Staff Recruitment – Beyond the Resume

If you’ve never hired someone who didn’t work out, or never had vacancies when summer started, then don’t bother reading this. Still reading? Then you already know that finding enough staff, and more importantly, finding the right staff, is the most important task you’ll accomplish all year.

We’d all like to think we have a gut instinct on picking the right people, yet we all get fooled.

Here’s the most ironic part… Not only do we get fooled by hiring the wrong people, but just as often we say “no” to people that we unknowingly have a prejudice against — people who aren’t quick on their feet to answer our interview questions, people who don’t take the time to fill out our long (long, long) written applications, people that don’t look or dress like our ideal, and so forth…

We used to say that written applications were easy to fake, so we put more value in references. Then lawyers started telling people not to give job references for fear of being held liable for negative comments. So what’s that leave us with, just our gut instinct at an in-person interview?

A government study discovered that interviews are only seven percent more accurate than flipping a coin. And what if you can only talk to them on the phone, as we become more dependent on Internet applicants?

Interview Psychology

Twenty years ago I discovered the interviewing techniques developed by industrial psychologist, Dr. Paul Green. They were first popularized in a series of training videos appropriately called, “More Than a Gut Feeling.” They are still available today from dozens of sources (just Google the title).

His technique of “Performance Based Interviewing” is widely used by the HR departments of major corporations, but little know by the rest of us.

Here’s the core concept: “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” Most of your interviews are made up of a series of hypothetical questions that all start with, “What would you do if…” and end with things like, “have a homesick camper, need to plan an activity, want to teach a skill,” etc., etc. But few of the answers we get have anything to do with what the candidate will actually do, especially if they’ve never held this type of job before.

So here comes the beauty of the technique: Ask the candidate, “Can you give me an example of an accomplishment you’re proud of? It could be something from school, from a job, or someplace you’ve volunteered.” Then give them a chance to think about it.

They may answer, “Well, I was on the prom committee at school, and that came out pretty good.” Ask, “That sounds fascinating; can you tell me more about what you did?”

Three things begin happening here. First, the candidate is amazed because you’re the first interviewer that seems interested in them instead of the answers they give to your questions. Second, you as the interviewer stay more interested in the process because you’re talking about real people and their real experiences. Third, the candidate will become engrossed in describing the details of their past experiences.

Not hypothetical answers, but a picture of how they actually perform in a variety of circumstances.

It may take a few tries before you’ll find an accomplishment you can really dig into. But when you find it, stay with it by asking follow-up questions that let the candidate describe their roles, their attitudes, and their performance. You’ll get an amazingly accurate picture of how they are likely to act at your camp, and you can decide if that fits with your camp job.

And that’s where I’ve found a great update to the process. In his book, Hire With Your Head: Using POWER Hiring to Build Great Teams, author, consultant and head-hunter Lou Adler lays out a five-point plan for finding, selecting, and closing the deal for the best staff. I’d recommend it to anyone that conducts interviews for any type of job.

Adler points out that most of us have an idea of what type of person we want to hire, but it’s usually not based on any analysis of what performance factors that person needs to be able to accomplish. “Outgoing and likes kids” is pretty vague.

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