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Lunch With Potential Hires a Good Idea



Question: We try to use more than one interview event for the managers and salespeople we hire. Is it appropriate to evaluate these candidates in a social setting, such as over lunch?

Answer:

Every opportunity you can get to assess a candidate is a good opportunity. When it comes to hiring, keep the old 80-20 rule in mind: 80 percent of the questions we tend to ask in interviews focus on the applicant’s “technical” skills; that is, does he or she have the job knowledge, experience and training necessary to do the work? The other 20 percent of the questions tend to focus on the applicant’s interpersonal skills; that is, can he or she fit into our unique work culture, work with others or alone, on team or individual projects, based on his or her personality meshing well?

Remember that most people who are terminated (actually fired, asked to resign, or leave in lieu of termination) do so because of a bad interpersonal fit, not because they can’t or won’t do the work. This is why probationary hiring periods are so effective; they allow for an appropriate (and legal) assessment of the new employee’s skill sets, willingness to learn, and apparent or missing cohesion in the work team specifically and the organization as a whole.

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One company president routinely invites each of his final management choices to his favorite upscale restaurant. He has a running agreement with the wait staff: no matter what the candidate orders for lunch, bring him or her the club sandwich. The idea was to see how people reacted to this small but significant change in their food orders. Did they snap at the waiter and make a scene (too aggressive)? Did they accept the club sandwich stoically and eat it, even though it wasn’t what they ordered (too passive)? Or did they politely remind the waitress of their original selection and ask that it be brought to them (socially appropriate)?

Occasionally, the person would indeed order the club sandwich, in which case this “behavioral lunch” experiment would go slightly awry. Still, the ability to see prospective employees in a social setting, talking with their potential peers, subordinates, and supervisors, can provide useful information that affirms the decision to bring them aboard or pass with reservations.

That being said, any interview process you use must be fair. Many firms use a three-step process for important hires: a structured interview, using the same questions for every applicant, followed by a team or panel interview for those candidates who made the first cut, then concluding with a final, unstructured interview, which can take place in a relatively non-threatening social setting, like meeting the candidate for lunch or coffee.

It may help to see these events as a series of technical and interpersonal “filters,” where the applicant must pass through a series of events designed to invite them in, as opposed to screening them out. The key to avoiding the “I told you so/we guessed wrong” syndrome, which leads to poor hiring decisions, is to create multiple opportunities to see the candidate.


Written by Steve Albrecht, a San Diego-based trainer and consultant specializing in high-risk human resources training topics and corrective coaching.

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