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Ensure a Positive Candidate Experience When Hiring Contingent Talent Remotely

As digitization, coupled with the global pandemic, propels contingent hiring online and with more individuals relying on employer reviewer sites to evaluate businesses, delivering a positive[...]

March 10, 2021

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A Different Recruiting Approach to Uncover Genuine Candidate Values

You can’t create a thriving business culture without focusing on values. In the age of hyper-visibility and social media, every person in your organization becomes an embodiment of its corporate philosophy and culture -- a brand ambassador to customers, other candidates and the public. That’s why we frequently emphasize the importance of cultural fit in talent acquisition. It’s the glue binds together so many aspects of a successful recruiting campaign: employee engagement, employment brand, team integration and more. Of course, we’ve also seen the darker side of culture, when hiring managers mistake familiarity and personal preferences for a good fit. This lack of inclusion can lead to a stagnant environment where diverse perspectives and novel ideas seldom materialize. Values-based hiring is the secret to cultural fit. The challenge, however, is determining what a person’s values really are. Let’s explore some interesting ways that companies are peeling back the layers to reveal the genuine attitudes that inform candidate values.

Attitude Fraud -- An Employment Culture “Crime”

A hot dog restaurant in California made the news this weekend for firing one of its employees, Cole White, after learning that he had participated in the violent, tragic white nationalist gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left three dead and dozens injured. A spokesperson for Top Dog, the Berkeley eatery, said management had been alerted to a photograph circulating across the Internet, showing White brandishing a torch at the gathering of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, as reported by the Charlotte Observer.

“Effective Sat. 12th August, Cole White no longer works at Top Dog,” read a sign posted prominently on Top Dog’s front doors. “The actions of those in Charlottesville are not supported by Top Dog. We believe in individual freedom and voluntary association for everyone.”

We also can’t forget the public relations fire that scorched Google’s image last week, when a software engineer penned and published a toxic anti-diversity memo to the company’s 72,053 employees. The controversial manifesto refocused attention on Google’s struggling inclusion efforts.

Here’s the rub, though. It’s almost impossible to believe that people like Cole White or James Damore, author of the now infamous Google screed, exposed their discriminatory views during conversations with recruiters or in response to interview questions. White didn’t land the job at Top Dog by confessing his racist tendencies. Damore didn’t ace the notoriously nuanced Google Interview by decrying inclusion or pontificating about the biological frailties he perceives in women coders. Instead, it stands to reason, they fabricated an attitude that embraced the values of the employment brands they were pursuing.

As Dr. John Sullivan explained in his latest article, “attitude fraud” has emerged as a growing challenge for talent acquisition professionals. He further asserted that, in his experience, it’s become one of the primary reasons why 46 percent of all new-hires fail within 18 months. Sullivan defined attitude fraud as “candidates with an undesirable attitude” who “purposely deceive and act as if they have a great one to get hired.” Some recruiters, he lamented, do little to detect and avoid it. Yet even extremely savvy recruiters have trouble spotting it. And that’s not necessarily their fault.

In a landmark study conducted by the academic journal American Psychologist, researchers found that “agents of the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency -- as well as judges, local police, federal polygraph operators, psychiatrists and laymen -- performed no better at detecting lies than if they had guessed randomly.”

So what can we do to accurately determine candidate values? Some thought-leading organizations are thinking outside the box (as well as cubicles, conference rooms and offices) to develop solutions. Sullivan highlighted clever examples from the likes of Southwest Air, Zappos and Charles Schwab. Southwest, for instance, has flight attendants monitor the behaviors and actions of candidates being flown to interviews. Zappos and Schwab have devised similarly stealthy protocols:

The Internet retailer Zappos designated its shuttle driver who drives interviewees to and from the Vegas airport to make the same type of informal “when they’re not looking” assessment of attitude. If the candidate treats the driver poorly, they are not hired. The CEO of Charles Schwab uses an innovative approach for some jobs where he arranges to meet a candidate for a breakfast interview. He gets there early and arranges for the restaurant manager to, purposely, mess up the breakfast order of his guest. He then assesses how the candidate responds to the frustrating situation.

Not all of us find ourselves in positions to scrutinize candidate values in this manner -- or to such extents. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t use the resources available to create social scenarios where we can assess interactions, attitudes and ideals.

Practical Approaches for Assessing Attitudes

Flagging Your Mark

One way to evaluate candidates without their knowledge is to invite them for a tour of the facilities. Sullivan recommends providing them with a name badge that identifies them to other workers as a potential hire. The trick is leaving the prospect alone at intervals to engage with other employees -- moments when their guards are more likely to relax.

”Especially rely on those classes of employees who they are most likely to interact with including receptionists, secretaries, recruiting coordinators, café workers, service workers, security guards, and have these employees assess and immediately report their attitude assessments,” Sullivan suggests.

Seek Explanations, Not Answers

Consider designing open-ended and situational interview questions to discover optimal behavioral and character traits. When crafted correctly, the questions are essentially the same for every applicant. This approach allows us to objectively compare the answers of all candidates while removing the guesswork. Decisions become more educated and less predicated on instinct or familiarity. Here’s an example.

Let’s say you’re in the market for a top business development person. The candidate provides a stellar resume. He’s worked in the same industry, holds the same educational background as the team, has demonstrated sales success with similar clients, and moves among the same circles. In short, he seems familiar. Beyond that, though, he’s advertising some eye-catching claims. In his last position, for instance, he drove revenues up by nearly 40 percent. You ask the candidate to explain the steps he took to achieve that outcome. And he can’t.

“Being able to articulate the behaviors associated with achievements is a key component of values hiring and one that a traditional interview strategy usually misses,” said Ann Rhoades, former Chief People Officer for Southwest Airlines.

Another idea is to pose situational scenarios and ask for reactions. Modern organizations often tout an exercise where applicants are asked to solve specific thought problems related to the cognitive or functional aptitude of the role. The obstacle here is that these experiments usually just reveal the candidate’s skills or abilities. Although you may discover that your prospective software engineer excels at coding, you won’t discover whether he has a bias against women.

It may also be worthwhile to expand these questions to broader social contexts. Ask candidates to imagine themselves in a busy airport with a ticketing agent who can’t find the flight reservation. Perhaps pose an ethical dilemma involving a dispute between workers of different races. Maybe seek the candidate’s opinion on a proposed policy to implement gender-neutral washrooms. Being creative yet subtle may catch interviewees off guard and reveal more telling aspects of their genuine attitudes. I believe this is also an area where virtual reality will soon play a critical role in business, by placing candidates in simulated situations to gauge their levels of empathy, compassion, integrity and judgment.

Virtual Peer Interviews

It’s not always possible to bring your selected candidates into a brick-and-mortar site. Video conferencing systems such as Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime and others have replaced phones. They’ve also gained a lot of traction in the staffing industry, because they offer a more intimate experience than a call or text. The inclusion of video provides more than compelling storytelling -- video offers candidates a realistic sense of a prospective employer’s working culture: formal vs. informal, orderly vs. chaotic, diverse vs. homogeneous, innovative vs. traditional, and so on. More importantly, their reactions (body language, word choice, facial expressions) will paint a clear picture of how they would respond to real-life situations.

Another thought is to “interrupt” the interview by bringing in a diverse range of talent from the company to “meet” the candidate and interact. By studying how the applicant’s responses or behaviors change from person to person, especially those of different genders or races, hiring managers have a better way to examine attitude and fit.

Detect and Eliminate Internal Bias

Sometimes, biases from within the organization may be the culprits. There are now tools that help employers discover and conquer biases in their hiring processes. Harvard University designed a popular online application called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). It’s currently used by military, media, Fortune 500, educational and other organizations. The data reveal any unconscious biases, which help firms recognize the nature and inclination of these instances. Ultimately, this intelligence assists HR professionals in making a business case and gaining adoption from decision makers to create fairer hiring solutions.

Ask Candidates to Rank Their Own Soft Skills

Sullivan presents another interesting technique, where applicants are asked to “force rank” their soft skills. In other words, they’re provided with a list of soft skills and characteristics that center on identifying levels of emotional intelligence. The list is predetermined to prevent candidates from simply writing down reiterations of what they read in the company’s online values statement. And just asking someone if they have a passion for customer service or a good attitude is unlikely to produce anything but a positive reply.

”Instead, before or during the interview, give the candidate a list of soft skills and ask them to rank the ones that they have, from the strongest to the weakest,” advises Sullivan. “This forced ranked list can quickly reveal at least which of the soft skills that they assess themselves to be the strongest in. Of course, if they rank a positive attitude or any essential customer service skill toward the bottom of the list, you should be concerned.”

Your Talent Are Your Brand

Without inspiring values that every leader in an organization embodies and embraces, there is no culture or any reason for employees to support the mission. Yet, many companies don’t include the values litmus test in their hiring process. Values-based hiring ensures that we find candidates who will build up our organizations instead of tearing them down or forcing them to shift in a different direction. It’s a framework that encompasses recruiting, interviewing and placement.

Casey Enstrom
Casey Enstrom
Casey is one of the staffing industry’s household names, specializing in sales and operations leadership. He brings extensive knowledge of business development and sales strategies, predictive analytics, leadership, and human capital solutions. Prior to Crowdstaffing, Casey served as the Vice President of Technical Sales, North America, for a Fortune 1000 staffing firm.
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