, a more revealing question would be to contextualize it and invite more emotion to the response:
“Say, for instance, you worked for three months on a project, and after presenting to a group of execs, they tell you to pull the plug on it because they don’t believe in the work that was done. How would you feel?”
If someone says that they would feel “good” or “normal,” that’s a pretty good hint that they’re not at all self-aware … or human.
Hiring Trait #5: Consistency
We can’t afford to interview the same candidate by many different people in many different situations and moments in time. Sometimes the candidate will go through different rounds of interviews, but we aren’t necessarily promoting or analyzing how the differences in context impact their behavior.
For instance, if we interview someone in the late afternoon, it would be useful to interview them in the early morning and just before lunchtime to see if we notice sharp oscillations in behavior. Maybe they’re consistent, and that’s fine, but most people have their sweet spots in terms of the type of setting and the time of day.
Maybe they did great in a panel like an interview, but will they do just as well in a one-on-one or when shadowing? Different contexts shed so much light on a candidate. Both the consistencies and inconsistencies that people display generate key insights into their discourse-behavioral coherence, preferences, and likelihood of job success.
Hiring Trait #6: Desire to Displease
We love people who want to please us, and we dislike those who aren’t intent on pleasing us. It’s just how we’re wired. Creating a culture of pleasers can be the end of organizational growth, which is why you need people who are willing to displease.
Note that that is different from rudeness or a lack of professional ability, even though it could be experienced in the same way by the interviewer. We need people who can speak their minds, even when it’s not what others want to hear. This will create positive tension in a work environment and natural checks and balances, and it will open a productive, yet uncomfortable door toward organizational improvement.
This will create positive tension in a work environment and natural checks and balances, and it will open a productive, yet uncomfortable door toward organizational improvement.
Hiring Trait #7: Flexibility
How do you measure if someone is or isn’t flexible without really knowing them? It’s a hard thing to do, but working in this current age requires lots of flexibility, and it’s just something that we typically overlook. The role is presented as static. The organization is presented as static. It’s easy for someone inflexible to pretend their way into being perceived as flexible. They may even believe it.
How does a candidate react when things change adversely? How do they adjust? And not from a theoretical perspective, like, “Do you consider yourself to be flexible?” but from an empirical place: What happens when you need to move the time set for the interview, or when you add an unforeseen requirement to the job?
The biggest thing we’re missing in traditional hiring is the overall picture itself. We focus on discourse, corporate lingo, and routine situations and settings that allow everyone (candidates and interviewers) to settle into auto-pilot patterns of questions and reactions that promote the opposite of dialogue and discovery.
We don’t need to be creative to learn how to focus and pick up on these key traits we’re ignoring. It comes down to kindergarten stuff: listening much more than we speak, inviting others to play collaboratively, and being there to learn rather than to just evaluate and select the people who are sure bets based on our own biases and preconceptions.
Gabriel Fairman is the founder and chief executive officer of Bureau Works, a Silicon Valley technology company that uses artificial intelligence for translation services for large corporations.