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Given enough chances, every hiring manager will eventually make a bad hire — it’s as inevitable as death and taxes. And just as fun.
Some managers will experience this early on, while others may go years before their first major hiring mistake. However, if you hire enough people, eventually you will pick someone who does not work out.
To boost the chances of preventing that hiring mistake, there’s one easy tactic everyone should take in an interview: Stop asking candidates to evaluate their own abilities.
Here’s why. Under-skilled candidates consistently overrate their abilities, and more skilled candidates consistently underrate their abilities. Usually the poorest performers are the least aware of their ownweaknesses. The highly skilled person will typically rate themselves lower on the scale than the less-skilled person. It may sound bizarre, but once you look for it, you’ll see it everywhere.
Top performers set higher standards for their own performance, so they judge themselves more harshly than low performers. The more candidates know about MS Excel, the more they realize how much they do not know about the program. Consequently, the stronger people will typically underrate their expertise on self-evaluations.
Meanwhile, someone with a cursory understanding of MS Excel may rate themselves far higher than an expert. And it’s often not a deliberate deception — they just don’t know how deep the rabbit hole goes. Maybe they only used MS Excel for simple data entry and never explored the rest of the features. They believe they “get” it, but they don’t actually have any grasp on how 99 percent of the software works, because they never had to explore it like an expert would.
If you have ever made a bad hire, think back to the interview. In some way, you asked them to assess their own ability to do the job. They likely exuded confidence in their abilities, and you hired them based on that factor. And you are not alone — most job interviews are long on showmanship and short on proof of ability to do the job. Because humans are confidence addicts, we consistently prefer confidence over hesitancy and nuance. But confidence and certainty do not make you right, in making that hire.
If you have asked people to rate themselves, and then believed what you heard, you’ve developed an almost foolproof way to hire the wrong person. You will hire the most confident but not the most competent people.
So instead of asking people to rate their abilities, ask them specific questions about what they have done. Delve into the details of their expertise, and determine their ability to do the job. ie. “Tell me what type of projects you’ve worked on in MS Excel and what functions you used to complete them.”
You know your job, you understand the work to be done. The people you are interviewing lack that context, so their opinion of their ability to do this job is just about irrelevant.