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Use a Forensic Phone Screen to Instantly Spot Achievers

While finding and accurately assessing candidates has always been important, doing it quickly will take on extra urgency as the economy recovers. Interestingly, if your candidates are high achievers, most managers will meet them even if they’re a bit off experience-wise. This is one way to ensure 100% of your candidates are seen. It will also reduce the amount of work involved in putting together a slate of candidates for any search assignment.

You can spot achievers in about 15-20 minutes by looking for clues high achievers leave in their wake. This is the forensic connection. But first, let’s define an achiever.

An achiever is a person who:

    • Is highly motivated to do the work required
    • Consistently delivers high quality results on time and on budget
    • Is personally driven to become better
    • Takes great pride in doing high quality work
    • Works well with a broad and diverse group of people
    • Will commit and deliver high-quality results despite the challenges
    • Doesn’t make excuses; just gets it done somehow
    • Volunteers for tough tasks or takes them on despite personal inconvenience

Let me start the forensic interviewing approach with a bit of reminiscing. I vaguely remember a high school physics experiment where the teacher demonstrated how to determine if a primary activity was present by looking at its secondary impact on other things. I suspect this is comparable to determining if a planet that isn’t visible is present by examining the gravitational shift it has on other planetary objects. Forensics is a form of this by looking at the clues left at the crime scene to determine what actually occurred (think CSI). From an interviewing standpoint it means looking for clues that an achiever pattern is present rather than looking directly for achiever-related behaviors or competencies.

Here’s how this works during the phone screen. A phone screen should consist of these four core sections:

    • First, the introduction and engagement
    • Second, the resume and work history review, looking for general fit and the achiever pattern
    • Third, determining if the person is a strong fit for the actual opening and if the position offers the person a career move
    • Fourth, either recruit the person for the open position, put the person in the talent pool for future positions, and/or get referrals

During the phone screen, the work history review should last at least 15-20 minutes, and longer for senior-level positions. For the uninitiated, a work history review is a comprehensive evaluation of the candidate’s resume, job by job. Done properly, the achiever patter will quickly emerge. Here’s how to conduct this type of forensic assessment:

  1. Find out the actual dates of each major job, including months and years. Many people hide non-positive information in their resumes, so it’s important to first ferret this out.
  2. Get an explanation of any gaps in employment. If there are gaps, look for areas of personal development or special training the person initiated on his or her own. Achievers are constantly improving themselves, so look for this throughout the interview.
  3. Determine why the person changed jobs and why each new job was selected. Achievers tend to carefully select jobs based on some major overriding career goal. I’m not fond of asking candidates first what their long-term goals are, since this is often fanciful. Instead, I ask them about major career goals they’ve already achieved. If they have a pattern of achieving these goals, I then ask them about their long-term goals. Make sure the jobs selected logically support the major goal.
  4. Determine if the job change achieved the desired result. Non-achievers tend to move from job to job based on circumstances out of their control, or convenience, with a focus on tactical issues like compensation, location, security, and basic job content. Achievers tend to focus more on the strategic aspects of the job, including the potential for learning, impact, and growth.
  5. Within each company ask about major projects, accomplishments, and results achieved. Achievers demonstrate a pattern of increasing impact and consistent results. Quantify this with specific details, and look for trends and improving performance over time. Also find out how the person proactively expanded his or her role and influence. This is what achievers do, so look for it.
  6. Get comparisons of performance to the person’s peers. Compare the person’s specific performance to others in the group by asking about rankings, standings, differences between the top and average, and what the person would need to have done to be at the top level. Achievers are competitive and self-motivated to improve.
  7. Ask about any type of recognition received. Achievers receive lots of recognition, so look for this and be concerned if you don’t find much. Recognition can be any number of things like raises, bonuses, awards won, promotions, patents awarded, assignments to bigger projects, presentations at industry conferences, published whitepapers, huge blog followers, commendations of any type, scholarships, honorary societies, and leadership awards. The amount of recognition received, when it when was received, and what it was for are the best confirming evidence of this achiever pattern.
  8. Prepare a graphical work chart for each major position. Rather than use personality traits and personal affability to assess team skills, just track the growth of the teams the person has been assigned to over the past 5-10 years. If this has increased significantly to include expanded functional responsibility, broader cross-functional involvement, and more exposure to senior management inside and outside the company, you can be assured the person has strong team skills.

Achievers leave lots of evidence in their wakes, and if the wake is big enough, you can rest assured there’s an achiever out in front. Of course, you then need to determine if the person is a good fit for your current job opening and if the position provides the candidate a strong career move. You need both to ensure you can recruit and close the candidate on favorable terms, and beat back the competition. In my book, Hire With Your Head, I demonstrate in detail how to do this. Once you get the person on board, don’t be surprised that those with the achiever pattern also possess all of the traits described in your company’s competency model. As an old high school teacher demonstrated many years ago, you can often find something without looking for it.

This article originally was published in the Electronic Recruiters Exchange (www.ere.net). Check out ERE for more great recruiting information.

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