Beyond The Interview

Stephen Hagues of Foundation Resourcing gives a masterclass on how to plan a successful assessment day

Hiring mistakes are costly, and reversing them can take you back to the drawing board. It can be easy to select a candidate who appears to be perfect at an interview, only to have them start work and be disappointed with their performance.  One way to minimise the chance of making such detrimental choices is to use an assessment day. Such a day offers the opportunity for a fuller evaluation of candidates for the role.

Getting past the ‘interview skills’

A candidate who has lots of interview experience can appear to be the best person for the job. By contrast, an assessment day gives you the opportunity to employ more advanced techniques that can help assess the candidate’s true quality. Those skilled at being interviewed will turn their weaknesses cleverly into strengths, so asking them direct questions will often get you the answer that you want to hear, rather than an honest one. A better approach can be indirect questioning that helps you build a clearer picture of the candidate's career aims, and what they hope to gain from working for your firm.

A good indirect question is to ask a candidate where they want their career to be in five years’ time. This allows you to assess whether the person's goals can be met within your company. If your firm isn't right for them, they can't be right for your firm. You want staff to be able to see a future for themselves in your company. If you know there is potential for the candidate's career aims to be met, this means you can also ‘sell’ the opportunity to them. Remember that the interview is a two-way process.

More importantly though, this set-up question naturally leads you on to asking what skills and experience the candidate feels they would need to acquire in order to achieve their five-year aims. When you approach the question this way, the candidate will usually answer honestly. The missing skills and experience will give you your list of weaknesses. Now you can grade the genuine weaknesses and experience gaps against the skills and experience that are necessary for the role. (You can find out more techniques for assessing candidates’ performance in our eBook here.)

Don’t tell me – show me

The extended performance necessary when a candidate attends an assessment day allows their true talent to shine through (or, conversely, fade like a mirage!). Judging a candidate solely on their interview can result in hiring the person who is the most desperate to impress, rather than the elite performer you really want.

Before an assessment day begins, make sure the candidate knows broadly what to expect. Obviously, you do not want them to be so prepared for the day that they fail to give the same performance once hired. However, a surprised or shocked candidate tends to not perform to the best of their ability.

Another good strategy for assessment days is to place a "company stooge" in the group of people being assessed. They can help reveal the candidates' true attitudes in a way that an assessor could not. For example, if they talk at lunch as fellow candidates and someone mentions that they only want the job for a short period, it’s better to know this now than later! (Although any ‘facts’ gleaned this way should be cross-checked before you act on them). More generally, assessing candidates' attitudes and how they behave in a group environment can give a truer impression of their suitability.

Deeper assessment

Role plays should be a key part of an assessment day, even if the candidate is not interviewing for a client facing role. This is because role-playing allows you to assess interpersonal skills, which are necessary for any job which requires working in a team. They are all the more important for a client-facing role, as specific role play allows you to assess the skills the candidate has for the job.

As well as their skills, you need to ensure a candidate’s personality is right for your firm. Psychological tests such as the Lüscher colour test and the SPQ Gold tool (which measures people’s ability to initiate contact with prospects and willingness to ‘sell’) can give you an idea of how much initiative, energy and drive a person has – how much of a ‘self-starter’ they are. The SPQ test also measures energy used when coping with factors such as fear, excuse and avoidance.

When hiring managers, traditional DISC profiling is both useful and simple. This tool centres on four personality traits: Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. It was developed into a personality profile test and helps assess a candidate’s leadership and management style potential.

The people who work for your company define the quality of the service provided, and so play a large part in influencing your company's success and growth. Hiring the right employees is fundamental to offering the highest standard of service to your clients, whether they are client-facing or not.

Stephen Hagues, Foundation Resourcing

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