Posted June 20, 2022 by Mark Perna
The best hires are people who also exhibit the right behaviors that fit your culture. Mark’s article, “Why Employers Need To Look Beyond Skills To Land The Perfect Employee,” published at Forbes.com on June 15, 2022.
Millions of people are quitting their jobs every month. A recent study conducted by the MIT Sloan School of Business found that the primary reason people are leaving is because of what they perceive as a toxic work culture. As a result, it is more important than ever for employers to foster the kind of culture that inspires people to come to work each day—and like it.
But that dynamic has also created significant challenges for HR professionals and recruiters in backfilling their open positions. Even if they can find qualified candidates to interview, what should they prioritize and why? How can you determine whether someone will be a cultural fit within the organization or not?
Scott Nostaja, head of organizational effectiveness at Segal, a leading benefits and HR consulting firm, says it’s time for employers to modify their interviewing tactics to ensure they are building highly engaged and, most importantly, happy, teams.
He says companies should not rely on a candidate’s experience alone. They should also analyze behavioral cues to see how they would react in certain situations so that team morale remains high.
“At the end of the day, one bad actor can drive multiple employees out the door,” says Nostaja, “something most companies cannot afford right now.”
We all know how hard it can be to find qualified candidates, especially if you’re trying to fill a job that requires highly specialized skills. We’ve seen the so-called skills gap widening for years.
Of course, every job has a level of technical skill requirements. It would be unreasonable, for instance, to expect an organization to fill a position for an electrical engineer with a person who has no experience, education or knowledge of electrical engineering.
But Nostaja argues that the changing dynamics in the workforce signal that it’s time to shift the focus from finding people with the right skills to finding people who also exhibit the right behaviors that fit your culture.
“When you hire for behavior, you focus on choosing employees that will keep company morale high,” he says. “Plus, it’s easier to train people for skills than to change negative behaviors developed over the length of their career.”
That’s especially true when you’re hiring new leaders, many of whom carry legacy behavior—which can be good or bad. Unfortunately, these behaviors are incredibly difficult to break.
The challenge is that a leader’s behavior sets the tone for an organization’s culture. “When a leader is more focused on the bottom line and driving results rather than creating engaged, productive and high-performing teams, it makes employees look for new roles outside the organization,” says Nostaja. “It may be that the leader lacks self-awareness and thinks ‘We’re producing great bottom-line results, so I’m clearly doing my job well.’ This type of thinking makes it extremely challenging to alter behaviors.”
Most people are taught to conduct interviews in a similar fashion. As a result, candidates have become experts at answering questions like, “What are your greatest strengths?” or “Do you write well?”
But, by shifting to behavioral-based interviewing techniques, interviewers can assess and understand how a candidate has behaved in prior situations through tangible examples.
“It’s much more telling to gain candidates’ perspectives on questions like, ‘Tell me about a time when you had to resolve an employee conflict, what were the circumstances, what did you do to resolve the conflict and what were the outcomes?’” says Nostaja. “Candidates who struggle with these types of questions or provide awkward responses offer a clue into their character and behaviors.”
Nostaja also suggests that interviewers let candidates know about what behaviors and values the company is looking to hire. “If the company values collaboration, candidness, and teamwork, in addition to the skill and experiences required for the job,” he says, “organizations should share that so the candidate can speak to those strengths and characteristics.”
Rather than see behavioral-based questions as a threat, candidates should lean into them by not only answering the questions, but also providing the interviewer with a broad and complete picture of who they are and how they have behaved in prior roles.
“Otherwise, they will be doing themselves a disservice in the interview process by not showcasing their behavioral intelligence to its full potential,” says Nostaja.
With an exceedingly tight labor market, especially when it comes to hard-to-find skills, it might be tempting for some employers to overlook behavioral red flags in their hiring process. But every decision should be viewed through the lens of the potential cultural damage that could result.
“Companies need to be obsessed with retaining talent and keeping a solid and welcoming workplace culture,” says Nostaja. “There are major risks with hiring someone who has behavioral red flags.”
He points to an example where one of his clients hired a C-level executive with more than 20 years of experience in the financial services industry. She checked all the traditional boxes, as she had great experience and technical knowledge. But, just three months into the job, she had developed a reputation as a bully, which caused six of her direct reports to look for work elsewhere.
The company then tried to coach her—but the executive refused to change her behavior. That forced the company to make the tough decision of letting her go less than six months after they had hired her.
“The decision had nothing to do with the results she was producing and had everything to do with how she made her direct reports feel,” says Nostaja.
Regardless of how tight the labor market has become—or maybe because of it—the stakes involved with bringing on new employees have never been higher. It’s a critical time for employers to rethink what they’re looking for in candidates and begin to prioritize behaviors as much as skills.