Monthly Archives: July 2015

Decision Tables: A Great Aid to Recruitment

Successful business partnership

In my last blog, I stated that the senior psychologist in my team and I developed a decision table, when seeking a psychology graduate. This is shown below. It listed the sought-after skills and attributes (Key Factors), stated what LowMedium andHigh meant in terms of each of the key factors, and then showed a weight for their relative importance.

The score for each factor would then be the choice of LowMedium and High (1, 2 or 3 points) times the weight. In other words, a candidate with an honours degree or higher would achieve a score of 15 (3 x 5) for their qualifications. A ‘perfect’ candidate would gain a maximum score of 120.

Key Factors

Weight Low (1 pt) Medium (2 pts) High (3 pts) Score
Qualifications     5 Bach. degree – double psych Also a Grad Dip. (Psych) Honours degree or higher
Work     2 Little work experience Reasonable work experience Much experience – some relevant
Uni. grades     3 Mainly pass Credit average Distinction average
Training/eval knowledge     3 Little or none Some Considerable
Statistics     5 Knows few techniques Knows about half techniques used Knows most of techniques used
SPSS     2 Never used Used at some stage Very competent in its use
PC literacy     3 Little PC literacy Reasonable PC literacy High PC literacy
Questionnaire design     3 Minimal experience Some experience Fully competent
Interviewing knowledge     2 Little/None Some Considerable
Interpersonal skills     5 Average skills Good skills Excellent skills
Able to work with pressure     3 Challenged with pressure Usually copes with pressure Copes very well with pressure
Work with others     4 Works okay with others Works very well with others Works extremely well with others



As stated in the last blog, I rated the least and most desirable candidates as 68 and 114 out of 120 respectively, whereas my partner rated these candidates as 69 and 113. This closeness may have been a coincidence. Alternatively, it may have reflected the fact that this approach makes the whole process more objective than the unstructured approach.

I should point out that the recruitment interview is only part of the whole recruitment process. Proper referee checking, biographical information, and other techniques such as work sample testing need to be closely considered as well. It is even possible to incorporate them into another decision table.

How would such a table assist you in your recruitment processes? Try it next time!

Narayan van de Graaff

Recruitment and Selection: a Positive Case Study

Businesspeople Interviewing Woman

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”    (Ogilvie and Mather)

I was Manager, Learning Evaluation at a major bank some years ago.  The Senior Psychologist in my team and I needed to recruit a Psychology graduate.  We completed the following steps:

A.       Preparation

1.      We summarised key requirements from the job description and our views.

2.    We listed the required skills and attributes in the form of a decision table – refer next blog.

3.  We developed questions linked to the key skills/attributes, and other relevant questions.

4.  We contacted key people from university Psychology departments, who advised graduates of the opportunity.  The gratifying response saved advertising expenses and meant we did not have to examine perhaps 80 or 100 applications.

5.    We screened applications to identify the superior candidates, and agreed to interview six graduates.

6.  We discussed our strategies, including which questions each would focus on.  We agreed to rate each candidate separately, using our decision table, and discuss our findings afterwards.

 B.   Interview

7We settled candidates and establish rapport, because the interview is a stressful experience for virtually everyone.

8.  We explained the interview format, timing and next steps, and that we would write brief notes as we talked.

9. To ensure consistency and fairness, we asked the same pre-prepared questions of each applicant.  However, we also asked further questions, both as a consequence of the applicants’ feedback, and as a result of their varying backgrounds.

10. We did most of the listening, and the applicants appropriately did most of the talking.  It was critical to listen carefully, so that we did not overlook vital information.

11. We maintained appropriate control – neither too little (e.g. when candidates rambled) or too much control (e.g. too many closed questions, cutting them off).

12.  We closed the interview, thanking the applicant for coming, and indicating the next steps.

 C.  Post-Interview

13. We separately summarised our findings when applicants left, and scored them in line with the decision table.  Incidentally, I rated the least and most desirable candidates as 68 and 114 out of 120 respectively, whereas the Senior Psychologist rated these candidates as 69 and 113.

14. We contacted two referees for the preferred applicant, who provided very positive feedback. We had pre-prepared questions to ask referees, and stuck closely to them.

15.  We quickly offered the job to our preferred choice, because we knew other employers would also be interested in her.  She was quick to accept, and told us that this was her hardest and most gratifying interview, because it enabled her to demonstrate her competencies.

16.  We promptly notified the other applicants, and thanked them for their applications.

Conclusion: Our choice was excellent – since that time she has become a very high achiever.

 What stands out for you from this approach?  What can you take on board?

Narayan van de Graaff

Behavioural Interviewing: Beyond Nice Chats & Gut Feel

Young marketers having a brainstorming

“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.”
Lawrence Bossidy

In the last blog, I discussed behavioural interviewing (targeted selection) and its much greater validity than the unstructured recruitment interview that far too many managers still carry out.  In this blog, I will explain how behavioural interviewing works.

 What is the underlying premise of behavioural interviewing?

Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. 

Yes, it’s as simple as that!  It is reasonable to assume that if a person behaved in a particular way in a given situation in the past, they are likely to behave in the same way in a similar situation in the future.

We don’t have reliable crystal balls, but at least behavioural interviewing increases the likelihood of appropriate recruitment decisions.

Effective preparation can help you ascertain which applicants are most appropriate to interview, and which questions are important to ask.  Effective questioning and communication skills can then help you to determine their likely suitability for the available position.

 As Easy as ABC!

 The ‘formula’ for developing and asking questions is based on the ABC principle:

Antecedent  “What led up to the situation?”  “What brought about the situation?”

B   Behaviour    “How did you respond?”  “What did you do then?”

C   Consequence  “What was the outcome?”  “What were the consequences?”


Assume that ability to deal with tight time pressures is a key requirement for the successful candidate.  You want to know how an applicant has dealt with critical time frames in the past, and from that how they are likely to deal with time pressures in the job being advertised.  The following questions are the types of ABC questions you could ask.

 “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with very tight time constraints”

(A) “What brought about this time constraint?”

(B) “How did you deal with this situation?”

(C) “What was the final outcome?”

 (also possible) “In hindsight, is there anything else you could or should have done?”

                        “How did your manager (or client) react to the outcome?”

 It is important to not just mechanistically ask the above questions, and to simply stick to the ‘must ask’ questions given to you.  You will want to ask various other probing and open-ended questions as a result of their responses.  This means you will have to listen closely to candidates.

When you ask candidates how they deal with difficult people, challenging projects, time pressures, team conflict, and so on, they can all too easily give you a text book answer. The issue is: would they really do that? Behavioural interviewing is about asking candidates how they dealt with various challenges in the past that replicate the types of challenges they would encoutnergbbin the advertised position, and what the outcomes were.

Once you become really skilled in asking behavioural questions (open-ended, probing, etc), and actively listening to their responses (including their body language), the interview will become much more valid and reliable than it would otherwise be.

Keep in mind that behavioural interviewing is not perfect (people can be trained in answering behavioural questions!), and that other approaches such as work sample testing, effective referee checking, etc. can make a big difference to the likelihood of selecting the best candidate for the job.

Have you used the behavioural interviewing approach?  Did you receive training in it? 

How effective was it?  Do you need coaching in it to become truly effective?

Narayan van de Graaff

Recruitment: Beyond Nice Chats and Gut Feel

Business Interview

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.”     Steve Jobs

Those of us who recruit and select staff should know better than to rely on our intuitive abilities in picking the right people.  This is a dangerous game – it overlooks errors such as primacy effect (first impressions), biases, prejudices, etc.  By the way, an August 2012 LinkMe Newsletter maintained that most hiring managers assess a candidate’s resume in just 10 seconds!

Interestingly, when appointments prove to be the wrong choice, many managers will blame external factors, rather than admitting that they made the wrong choice or recognising that they lacked the necessary recruitment expertise.

Many years ago, I was a recruitment consultant, and charged organisations significant fees for providing a shortlist of candidates for a vacant position.  I had not yet heard about behavioural interviewing (targeted selection) or situational interviewing.  I was ‘unconsciously unskilled’ – I didn’t know that I didn’t know about these techniques!  I then moved into the HR/management training departments of a major bank, and discovered behavioural interviewing.  I was now ‘consciously unskilled’ – at least now I knew that I didn’t know about this technique.  I also wondered how effective I had been in my previous recruitment role.

I completed the training in behavioural interviewing (I became ‘consciously skilled’) and trained several hundred managers and HR staff in this method.  I did an exercise once which worked so well that I employed it in subsequent workshops.  I interviewed my co-facilitator for a position, using the ‘nice chat and gut feel’ approach.  I then asked the participants what they thought.  They were very enthusiastic about Susan, and one wrote ‘10’ on a sheet, saying, “take her before someone else does.”  I then interviewed Susan using behavioural interviewing, and again asked participants what they thought.  There was a silence, as they realised they had been duped!  They had learnt nothing about Susan in the first ‘interview’ and much more in the second one.

Some years ago, Hudson stated that $17 billion pa is wasted in Australia through poor recruitment and selection practices.  This figure suggests that many managers still rely on ‘nice chats and gut feel’ to recruit and select staff.  Using unstructured recruitment interviews is much less valid than practices such as behavioural and situational interviewing, and work sample testing.

I have seen organisations pay lip service to behavioural interviewing.  Panels have a list of behavioural questions which they must ask all candidates.  They ask them but don’t listen to responses, sticking rigidly to the script, and not asking probing questions that would extract more meaningful information.  Some have also not been trained in behavioural interviewing.

In my next article, I will discuss behavioural interviewing.

Now for the $64,000 question (more than that with some poor recruitment decisions!) – if you recruit people, how effective are you?  Do you need training and coaching in this vital area?  

Crucial Conversations: Managing Poor Performance


“Develop your people. Focus on their strengths. Then make high demands based on a person’s strengths. Finally, periodically view their performance.”                  Peter Drucker

businessman and businesswoman having a discussion

My previous articles discussed the importance of recognising good performance – and amongst other points, not underestimating the power of a pat on the back.  Many managers seem to have difficulties in recognising individual and team performance in a timely, effective manner.  They have even greater difficulties in effectively dealing with poor performance – which is the subject of today’s article.

Years ago, I was the Performance Management Manager for a major bank for two years.  During that time, I encountered numerous instances of managers dealing very poorly with poor performance.  In fact, I often deduced that they were the ones performing poorly, rather than the team members they were complaining about.  All too often, they had not clearly communicated work goals/targets and their expectations, nor spent adequate time coaching and giving constructive feedback.  Additionally, they hadn’t identified and supported their staff with their learning and development needs, or provided any real feedback about staff progress – including giving a performance review, which was meant to be compulsory.

One instance that comes to mind was a manager ringing HR and saying that they wanted a particular staff member transferred because they were not performing at an acceptable level.  The HR manager investigated the relevant staff file and said, “You’ve giving this person good ratings and comments in the performance review.  How come?” The manager replied, “I know, but they really aren’t performing properly.”  The HR manager responded, “Until you rate this person the way you see them, I am not willing to take any action.”  Indeed!

I appreciate that having to give negative feedback is a big challenge for most of us – no one in their right mind likes doing this.  However, it is very important to do this in a timely, effective manner.  Not doing this can have serious ramifications for the way we are perceived by our team.  They will wonder why we aren’t taking the necessary action, as poor performance is often visible for all to see, and may question why they should work hard, if mediocre performance is being condoned.  So it can have serious implications for team morale and productivity.

Your organisation will probably have guidelines and procedures for managing poor performance.  The following guidelines should complement whatever is in place:

1.        Define the Problem

What specifically is the person doing wrong?  Don’t talk in generalities or pick on isolated incidents.  Don’t rely on hearsay or allow emotions to overrule facts.

2.   Determine the Cause

Does the person know what is expected?

Are they aware the performance is unacceptable?

When did it become apparent?  Was it gradual or brought on by a particular incident? Has the job (or your standards) changed over time?

Has the person been adequately trained?

Do they have the proper resources and support to do the job?

Are any external influences affecting their performance?

Is the person in the right job?  Would another job better utilise their abilities?

Do they have a disability or health problem?

Is the unacceptable performance largely due to failure on my part?  – Failure to properly delegate tasks, provide effective coaching and feedback, etc.?

3.   Take Corrective Action

Discuss the issue with your manager, and Human Resources staff if needed.

Keep a record of all your discussions with the relevant staff member and other key parties.

Hold a performance review with the person.  Indicate the reasons for the review, and be assertive (and empathic) in your communication.

Establish a performance improvement program, with time frames, to address the poor performance.  Assure the staff member of your support.

Hold frequent progress reviews.  Recognise any progress.

 4.    If It Persists….

Don’t keep deferring the problem.  Liaise with your manager and the Human Resources department as appropriate, and take the necessary action (including ultimate dismissal).

How effective are you at managing poor/unacceptable performance?  What can you take on board from this article?

Narayan van de Graaff