Selecting the Very Best Available Talent: Pattern Interviewing

Don't get 'caught' in your usual way of interviewing

Don’t get ‘caught’ in your usual way of interviewing

My nephew Jonathon, is a landscape gardener. He loves designing gardens, waterfalls, rockeries, Japanese meditation spaces and introducing all sorts of outdoor paraphernalia. I recently asked him: What % of your income comes from designing gardens and what % comes from cutting grass? The question was a tad unfair, because I already knew the answer: grass keeps growing all the time whereas garden design tends to be a one-off.

Management Consulting: Being a management consultant is a bit like being a landscape gardener. Yes, I like complex jobs. Strategic planning is exciting in a business which is under threat. Figuring out how to re-energise staff when share options are underwater, is complex but rewarding.   But, most of the time we get asked to support on simpler issues. Like making good selection decisions. It’s the consulting equivalent of ‘cutting the grass’. Perhaps not overly glamorous or exciting, but it still needs to be done well.

Great Talent: Selecting key personnel is a critical skill in all organisations. In small organisations it’s even more important — given the disproportionate influence each new hire has on the performance of the company. Now, the subjectivity of interviews is well documented and we’ve all experienced this. While many people feel that they are ‘good judges of character’ — hiring is notoriously subjective. Candidates who have well developed people skills (“Good morning Mr Hawes. I’m delighted to meet you in person”) are already half way towards signing that contract. While it’s never possible to guarantee ‘watertight’ decisions, pattern interviews help you to avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls.

Pattern Interviewing: This technique, which goes under many different titles, helps to reduce subjectivity. It’s based on the following really simple idea: What someone has achieved in the past is the best predictor of future performance. Here’s how it works…

Step 1: Decide job requirements in advance of interview.

What are the essential criteria for this job? Example: Technical training or specific work experience which the person needs have in order to complete the role.

Step 2: List questions/areas for probing

Decide how you intend to interrogate this at the interview.Ask candidates about ‘what they did’ (not ‘what they think’). Unless you are hiring ‘creative writers’ what people think often tells you very little about what they are able to do. The suggestion that you ask questions like: ”What would you be doing even if you weren’t getting paid” and “What always stays at the bottom of your in-tray” superficially seem clever. But they allow candidates to spoof like crazy. And, you don’t want to be hiring spoofers.

Step 3: Complete a candidate evaluation directly after each interview.

Don’t discuss your ‘notes’ with the other interviewers until you have completed this step. Then pool your thinking.

Sometimes the very best ideas are simple. Pattern Interviewing is one such idea. But, here’s the rub. I’m fond of the line that 2+2 = 4. The math is simple. It’s also correct.Simple ≠ simplistic. Spend 5% more time in preparing for that interview rather than 75% of time figuring out how to unravel a mis-step while you are sitting in the reception area of Arthur Cox on a dismissal mission.


PS: Lighter Moments: A survey of HR executives at 200 of the Fortune 1,000 companies provided the following unbelievable (but true) examples of job applicant behavior.

  1. “The reason the candidate was taking so long to respond to a question became apparent when he began to snore”.

”When I asked the candidate to give a good example of the organizational skills she was boasting about, she said she was proud of her ability to pack her suitcase ‘real neat’ for vacations”
”Why did you go to college?” His reply: “To party and socialize.”

  4. “The applicant had arranged for a pizza to be delivered to my office during a lunch-hour interview. I asked him not to eat it until later”.

”The interview had gone well, until he told me that he and his friends wore my company’s clothing whenever they could. I had to tell him that we manufactured office products, not sportswear.”

  6. “On the phone, I had asked the candidate to bring his CV and a couple of references. He arrived with the resume and two people who knew him well.”

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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