The peril of vague job descriptions
Job interviews are like dating, neither party quite knows the other’s expectations and often they’re projecting their own hopes onto somebody else. A lot comes down to ease of conversation and a mysterious chemistry. Like the literature surrounding romantic relationships, the advice around hiring is filled with generalities and is fully aware of the power of personal preference. However, having vaguely defined criteria can be hugely detrimental. McKinsey & Co report that 87% of executives feel there is a skills gap in their organisation.
Like most relationships, what you think you want and what you actually want can be very different things. If I expressed the same preference for men called John as corporate boardrooms, where they outnumbered women 2:1 for many years, I may be told my type was too narrow. It is not just that we consciously or subconsciously hire people who resemble us, but the traits that serve you well in interview do not necessarily translate into a good hire. Having been the interviewer and the interviewee, this is what I’ve learnt is important when looking for someone to spend my days with:
If I’m going to work with someone I want them to be able to react to the situation in front of them, not the ideal of how work should be. Yet, often interviews are artificial situations and you’re put in hypothetical scenarios which warp both parties perceptions.
This may be why at least 81% of people lie at interview. For this reason, WordPress has abandoned the traditional job interview and gives prospective employees 3–5 weeks of contract work at a flat rate to see how they collaborate with the team. Even the CEO does not learn the background of employees when interacting with a potential hire to prevent bias from affecting his ultimate decision.
Even if you do not take this approach, instead of hiring managers asking about our “Can you tell us about a personal achievement?”, which can easily be shaped into a flattering narrative, they could ask you to demonstrate when you’ve found an original solution to a problem.
If someone can logically, calmly and intelligently adapt to unforeseen circumstances that implies their job can’t be done by a friendly robot. With 35% of UK jobs at risk of automation, how people cope with change in the workplace may well be the defining factor of whether they’re a good hire.
Edward de Bono said that “Humour is by far the most significant activity of the human brain” and in some offices any brain activity is to be encouraged. I believe humour to be criminally underrated, and the job interview advice to present as neutral personality may be misguided. If you’re asking people to give up the majority of their day to be thrown together with relative strangers — it would help if they’re entertaining.
The studies around the topic of workplace humour are equally compelling. People are 25% more likely to buy a product if an ad uses humour, and a survey by Robert Half showed that 84% of people believed that those with a sense of humour do a better job. When knowing you’ll inevitably be stressed in the workplace, a colleague who makes you smile is an invaluable resource.
Still, everything depends on context. There’s nothing worse than being forced to laugh at people looking to get year round value from Christmas cracker jokes and it’s important to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate humour. Intent is key and those who are trying to make people feel better should be celebrated.
Humour is also important as it shows that someone can communicate well. One thing that becomes apparent quickly in an office is that clear, succinct communication is indispensable. If someone’s first impression of you is an email, then it should show the best version of yourself.
Etiquette is country specific, but typos, poor grammar and long-windedness are infuriatingly common. I once had a manager write three paragraphs explaining that a plumber was coming in to fix a leaking toilet — information that could be gleaned from the subject line. Using 100 words where 10 will do is a sign of pretentiousness, and not enough to do at work.
Before hiring someone, check their correspondence to see whether they’re capable of communicating the requirements of their job and not driving their colleagues to distraction.
Awareness of other people is key when hiring. Sometimes it’s just as simple as turning your camera off when you’re naked in a zoom meeting, but awareness of what you choose to share with colleagues is key especially when you consider the impact social media has on our lives.
Different jobs require different types of online presence. Knowing that whatever you share can forever be linked to you is a reality we’re all having to live with. It is inevitable that someone will google you and that you will google some of your colleagues.
You can’t win in many respects as people will think you’re strange if you don’t put anything out there, but whatever you do choose to put out will be judged. Only share what you feel comfortable with when thinking about the inevitable time colleagues look you up.
That being said, internet research can provide a useful insight into how people interact with others and it’s so hard to tell at interview who someone is when you’re both trying to project the Instagram filtered version of yourself. This is compounded by the fact that in an interview situation, it by definition favours those who can speak well.
However, how people appear and who they are is not immediately apparent. Every politician sells themselves on creating a better future for their constituents, but altruism is not something you tend to associate with politicians.
Terrible people often have wonderful people skills and you know someone who sees a profit in you is going to treat you differently.
The most ingenious way to counter this was when a hiring manager pretended to be a receptionist to see how the interviewees treated her. I think it may have been more telling than anything she could have done in the interview room.
To conclude, the difference between a good hire and a bad one may not be the qualities you look for in a smooth job interview. Someone can appear delightful for half an hour, but how can you know the most important things about person in that timeframe? By looking for how they adapt to change, treat others and whether they can maintain a sense of humour about life that may be a more accurate way of gauging who they are than asking “Where do you see yourself in five years?”.
Read behind a paywall at https://medium.com/swlh/5-key-traits-we-should-look-for-when-hiring-but-probably-dont-9e5eda10ca90