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Beyond the Interview

by Lucia Patalano
Local businesses are employing new hiring practices that go a step further than the traditional interview; they want to get inside the mind of a job applicant.

Consider this: An employer is looking at two equally qualified, stellar candidates to fill a C-level position. In order to help choose the standout that will best serve the company, the employer uses a personality assessment test. So who comes out on top?


That’s a scenario given by Lauri Plante. As the vice president and South Jersey regional leader for Marlton-based Career Concepts, a human resource consulting firm, she sees firsthand how these assessments can make or break a candidate.

It was one of Career Concepts’ client companies that used the insightful test, which can reveal important value-based findings the company would not have caught in a traditional interview. “He (the client) called us back two weeks later to say, ‘Thank you. I hired neither of them,’” recalls Plante. “As a result of the assessment, it showed blind spots for the candidates that were unacceptable for the role.”

These results are becoming increasingly common as companies diverge from the norm and incorporate modern hiring practices to secure top talent. This includes everything from testing and simulation exercises to non-traditional interview formats, involving casual settings or sourcing techniques using social media. The results are often lower employee turnover and higher productivity.

As Plante’s client scenario suggests, testing and simulation are highly effective hiring tools. “An assessment instrument will never tell you, ‘You should hire XYZ candidate because of this or not,’” explains Plante, “but it should give you a sense of, ‘All right, here’s what I need to probe for. Here’s what I need to better understand.’”

A test may also reveal a candidate has a strong preference for working independently, while the organization has a strong team-based culture. Or, the individual prefers a more structured work environment, yet the firm is an entrepreneurial start-up. “It’s not only skill set. You have to make sure the person is going to fit culturally,” agrees Christine Schaefer, owner of CEM HR Strategies in Maple Shade. “I’ve seen it time and time again. We hire somebody with great skills and then they don’t work out and we wonder why. It’s because the personality doesn’t fit the culture.”

Generally computer-based and administered by an outside vendor, assessment tests consist of a series of questions that capture thinking, working and relating styles as they pertain to things such as assertiveness, tolerance, self-control and sociability, among others. A report is generated which gives the interviewer recommendations as to where to probe further during the interview. And while testing can be pricey, Plante suggests the added cost could save the company money and time down the road.

At Moorestown-based home health care provider Bayada Nurses, various methods are used to ensure new employees will fit well with the steadfast commitment to the “Bayada Way,” the companywide philosophy based on excellence, reliability and compassion.

Bayada requires all candidates for exempt, office-based roles to take the popular Profile XT assessment, which measures communication style and how well the individual fits a specific job.

Recently, in an attempt to lower its turnover with the demanding clinical manager role, the company began to pilot a concept called “targeted interviewing.” With targeted interviewing, a company develops a detailed profile of a position and then targets questions using keywords such as independent judgment and compassion for patients. Then, multiple interviewers develop very specific behavioral interviewing questions centered on these key points, with each interviewer providing a rating.

“It is really about your style and how you would fit in with a particular group,” explains Bayada’s Chief People Officer Dolores Calicchio. “We feel that by using that testing, the person would be a better fit in the group that they’re working in. And if they’re a better fit in the group that they’re working in, they tend to stay in the job; they tend to stay with the company.”

Also very helpful is simulation testing, which gauges specific job-related abilities and skills. At Cherry Hill-based TD Bank, simulation testing is used extensively for customer service positions in the contact center. Candidates are placed in a simulated call center and field phone calls, enter customer information into the system, cross-sell products and update records. “It’s really a great way to put people in a simulated situation so that they can get a feel for the job and we can get a feel for how they would actually do in the job,” explains Romy Riddick, TD Bank’s senior vice president and head of talent management.

At Bayada, where all nurses and aides must be certified, every office is equipped with a skills lab where aspiring employees must demonstrate pertinent nursing skills, such as operating a trach vent or diagnosing respiratory changes in infants using life-like dolls in distress. “They have to demonstrate certain skills so that we feel confident when they go into the home that they’ll be able to care for the client,” notes Calicchio. “If they can’t demonstrate that certification, then they’re not hired.”

In addition to testing, many companies are also now implementing non-traditional interview formats to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Video interviewing, for example, using new technologies such as Skype, is an increasingly popular method. TD Bank utilizes video technology to bridge the distance gap with faraway candidates “so that we can connect with them and explore expectations early in the process without incurring a huge cost,” notes Riddick.

Also increasingly common and very acceptable, experts agree, are casual interviews such as at a restaurant or coffee house. As companies strive to make the experience more “customer-focused” and convenient, casual interviews in a relaxed setting, anywhere from Panera Bread to Starbucks, help organizations see a candidate in a different light and predict work behavior through subtleties, such as how the person interacts with the waitstaff. “They’re trying to envision you maybe in front of a customer or how you would be with team members,” Plante says. “How you treat the waitstaff is an indication of how you would treat your team.”

Perhaps one of the most significant changes in today’s recruitment process is the proliferation of social media tools as a sourcing and networking platform. Gone are the days when hiring managers sat back and waited to hear from candidates.

Experts stress that companies need to utilize social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to actively recruit top people. In the “war for talent,” as Riddick puts it, companies such as TD Bank are being proactive in seeking out the best candidates. “Our recruiters actually source by using social media platforms,” Riddick says. “It’s just a great way to kind of penetrate the market and find applicants that may not otherwise actually see your job posting. You can go find applicants as opposed to them coming to you.”

As a sourcing tool, Plante has seen a rise in social media use even in the past six months alone where “somebody will put a message out on LinkedIn to their contacts saying, “I am looking for XYZ. Please send any resumes to me.”

With LinkedIn, recruiters can go directly to a candidate’s profile, find mutual contacts, and then reach out to one of them to ask for a personal introduction or to informally inquire about that individual’s background.

At The Rosen Group, a Voorhees-based firm that specializes in contract and direct-hire placement of human resource professionals, President Scott Rosen sees many clients using social media to evaluate candidates. “I had one client who as soon as I presented a candidate to them, they went immediately to their LinkedIn profile and they immediately came back and said, ‘I know this person who was on so and so’s LinkedIn profile and they gave a recommendation so I like this person,’” he says. “Social media is being widely used.”

Relying on References
While many practices within the hiring process have changed in recent years, one thing remains the same whether it’s a temporary, temp-to-hire or direct-hire candidate—the importance of checking references.

“You have an obligation as an employer to check as much as you can, as is feasible, the background of the folks coming in to work with your other employees,” explains Joe Giamboi, president of Audubon-based Forge Employment Resources, which specializes in employment background screening.

While some companies do their own background screening, many seek the expertise of a professional screening firm. In either case, companies continue to call references to check the standards like employment history, education and licenses.

With the rise of the Internet and social media, companies have easier access to mutual colleagues and acquaintances, and hiring managers are using these portals to check out unlisted contacts. “Social media is definitely being used to evaluate and consider a candidate,” notes Scott Rosen, president of Voorhees-based staffing firm The Rosen Group. “If you know somebody who knows somebody, there are conversations that take place. People use word of mouth to vet other people. It’s reality.”

Experts agree it’s now common for a firm to scour information readily available on the Internet.

At Moorestown-based Bayada Nurses, reference checking is extremely important since they are a home health agency. “We will go into the social media sites and see what comes up,” notes Bayada Chief People Officer Dolores Calicchio. “We have to be very careful with the people that we put in people’s homes. Bayada is a very trusted name, and our business depends on it. If we see things on there that wouldn’t be appropriate for our company, we would not hire them.”

Regardless of how a reference is obtained, experts say the key question you ultimately want to ask is simple: Would you rehire this person?

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 1, Issue 11 (November, 2011).
For more info on South Jersey Biz, click here.
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 1, Issue 11 (November, 2011).
For more info on South Jersey Biz, click here.
To subscribe to South Jersey Biz, click here.
To advertise in South Jersey Biz, click here.