The hiring process can be a nauseating rollercoaster of emotions—from the emotional high you feel when a top candidate enthusiastically accepts your job offer, to the sickening corkscrew of misery when:

  • Your top candidate fails their background check.
  • You then feel compelled to offer the job to the “backup” candidate you are not very enthusiastic about, but the search has dragged out for months and you are desperate.
  • You know, just a few weeks after your backup candidate starts work, that they will not work out and you will need to start all over (right after you get off the phone with the attorney).

Unless you’re stocking Dramamine in the office, maybe it’s time to step off the rollercoaster and try an approach to hiring that features fewer emotional thrills, but better results.

Where to Add 90 Minutes of Hard Thinking into Your Hiring Process

Many hiring problems are caused by unintentionally taking three mental shortcuts during key stages of the hiring process. With an extra 30 minutes of hard thinking at three different points during the hiring process, you can avoid that feeling of gut-twisting doom, and improve your chances of making a great hire.

Defining the Job

The first mental shortcut happens before the recruiting even begins: relying on an old job description. Existing jobs change so quickly that responsibilities often become hopelessly outdated within 3 years. And new positions are often created from a “discard pile” of other job descriptions (namely, the responsibilities that other team members want to give away).

Both approaches can result in a “kitchen-sink” kind of job description, where the job becomes a hodge-podge of mix and match “nice to have” skills without any regard for a) whether the job is attractive to a top performer, or b) whether anyone in the job market might have the skills to do it.

The extra thinking required is fairly straightforward. Do other jobs exist in the market like this one? Is this job attractive compared to similar jobs? Does it seem like a job real people would have the skills for? Are the skills required actually still relevant to the job?

If you want to hire great people, learn how to write job descriptions that attract top performers.

Selecting Resumes

Moving on to the resume selection phase of the hiring process. Hiring managers often try to look at the resume and try to tease out the candidate’s attributes. Managers hypothesize that a college degree indicates stick-to-it-iveness, or a degree in Communications means a candidate must have good communication skills, or that a stint at a prestigious institution or company means the person will be better qualified than someone with less prestigious experience. This is always a mistake.

The reality is that by focusing on these shortcuts, hiring managers inevitably rule out highly qualified, excellent candidates. If you want to interview great people, don’t rely on a resume to do more than it is capable of doing.

Conducting the Interview

Much of what happens in the interview is not terribly predictive of success on the job. The interview is a very different environment from any office—an interview often showcases one set of skills (talking about work) but cannot take the place of observing someone’s work.

Figure out your evaluation criteria ahead of time, and stick to them. Make sure they are unambiguous and based on the person’s competencies. Maintain uniformity between interviews, so each candidate can be evaluated equally at the end, because the key competencies were all evaluated sufficiently with each person. Don’t just wing it and try to figure out the evaluation criteria afterwards.

Be selective about which colleagues you invite to join you in the interview process. When handled properly, you can reduce your risk of making a hiring mistake by getting valuable input from a variety of perspectives. But when your hiring process is not organized properly, including more people only wastes everyone’s time.

One of the most common dangers in the hiring process is “groupthink” – where the opinion of one vocal (often powerful) interviewer dominates the narrative about a candidate. When the vocal participant expresses an opinion, everyone with a less firmly-held opinion usually agrees. (The research on groupthink is quite compelling.)

The extra thinking required here is straightforward: who should be a part of the interview sequence, and how? Whose opinions ultimately matter most in the decision? And what are the uniform criteria by which each candidate will be fairly evaluated?

If you want great people to accept your job offers, conduct a job interview where top performers actually want to take your job.

Rely on Your Own Judgement

One bonus thought. Don’t ask candidates to evaluate themselves and their own skills.

First, people are generally bad at this, thanks to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Not only are self-assessments unhelpful, relying on them will actively hurt your ability to make a fair evaluation of candidates, because someone with more expertise on a topic will typically rate their knowledge of that topic lower than someone with less expertise. The more you know, the more you realize just how much you still don’t know.

The other problem with self-assessments (and references) is that you get answers about how someone’s skills fit their last job, not your current job. Candidates don’t know what they don’t know about your current work environment. How could they possibly give you an accurate assessment of how they will fit into your office when they know almost nothing about it?


For great hiring, avoid these mental shortcuts during each of the key steps of the interview sequence. 90 minutes of hard thinking upfront will do wonders for your hiring results, and keep that sickening rollercoaster of emotions at bay. Leave the thrills in the theme parks where they belong.

This article originally appeared in the HR Examiner. You can read it here.