Today we are going to look at one of the most important parts of the talent acquisition process that is now being questioned for its effectiveness in identifying those candidates who can succeed: the interview and how we do it.

We will begin with a story about an interview process run amok. A large healthcare system conceived an interview process that defies common sense — I think you will be amazed. We move on to look at some new approaches to recruiting in the technology industry and we end with a look at healthcare recruiting and the difference that perspective and process can make.

But first I want to share the story of an accomplished healthcare strategist who was subjected to a grueling ordeal by a national not-for-profit system that was seeking a Chief Strategy Officer for one of their newly acquired regional systems.

The candidate told me she went through more than 20 interviews on three visits. “There were times they were telling me more about their frustrations with the corporate office than asking me for my take on various critical issues. One board member who was on the interview committee told me the merger had been a disaster. I felt like I learned more about them than they did about me.”

While transparency is appropriate, frustration and sarcasm by the interview team were not helpful, the candidate observed. “I am betting the market President did not have a clue what was going on in the search process.”

When the interview process was finally said and done, the candidate said she was almost hoping they did not make her an offer. “I would have turned it down,” she confided.

Recruiters frequently complain about candidates who show up unprepared, but guess what? More often than not clients are equally unprepared, say search consultants that I have interviewed.

Look, the interview process like recruiting, has really not changed that much over the years even when we read the disturbing statistics that as many as 46 percent of all new hires are fired, are forced out, or quit within the first 18 months. Millions of dollars are wasted when a negative outcome occurs.

In healthcare, as transformation of the business model continues and with the uncertainties caused by a stumbling Congress to develop, as of this date, a realistic plan for healthcare reform — something more than cutting Medicaid and piddling on the margins with reimbursement — healthcare providers can ill afford a talent acquisition system that produces such mixed results.

Turnover is expensive. Unfortunately few hospitals report this cost on their monthly financial statements, and senior leaders are rarely held accountable for this drain on the bottom line

If you survey the average healthcare employment process you quickly learn how few health systems, hospitals or other providers invest any money in onboarding even though studies show that in other industries, effective onboarding is an important tool in reducing turnover, especially with the aforementioned 40 to 46 turnover rate in the first 18 months. Most healthcare organizations are still firmly rooted in an approach, the core of which is 40 or 50 years old.

As the use of data and technology permeates recruiting, every aspect of interviewing is undergoing close examination and change, so says Dr. John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University. He argues we need to begin paying more attention to these innovations because some of the new developments are, in Dr. Sullivan’s words, both exciting and powerful.

The problem is that the healthcare industry tends to lag behind other industrial sectors in the use of this technology by years. The most common measure is 10 years. Computer software designers frequently talk about how far behind even the most up to date technology is. EPIC, considered the Cadillac of electronic health record systems, is frequently used as a cogent example of that great technology gap.

Most hospitals, for example, still rely on the informal and unscripted, or unplanned, interviews. Google research found that unstructured interviews used by most organizations simply do not predict on-the-job performance, Prof. Sullivan said.

Google’s finding, short and simple: Interviews are a terrible predictor of performance.

To quote former ABC Sports play-by-play legend Keith Jackson: Whoa Nelly! 

That finding from Google suggests — no, it shouts out — that the interview segment of most organizations talent acquisition processes are fatally flawed.

Lazlo Block, former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google and Author of “Work Rules!” said this:

“Many managers, recruiters and HR staffers think they have a special ability to sniff out talent. They’re wrong. It is a complete random mess. We found a zero relationship.”

More from Prof. Sullivan: “We now have additional documentation revealing that the traditional approach has many serious flaws that can significantly hurt your hiring results.”

O u c h! That slams right into my wheelhouse. I am excited by change but let me be honest, I am not a believer that human selection is a science that can be quantified and hiring decisions can be reached based algorithm guidance. But more on that in a minute.

One of the obvious flaws, Prof. Sullivan argues, is the “death by interview,” the double digit number of interviews. His research, corroborated by Google’s own review, reveals that excessive interviewing ruins the candidate’s experience, and in a highly competitive job market, alienating otherwise highly qualified candidates may not be the coolest strategy. Google’s research suggests that beyond four interviews, very little value is added.

Even though as a traditionalist I am a little squeamish with these broadside criticisms of an approach that has served my firm very well over the past 2o years, I must confess that I take great delight in learning that the “brainteaser questions” made popular by Microsoft also provide no predictive value.

Now here is where other industries, technology in particular, veer away from healthcare in the evolution of interviewing.

The internet seems to have had a greater effect on those seeking jobs in other industries than in healthcare. Those candidates seem to be more adept in using the Internet to prepare for the questions they will most likely to be asked. They seem to know what many healthcare candidates do not, that there are hundreds of sites that provide lists of the most commonly asked interview questions. In healthcare, we still struggle with candidates who show up woefully unprepared.

While Prof Sullivan and others argue for an approach that I call a data-based interview process that relies on data and predictive algorithms, over what he describes as an intuitive or gut-driven selection process, I am not so sure that his approach is the best way forward when it comes to recruiting senior leaders. Am I arguing that the process we use now is perfect? Gosh no. The turnover rate — which is to say the recruiting failure rate — at the senior leadership remains appallingly high and extraordinarily expensive.

From my perspective, working in an industry that I freely admit lags behind in terms of technology and innovation, I believe the answer to improving executive recruiting — from department directors to the C-suite, is perspective and process.

Here is the perspective many search firms use: The overwhelming majority of firms and agencies are essentially order takers. They collect the client’s specifications for the position — a job order — and then work to fill that request. Most search firms do not drill down and develop a client’s cultural profile which is a prominent reason new executives fail — they could not or did not adapt to the new culture. Nor do the firms list the performance deliverables — the outline for how the successful candidate will be held accountable, another cause of a new executive’s failure. The recruiters develop a nice 12 to 16 page job summary and then go into the market to find what the client is asking for. Some may advise the client about ideal characteristics but most search partners turn over the job order to an associate who will do most of the work.

Instead of the job order approach, I think the correct perspective is simply this: find a candidate that will ensure that the client will be more successful and then guarantee the tenure and the quantifiable performance of the recommended candidates. In other words, do your homework, pay attention to the details and then be willing to stand behind your work.

Most search firms offer a one-year placement guarantee. At the C-suite that is in effect no guarantee at all if you believe the aforementioned profile that failure usually occurs in the 18th to 20th month. If the firm is truly committed to the client’s success, they need to put their money where they say their reputation is.

Now, if you are a candidate, the longer the guarantee should be somewhat comforting. It can provide assurance that the recruiter has done his or her homework and is diligent in their screening process but regrettably

the list of firms that take that approach is woefully small.

Now, let’s look at the second component: the search process.

First, let me say that the national not-for-profit health system that believed putting a candidate through 20 separate interviews was an acceptable standard, one that would help them make the right choice, is beyond misguided, which might be one reason they are hemorrhaging financially and there are some analysts who question whether they will survive in their current form.

In recruiting, thoroughness is a virtue. Excess is a vice.

My definition of executive recruiting, one that I coined in the mid-1990s, is that it is akin to getting married after four or five dates. As I have said before, none of us — ok, only a few of us — would risk making a lifetime commitment with such an abbreviated courtship. But that is exactly what happens when an organization hires a new executive from outside the company.

So why are some recruiters so successful and others not so much? Again, I believe it is perspective and process. The first is a values-based proposition and the latter is a focus on the details.

It gets down to having a deep understanding of the client’s needs, the challenges that a new executive will face, and defining how they will be held accountable. That means, paying attention to the details.

It also means developing a candidate screening process that is specific to the client’s position and reflects their needs.

Here is where what I do veers sharply away from the Googles and Microsofts of this world. I am not hiring 50, 100, 0r more executives a year. To handle that volume, large corporations rely on Applicant Tracking Systems and sophisticated algorithms to extract human judgment from the resume screening process. They use interviews designed to extract quantifiable data and their referencing process is the same. Many of the interviews may be done through Skype or other videoconferencing technology.

I focus on the details but I am also building a relationship with the candidate, constantly trying to gain insights that will help me assess how they will make decisions, how they will react when pressured, or how they will inspire their team.

I look for examples of how they performed in the past. I ask for quantifiable examples of past successes, and I pose hypothetical questions based on situations crafted from information provided by the client during our in-depth due diligence site visit.

We also obtain a behavior and values profile of our client — the board, the senior leadership team and/or direct reports, depending on the reporting relationship — and compare that against the profiles of the candidates. It is not a data-driven, pass or fail approach to candidate selection, but the DISC profile that we have been using for nearly 20 years is an invaluable tool. It is also helpful with the onboarding program and team building workshop that are integral to our search process.

Now lets talk about the use of video technology to expedite the search process. I like it, but I am loathe to make decisions on recommending candidates without a more in-depth structured conversation. For nearly 20 years I have used a healthcare adaptation of Topgrading, Dr. Brad Smart’s highly successful behavior and values chronological interviewing process that he developed while consulting with Jack Welch at GE when Mr. Welch was building his acclaimed leadership team.

Although I am more circumspect about immediately dumping something that has been so successful for us over the years for the next new glittery technological approach, I will be the first to admit that even boutique firms, like the Googles of the world, must change, and our screening process must evolve. And that is what we are doing.

And so must the candidates. They must adapt to the new normal in the job search market.

They must be helpful with a resume that clearly emphasizes their value, not just a litany of past experiences, and they must come prepared to sell themselves — their value and how they can help employer meet the employer’s needs.

Remember, join us for our blog posting on Thursday and our Ask the Expert career management videos that appear each Saturday on John Self TV on YouTube.

As we end, remember, leadership is based on trust. Without truth, trust is not possible and when that happens, leaders fail.

Thanks for listening. I am John Self.