Uncle Ted and the Rock Star Reply

“No, I just don’t think he is a fit for the position.  I just don’t see it.  There is just something that makes me uneasy about him.”

This comment was made by an interviewer during the first group debriefing I held with a new client’s interview team a couple of years ago after they’d spent an afternoon with a prospective employee.  The company had been growing aggressively, making many hires, but the employee attrition rate was above what most people would consider the industry norm at the time.   Their interview debriefing process was broken.

I pressed the interviewer to be more specific.  He fidgeted a bit and finally blurted out, “I guess it’s just that he reminds me of my Uncle Ted. I don’t know.  I don’t care for Ted all that much.”

Of course there was some laughter and banter about Uncle Ted among the interview team, but I used the response to get more detail from the interviewer.  I asked what was it that reminded him of his Uncle, why was that negative, what specifically did the candidate say or do that brought out that sort of feeling and did that impression overshadow the other aspects of the interview? The conclusion was that Uncle Ted was patronizing towards people and the candidate demonstrated a bit of that in his conversation and responses.  This was actually valid and interesting feedback.  It generated additional discussion about the candidate’s verbal style and how that might impact the team.

“She’s a Rock Star!  We should hire her before she leaves!”

Another new client, another new hiring team, but the same subjective type of feedback regarding a candidate.  I’ve actually heard this response many times over the years.  It is a genuine reply from an interviewer and is fine if it is part of an overall critique.  I just put it under the category of “positive overall impression.” But in this instance, it was the only feedback from the interviewer.  I suggest that an interviewer should never make a hire recommendation on the basis of whether they simply like the person or not.

What’s a recruiter to do to help the client in these types of situations?  The short answer is to establish ground rules for debriefings before the candidate is interviewed.   In a perfect world, all interviewers would attend a training session by the recruiter on how to interview effectively and how to make smart hiring recommendations.  Absent that, or when starting cold with a company that already has an interview pipeline in place, a recruiter can write out the Debrief Rules and send them to the interviewer along with the candidate’s resume and/or interview schedule.  These rules don’t need to be elaborate. The goal is to get all the interviewers focused ahead of time on what to look for and what they will be expected to discuss.  This will go a long way towards making the feedback less subjective and more objective.  It also levels the playing field for candidates and helps ensure that they are being evaluated along the same criteria as others pursuing the same job opening.

Incidentally, the “Rock Star” and “Uncle Ted” ultimately turned down the offers made to them. The why of that is a story for another day.

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