Employer and Interviews

How Process Sabotages Hiring

Just about every personal development, philosophy and motivational book on earth has some form of the adage, you only lose when you fail to learn.

Similar quotes have been attributed to Nelson Mandela “I never lose. I either win or I learn”, Barack Obama “You can’t let your failures define you, you have to let your failures teach you”, and my personal favourite, Thomas Edison “I have not failed, I have found 10,000 ways that don’t work”.

The idea is that you learn from mistakes and take action to prevent the same thing from happening again. So if you’ve ever made a bad hire, it’s logical to assume the process was flawed and that changing said process will help you to avoid that same fate in future hires. Logical – yes…but when it comes to hiring, it’s often a useless, wasteful exercise that doesn’t get you any further ahead.
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For the sake of example let’s look at an all too common scenario; early stage company was told to hire for philosophical alignment or “values” fit, because ”everything else can be taught”.  The euphoria of finding such a strong values match on the big picture stuff is quickly eroded by the realization that technical skills are still really important (has this person even touched development in the real world?)

Realizing how much training is required to bring our figurative dud up to expectations, it’s only logical for our hypothetical employer to add a technical test to the process in hopes of meting out those who lack adequate hands-on experience.

The problem with many technical tests is that they are academic, not practical in nature (who can name some obscure component of architecture that is normally automated within a framework). And so the people who score the best on these tests are the ones closest to their textbook years, but who haven’t been battle-tested in the practical arena. 

The result is that your more junior candidates appear stronger than actually are.

Similar to the technical test, companies will add hands-on challenges where applicants create something workable in a test environment with the architecture and tooling of their own choosing. The problem here is that in an effort to avoid being too restrictive on the specific technologies, there is too often too much freedom and not enough parameters provided to the candidates.  Strong but intermediate level candidates then suffer from their inexperience in design and architecture required up front in the exercise, and appear weaker than they actually are as developers.

Other failures in trying to over-engineer the process as a means of mitigating the human factor of interviews include adding too many stakeholders, often, people who have opinions but will safely default on a “no”, without actually having the authority to make the offer. Or conversely, default to yes, because the boss already indicated that the candidate was “good”.  So many wasted person-hours.

So what is the critical flaw here? What is the right process? Number of steps? How much work? How long does this all take, after all?

The answer can be simply summed up in a very simple question, do you have enough information to make a hiring decision?

The interview process isn’t designed to spit out a perfect employee, it’s intended to help YOU MAKE A DECISION.
Decision are messy. 

There’s risks. 
What if you get it wrong?

The idea is that the process helps you identify those risks and then decide HOW you will mitigate them if you bring this person on board, not just reveal opportunities to reject someone.

Instead we idolize the process as if it were, in itself, responsible for constructing a perfect match. A scenario of gathered information by which there is no possible alternate conclusion but to make an offer.  And sadly, this means that the candidate who gets the offer is the one who had the best process, not actually the best person for the job.  The person who plays it safe, doesn’t challenge conventional wisdom, or take risks to show you how they think is usually the safer, albeit boring, bet coming out of these processes, than those who are more likely to shatter your expectations and help you innovate in future.

In almost 10 years of doing this, I’ve learned the hard way, that my product is people and people are flawed.  We need to make room for their flaws so we can see the whole person behind the resume.  Not just putting them through the Rube Goldberg machine of interviews, hoping that that decision will get easier once they’ve been stretched and paddled and whirled through the proverbial funnel of options.
So before you begin constructing a process that consists of boxes to be checked, ask yourself these questions;
  1. Why are you hiring for this position, what problem do you need them to solve?
  2. What is the specific value proposition that this candidate brings to the table?
  3. Does their value proposition position them to solve your problem?
  4. Do my questions allow candidates to provide evidence supporting their value proposition, or am I just looking for reasons to exclude a candidate? (i.e. waiting for them to fail)
If this seems like a daunting task, fear not. Our experienced interviewers can help you craft a process that will help you confidently decide which candidate best aligns with your goals!



Shannon Roach

Shannon has spent the last decade working to restore human connection to the forefront of hiring. She writes about the realities, humour, and heartbreak of engaging talent and standing out in this age of soundbites. Playing different roles as businesswoman, wife, mother, and advocate, Shannon hopes the future leaves room for us to be our whole selves, our best selves, at work.