Have you hired an employee only to learn they don’t possess the skill set you thought they did?

As Barker Hutchinson grows, we’ve explored strategies to assess the quality of our candidates.  A challenge we faced in years past was how to objectively assess a candidate’s skill set during the hiring process rather than rely on our perception of how the candidate could develop into a skilled investigator.  There were times we got it right, but also times we were wrong; we lacked the ability to objectively assess skill, judgment and decision making in real-time.  This problem is certainly not unique to us, and the practical takeaways from our hiring strategy can likely be applied to a variety of industries, particularly the legal industry and other professional services.

To refine our hiring strategy, we worked with an organizational psychologist (who also happens to be my fabulous sister in-law @deborahpowell) at the University of Guelph to act as a case study during a masters level course in Recruitment and Selection.  We met with students to review our existing hiring process, discuss the benefits and pitfalls, and review what we wanted to accomplish.  The process that was ultimately recommended, and which we’ve since adopted, has led to a seismic shift in our hiring process and, I believe, has been a significant contributor to our company’s successful growth and development.  In a nutshell, it’s given us the tools to ‘put the right people in the right seat’.

Two-Phased Approach

Our hiring process now consists of both a structured interview and a “mock” investigative interview.  As you might expect, the structured interview consists of unstructured and structured questions aimed at learning more about a candidate’s employment history and relevant experience, critical thinking and strategic planning.  Our structured questions target specific competencies (Professional Judgment, Adaptability, Verbal Communication, Time Management and Interpersonal Skills) and can be evaluated by a scoring system.  These questions help reduce bias and ensure each candidate has a fair opportunity to perform well, regardless of which interviewer conducts their interview.

The second, and most important, phase of our interview process consists of a mock investigative interview.  Candidates are provided with a mock complaint submitted to a regulatory body that targets specific competencies.  Candidates are asked to prepare interview questions for the complainant, participate in a mock interview where they role play an interview of the complainant, and submit interview questions, contemporaneous interview notes and an interview summary.

The mock interview gives us the tools to assess a candidate’s skill, judgment and decision making in real-time, while the inclusion of interview questions, contemporaneous notes and an interview summary provide an opportunity to evaluate each candidate’s writing and attention to detail.  Each of these factors can be scored and objectively compared to other candidates.

Practical Takeaways:

Challenges assessing the best candidates are not new to us and there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ hiring strategy.  Each organization ultimately covets a unique skill set to help them ‘put the right people in the right seat’.

We’ve seen a tangible improvement in our ability to assess candidates since we’ve adopted these strategies.  Candidates we once would have thought to be a natural fit have, at times, not done well in a mock interview, and vice versa. The addition of performance metrics and a scoring system has also enhanced our objectivity and minimized subjective biases we all possess (whether we like to admit it or not).

I would encourage organizations, particularly those hiring investigators, to consider the addition of a practical component to your hiring strategy that can reproduce some of the unique skills you desire.

Please contact Greg Hutchinson if you are interested to learn more about our experience.