10 Voodoo Hiring Methods

VoodooHiringAt Greenhouse, one of our favorite books is Who: The A Method for Hiring, by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. In the first chapter of the book, the authors quote Steve Kerr, the management expert who built Crotonville at General Electric: “Otherwise smart people struggle to hire strangers. People unfamiliar with great hiring methods consider the process a mysterious black art.”

Smart and Street spent over 1,300 hours speaking with over 20 billionaires and 300 CEOs, who struggle to make smart hiring decisions every day. They came up with 10 common “voodoo” hiring methods that resist a logical - or effective - approach to hiring. Does one look familiar to you?

1. The Art Critic

“When it comes to judging art, going on gut instinct sometimes works just fine.” This hiring method relies on gut feeling - setting you up to be fooled. In the art world, you may go home with a fake painting, but relying on your ability to “read” people alone will likely result in a bad hire, costing you up to $1.5 million or more a year!

2. The Sponge

“A common approach among busy managers is to let everybody interview a candidate.” This hiring method is an unstructured approach with the goal of soaking up as much information as possible about a candidate. Smart and Street note that this leaves everybody asking the same, superficial questions, often unrelated to the requirements of the actual job.

3. The Prosecutor

“Many managers act like the prosecutors they see on TV.” This method uses trick questions and mind games as interview questions. Smart and Street provide a couple of examples that you have likely heard before: Why is a manhole round? How did the markets do yesterday? These questions may demonstrate knowledge of a topic, but do not properly assess whether a candidate can do the job.

4. The Suitor

“Rather than rigorously interviewing a candidate, some managers spend all of their energy selling the applicant on the opportunity.” In this voodoo hiring method, hiring managers focus on impressing a candidate, rather than interviewing them.

5. The Trickster

“Then there are the interviewers who use gimmicks to test for certain behaviors.” Smart and Street share the examples of throwing a wad of paper on the floor to see if the candidate will clean it up, or taking him to a party to see how he interacts. Like the Prosecutor, this method doesn’t accurately assess whether or not a candidate can do the job!

6. The Animal Lover

“Many managers hold on stubbornly to their favorite pet questions - questions they think will reveal something uniquely important about a candidate.” For example, they ask a candidate what his or her spirit animal is -- and look for a revealing answer. Again, a useless predictor of on-the-job performance (but a great question when used in jest!).

7. The Chatterbox

“This technique has a lot in common with the ‘la-di-da’ interview.” Although a culture fit interview is important, managers can not simply sit and chat with candidates to determine whether or not she is qualified to do the job.

8. The Psychological and Personality Tester

Some managers use bubble test questions to assess candidates (for example: Would you rather be at a cocktail party or a library on Friday night?). Although useful on personality assessments, The Handbook of Industrial/Organizational Psychology advises against using these questions for recruiting purposes. Not only are they an unreliable interviewing tool, but they are easy to fake!

9. The Aptitude Tester

Similarly, aptitude tests are a narrow and ineffective assessment tool. Smart and Street say that, although the tests can help managers determine whether or not a person has the right aptitude for a specific role, it should never be the sole determinant in a hiring decision.

10. The Fortune-Teller

“Some interviewers like to ask their candidates to look into the future regarding the job at hand by asking hypothetical questions.” It’s easy for a candidate to tell you the right answer to a ‘what would you do’ question, but will he or she actually do it?

Before you set out to interview a candidate, create an Interview Scorecard that outlines the key attributes and competencies that are needed in the role. Try it out -- we’ve created an interactive Scorecard below:

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Interview Planning