Hire the Best People with a Values-Based Interview Strategy

By: Ann Rhoades, author of Built on Values: Creating an Enviable Culture that Outperforms the Competition (Jossey-Bass, 2011.)

In your quest to attract top talent, are you hiring too many people who are just average? Why not let your best people help you select candidates who are a better fit for your corporate culture?

Getting your best people – your A Players – involved in the hiring process is a technique I call values interviewing, as part of a values-based hiring strategy.

I’ve seen this approach work at companies like JetBlue, where I was a founding executive, and at many other clients of my company, People Ink.  At Loma Linda University Medical Center, for example, after values-based hiring was put in place, turnover fell precipitously, from 18 percent per year to 1 percent in the ICU; the hospital’s “patient engagement score” (a measure of customer satisfaction) rose to 99 percent.

One of our clients reported an “Aha!” moment when interviewing a person with twenty years’ experience and a sterling resume. He said that previously he would have hired her on sight. But when he asked her to tell him about the specific steps she took to “increase revenue by 38 percent,” as her resume stated, she simply couldn’t do it.

Being able to articulate the behaviors associated with achievements is a key component of values hiring and one that a traditional interview strategy usually misses.

At Southwest, when I was Chief People Officer, we did a regression analysis of the behavior of our employees over a two-year period that proved that the most successful employees were the ones who could articulate past behaviors that matched with our values.

Even your job postings online will attract a better class of job applicant if your values and the desired behaviors associated with them are an explicit part of your recruiting message. Simply put, you’ll attract more people “like you.”

Improve your Interview Outcomes

“A typical interview,” writes Stephanie Clifford of Inc., “unstructured, rambling, unfocused — tells the interviewer almost nothing about candidates, other than how they seem during a couple of meetings in a conference room.”

Once a values-hiring process is implemented, interviewers will all ask the same open-ended behavior- or values-based questions of every applicant and can objectively compare their answers. If done correctly, values hiring takes much of the guesswork out of interviewing, allowing the interviewer to make educated decisions based on a person’s past behavior, rather than emotional or gut responses.

Yes, I am recommending that you change the way you hire people throughout your company. I guarantee that if you stick with this new hiring method for six months, you will wonder why you ever did it any other way.

A Better Hiring Process: Start with One Key Position

Step 1: The first step in values-based hiring is to apply it to a position that is vital to the customer’s perceptions of your company (in order words, it represents high value to your company) and is a position that’s difficult to keep filled.

Some examples: An airline might start with pilots. Some companies might start with the customer service agent position. At Loma Linda, they started with the “environmental care specialist,” known elsewhere as the custodial staff.

After all, these people are seen by everyone and trusted to create a neat, sterile environment; they interact with patients, come into contact with the public in the lobbies and halls and must have high standards of cleanliness.  Yet the turnover in this position was more than a third annually, making it a great place to start.

Step 2: Uncover the Job’s Key Attributes
Once you’ve chosen the position, the next step is to identify its key attributes. The values-hiring innovation: start by interviewing the best people who already hold this job in your company.  Ask these employees questions such as:

  • If you were looking to recruit a great person for your own position, what would you be looking for?
  • What skills help you do your job well?

Then, add relevant behavior-based questions like this one:

  • Tell me about a difficult situation that you handled successfully.

A list of ten to fifteen success characteristics will emerge fairly clearly; relevant supervisors or managers should be asked to rank them in order of importance and narrow the list to the most important five or six.

Although this validation can be time-consuming, the involvement of employees who actually do the job adds credibility to the process and cultivates a sense of ownership among the workforce.

At Loma Linda, for example, key employees agreed that the key attributes of an environmental care specialist were “customer focus,” “accuracy and attention to detail,” and “adaptability.”

These traits can help your team formulate meaningful interview questions that become part of your company’s interview guide. A values-based approach to hiring will also help you create a more structured and fair process for hiring great people.


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