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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Noble

Start With Who (Not Why)

“When I interview someone, I know in the first two minutes if I like them or not.” This quote jumped off the screen at me as I scrolled through my Instagram feed. It came from Forbes’ “Quote of the Day” series which promotes impactful quotes from business leaders. This one caught my attention, though, as it promotes a dangerous thought process that I feel the professional obligation to correct. Leaving your most important task (hiring the right people) to your most unreliable tool (intuition) is not only ineffective but it’s irresponsible.

Contrary to what pseudo-psychology personalities will tell you, those who are truly invested in organizational success do not “start with why,” they start with WHO. As Jim Collins- author of Good to Great- found in his research, leaders who transformed their organizations from good to great began with who. In other words, they placed their greatest emphasis on hiring the right people. The right people are the foundation of success.

Finding and hiring the right people isn’t always easy or intuitive (no pun intended), however. As humans, we tend to listen to our “gut” when making decisions. This allows for timeliness and efficiency of decisions but often at the expense of accuracy. Therefore, personnel selection programs should strive to be deliberate and data-driven to reduce the noise and bias that comes with intuition.

Step 1: Decide What to Assess

The first step is to identify what knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics are necessary for the job at entry. If the job is a traditional position, check out O*Net which is an occupational information network sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration. O*Net contains a database of nearly 20,000 different occupations and breaks down the required knowledge, skills, abilities, etc. for each one. For example, skills listed under “Receptionist” include Speaking, Reading Comprehension, and Active Listening. These are independent skills that may vary by job candidate and can thus be measured to inform the hiring decision. If the posted position is not a traditional one (i.e., not listed in O*Net), consult with a handful of experts on that role to determine what characteristics are the most important. Six to ten attributes are sufficient to achieve your intended goal. Anything more can become unwieldy and overcomplicated.

Step 2: Measure Those Attributes

The next step is to measure the identified attributes effectively. The gold standard way to measure something like Reading Comprehension would be via a validated instrument administered and interpreted by an expert (e.g., psychologist). This is an unrealistic standard for some and may not be necessary for most. In the case of the receptionist example, a manager may simply provide the candidate with a set of instructions via email for the time, location, and expectations of the job interview. The manager can then record how well the candidate comprehended the information based on their adherence to the written instructions. Another method for assessing candidate characteristics is the most widely used method out there- the job interview.

Job interviews, as they are generally conducted, provide little value to the hiring process despite how much a manager may “like” a job candidate. Too many factors, completely unrelated to actual job performance, interfere with the interviewer’s ability to make a sound decision. Characteristics such as height or attractiveness can drastically increase a candidate’s ability to get hired despite their irrelevance to job performance (unless the job is professional basketball player or model). Managers should strive to make interviews consistent across candidates with a structured set of questions relevant to the job. Moreover, many managers make the mistake of asking mostly hypothetical questions during the interview such as, “Do you consider yourself a punctual person?” Behavioral questions that ask the candidate to pull from previous experiences are generally more useful. For example, if attempting to measure punctuality, a manager may ask, “Please tell me about a time when you failed to meet a deadline?” This question reduces the candidate’s inclination to provide an idealistic response and requires them to pull from a previous experience. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior; therefore, learning of past experiences can be helpful for decision makers.

Step 3: Score the Results

With the ideal job candidate characteristics not only identified but measured, managers should create a behaviorally anchored rating scale to aid in the decision-making process. In other words, managers should score candidate performance for each characteristic on a Likert scale from 1 to 10. Managers should then define what differentiates a “1” from a “5” from a “10” on the scale. Using the reading comprehension example, a score of “1” could constitute someone who “missed important information in the coordinating email causing them to show up at the incorrect time/date,” whereas a score of “5” could be a candidate who “appeared to comprehend written information sufficiently yet required clarifying information despite it being present in the original email.” A “10” would be an exceptional display of comprehension by “following all written directions without issue.” Once all the assessed areas are scored, tally up the results. The highest scoring candidate gets the job offer.

Additionally, recording quantitative scores for job candidates can allow for future data analysis which may open doors for statistical prediction of job success- a highly sought after finding for even the most elite of organizations.


Organizations are only as good as their people which is why hiring the right personnel is arguably the most important role a manager can have. Hiring programs that are deliberate, objective, and standardized are not only more fair but they are more effective. Leaving that decision to an initial gut feeling is like deciding to do business with someone because you like the look of their logo. You don’t leave your most important business decisions to chance or superstition. Don’t do it when hiring your personnel.

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