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Saturday, July 12, 2008

The choices we make

Some not-for-profit organizations, especially those serving disabled candidates, such as the Endeavour Foundation in Australia, pay the costs of trial employment to see if the disabled candidates can handle the job. This makes sense, but I am intrigued that we are the only business I know that believes, instead of a battery of interviews, finalist candidate(s) should be paid to work for a few days, at least. This seems to me a much fairer, more meaningful, and ultimately more cost-effective evaluation system.

Approximately 200 people have sent us resumes in response to our invitation seeking a new Ontario-based sales representative. The numbers are matching our expectations -- about 10 to 15 per cent follow through by completing the introductory employment questionnaire, we invite a few to take the online sales test, and then even fewer move towards the paid working test -- the final stage (before thorough reference checking) before we make our decision.

We can predict the overall results, but not the details -- and here is where things get interesting. On Friday, two of the Candidates passed the sales test, but both approached the situation in intriguing and unusual ways.

I became aware of the first candidate when he commented on a blog entry I had posted, with his own suggestions. Then we exchanged emails, and only then I realized he had applied for work with us. Good approach. This is a selling career, and we obviously are more likely to be interested in working with someone who stands out from the crowd and thinks for himself -- and yet shows respectful creativity with the potential client (employer).

The second candidate also communicated with me -- our questionnaire letter invites advance communication, and provides both my phone number and email address. (We only do this for sales work; generally someone 'selling' services as a writer, designer, or administrative assistant won't get the job.) I liked the communication, and felt encouraged by the initial phone conversation with the candidate. So we sent him the online sales test -- and he failed; not miserably, but his scores were below our threshold for further consideration.

Here is where things get interesting. On his own initiative, and without requesting my permission, the prospective employee went ahead and took the sales test again -- and passed with flying colours. On one point, I should be unhappy, both because this employee spent about $40 of our company's money on the second test, and because it suggests indeed the test results can be 'managed' by thinking about the questions carefully!

But I looked at it another way -- if someone is creative, intelligent, and resourceful -- and goes ahead and works to solve the barrier -- then he might indeed be the person we are looking for to join our organization. In any case, the test, questionnaire, and phone interview don't decide the issue -- the working test/evaluation is the most important stage in our hiring process.

What about the others who completed the questionnaire? I will review these responses tomorrow and Monday, but some are, well, really bad. Like they didn't even 'get' the questionnaire -- and didn't bother calling or emailing to clarify its intent. We don't eliminate from consideration anyone who completes the questionnaire but doesn't communicate in advance, but it counts as a minus. At least we only have to read 10 to 20 questionnaire responses -- not the remaining 180 to190 resumes where the candidates didn't do anything when invited to follow up to their initial application.

Meanwhile, two candidates for editor are in the midst of their working evaluation. I won't post publicly on our observations of their relative performance, but the process of really giving prospective employees working assignments rather than hiring them right after interviewing makes so much sense to us, I wonder why it isn't standard practice for most businesses. Interviews can be manipulated, gamed, and wishful thinking sometimes overrides reason and true working effectiveness -- and the approaches to overcome these weaknesses, including multiple interviews in different circumstances, consume so much management (and prospective employee) time and energy, why not pay them for the time and have them do some real productive work! If they are any good, they will produce enough value during the working time to enhance the business -- and if they can't produce any value, I can assure you that the small cheque you write in saying 'goodbye' is worth every cent.

Great businesses, to me, have solid systems and processes -- they also are ready to think differently, creatively, and be ready for surprises. And the employees we wish to hire hopefully share these values.

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