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No Room for Assumptions

Have you ever experienced a time when your hiring committee had difficulty getting past bias in their decision-making? Part of the challenge is that we are all products of our personal experience; we create emotional ideas of how life should unfold. These assumptions are very difficult to remove and getting past them requires effort.

For instance, some people assume that one university is better than another. Therefore, a candidate from the preferred university might be perceived as a better choice than another. In other instances, we have seen selection committees struggle with appraising a candidate who has moved through several jobs in their career. In the view of some individuals, a candidate moving every two to three years is not very stable, while for others, a tenure of longer than five years might mean the candidate isn’t open to change.

As humans, we can often jump to conclusions based on very little fact. Hiring committee members can make inaccurate judgments based on age, ethnicity, manner of speech, dress, body language, and/or occupation. Imagine this situation: a young entrepreneur decided that he was better suited for employment in a large corporation. Yes, he got interviews, but was never offered a job. Finally, the young man had an opportunity to meet with a member of the selection committee and learned that his motives were not trusted. People believed that “once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur”. In other words, they were afraid he wouldn’t stay. Too bad, they missed out on a superb candidate. Thankfully, we were able to present him to a client who appreciated the skills that he would contribute.

Making assumptions lets past experiences cloud thinking and it prevents good decisions. It inhibits full exploration of the job requirements and ideal candidate credentials, which are crucial. Assumptions and a rush to judgment have no place in this important process.

Another mistaken belief about candidate selection is that the interview is the key to finding a successful candidate. Not so! In fact, several process steps must be taken far earlier than candidate interviews. These steps make the search successful.

As search professionals, our first job is to help clients form a selection committee that represents key decision-makers who know and understand the organization and the job role. We then facilitate in-depth discussions to identify, question, and validate the competencies and character traits of an ideal candidate for their organization. Throughout each round of discussions, committee members are asked to explain the rationale for their recommendations. Through this process, we tease out any assumptions that appear to exist and work to overcome them.

Once discussions are complete, the committee can be confident they have explored both negative and positive past experiences and a rational decision can be made. Additionally, the discussion experience helps committee members to learn more about each other and how their experiences have influenced the way they think, which in turn helps to develop teamwork at the senior leadership level.

Once we’ve identified the critical elements of an ideal candidate, we take several in-depth research steps to locate and identify potential candidates and flow them through a stringent assessment process. Candidates are compared and contrasted against the criteria--no assumptions allowed! Then and only then are finalist candidates proposed to the committee for interviews.

Without the effective guidance of a search professional in the candidate selection process, selection committee members might be allowing inaccurate assumptions to interfere in good decision-making.

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