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Psychological ‘Secrets’ to Spot Gem Employees and Sift out the Rest!


Rebecca Cushway
Rebecca Cushway

Recruitment accounts for about 30% of the success of any employee in a business. Another 30% is down to our leadership, while 40% is based on the business itself. Getting recruitment right is a large and costly piece of the puzzle. Even though it is not rocket science, many small business owners tend to make the same mistakes. Making the most of recruitment without too much investment is well worth the success it delivers!

1. Target the Role the Culture and the Future
Many small business owners use themselves as the model of what they need in employees. Having a ‘mini-me’ is risky. If the role is not exactly the same, operating in the same space at the same level, the ‘mini-me’ strategy is likely to be counterproductive.
• Start off by looking at the strengths, gaps and risks in your business as a whole to identify capability and skills needed.
• Structure roles into meaningful parts so that each role has a clear purpose, responsibility and autonomy to make decisions within clear limits.
• Are you recruiting for an immediate need? Then skills will be your priority. Do you need someone who can grow with the business? Recruit for strengths and capability. Capability is less obvious sometimes but can provide better outcomes for the longer term. Target staff who can change and grow. Prioritise these requirements as one person may not have everything on your list. Ask yourself what are  you willing to train and what can you not live without?
• Team and cultural fit are critical. Understanding how staff demonstrate values in your business, how your team communicate and unwritten or unspoken expectations, helps to target employees that fit in.
• Ask yourself what are the behaviours in this role that lead to success and failure. Start listing these.

2. Identify Real Motivation
When it comes to asking people what motivates them, they will consistently tell you what you hope to hear. Candidates want to impress you, and direct questioning on motivation is not a reliable tactic. Without the right motivation, skills and capability become irrelevant because the person will not be able to sustain performance over time. Understanding motivation is about matching what the role offers with candidate’s career and psychological needs.
•  Ask the person to rank the different aspects of past roles based on what they liked most. Then ask how much opportunity they had to do the things at the top of the list and how much time they spend doing things at the bottom. Does this line up with their reason for leaving?
• Listen for activities they tend to avoid and activities they tend to throw themselves into.
• Listen for the reasons they give for failures or disappointments. Are they taking responsibility for these? Did they apply what they learned? Or is there a continual pattern of blame and expectation for others to make things right.

3. When is a duck not a duck?
People do lie and exaggerate, sometimes without knowing it! They may even believe the lie themselves. Go to great lengths to relax them. People spill the beans when they are relaxed! Look for:
• Did they answer the question you asked? Don’t get carried away with their story, check that they actually answered the question and ask again if you need to.
• Do they say consistent things across different situations?
• Does their facial and emotional expression match what they are saying?
• Do they answer with a specific example or can they break it down when you ask for further detail?
• Body language is not a great predictor of lying, however facial symmetry is. Answers are more likely to be authentic when the expressions in the eyes reflect the lower part of the face. Try smiling when you are angry; you will notice that your eyes find it harder to smile.  
• Has their pace of speech, volume or pitch suddenly increased from what was normal for them over the interview? This is a sign of stress and an indicator to probe further.
• People will tend to use a lower pitch when  they want to avoid a question and lots of pausing.
• Use of statements like ‘you might not believe this’ can indicate an exaggeration or a lie.

4. Use Multiple Methods to Assess Candidates
Some people are good at telling a story but when it comes to showing you what they can do in a real or simulated situation they cannot deliver. Make your recruitment more robust by introducing appropriate work samples or team tasks, even psychometric testing can dramatically increase the success of the process in finding the right candidate.

5. Check Referees and References
George Costanza in Seinfeld used his friend Jerry to act as a fake employer Vandalay Industries. Of course this unravelled very quickly but in business, it is surprising how many people do not check the validity of referees and take their feedback as gospel.
• Verify with candidates who their referees are, the nature of their relationship and whether the referees are still at that organisation.
• Insist on referees from former managers. With current organisations this can be difficult.
• Prepare questions for referees that require them to give you specific details while keeping it conversational.


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