An Inside Look at HireArt Screening

Four Steps to Screening Job Candidates Like a Boss

Making the right hires may be the most important thing a company does. We all know the power of a great employee. A person whose personality is the right fit for your work culture and who has the skills to tackle everything you need them to do can turbocharge your productivity and make your workplace a better place to be. But looking for that person in a sea of resumes is like looking for a cube in two dimensional space.

Companies like McKinsey and Google are able to find top talent by throwing resources at the problem – hiring top-notch in house recruiters to conduct time consuming and intensive interviews.

At HireArt, we’ve developed a system that allows companies of all sizes to hire in a smart, efficient way.  Here’s a look inside what’s worked for us.


1. Choose the right medium

Employers have a whole battery of options for ways to get information about a candidate; most come with certain trade-offs. Resumes are a quick and easy way to screen, but are very poor predictors of how someone will do on the job. Phone or in-person interviews allow for rich interaction with candidates, but require a significant time investment from the employer. Group interviews are an efficient way to screen many candidates but are challenging to design.  Multiple-choice and personality tests can introduce a useful measure of objectivity but give little sense of the actual person you might end up working with.

At HireArt, we use a five-question, open-ended interview that consists of both written questions and recorded videos. This combination allows us to get a nice picture of a candidate’s skills and personality. We employ human graders to review the interviews and use their subjective judgment to do the tricky work of evaluating soft skills, but hold them to rigorous and clear standards with specialized grading rubrics. We love video interviews because the interviews take no effort or time from employers to administer, and can be easily shared or rewatched within an organization for thoughtful comparison.


2. Identify Desired Traits

A thoughtful interviewer will think hard about what an employee does every day and what traits make them successful (or unsuccessful).  (This isn’t easy, by the way!  But managers often have a sense for what traits to look for, which is a great starting point.)

If we were looking for a customer service candidate, for example, we might identify the following as some desirable traits:

  • Correctly diagnoses a customer’s problem
  • Demonstrates empathy
  • Uses positive language
  • Takes ownership of the problem
  • Is persuasive
  • Understands the question

These traits might be grouped into the following categories:

  • Customer Service
    • Diagnoses the problem
    • Uses positive language
    • Takes ownership of the problem
    • Persuasive
  • Communication
    • Empathetic
    • Understands the question

Full HireArt interviews usually measure 20-30 traits across six categories.


3. Ask the Right Questions

Once we know what qualities we’re looking for in a candidate, it’s time to think of questions that will let you see which candidates have those qualities.

Traditional job interviews contain a lot of very open ended questions, such as “what is your greatest strength and weakness?” or “How do you handle pressure on the job?” These let the interviewer generally get to know a candidate, but don’t offer much of a picture of how an interviewee would actually perform on the job.

At HireArt, we’re big believers in work-sample questions, which prompt candidates to replicate the type of work they would do on the job. This is easiest to do with hard skills – tech companies hiring developers will almost always evaluate candidates with coding exercises. But it can be done even with soft skills. McKinsey and other consulting firms use a role play interview, with the candidate in the role of the consultant and the interviewer providing direction and data.  In this simulation of a consultant/client interaction, the interviewer can clearly see whether the candidate has the specific traits and abilities the company is looking for.

At HireArt, we’ve developed sets of questions that replicate the work employees do in soft-skills fields like customer service, sales, marketing, and operations. We think about the entire question set to make sure that we are systematically screening for every single one of our desired traits.

To continue with the customer service example, a sample question might look like this:

  1. You receive an angry email from a customer who thinks your company has failed to fulfill his request but who accidentally submitted a request for the wrong day. How do you respond?

Tests for:

  • Identifies the problem
  • Empathetic
  • Uses positive language
  • Takes ownership of the problem
  • Persuasive
  1. Given the chat transcript of an in-progress customer interaction, summarize the conversation, discussing what you know about the person and the situation and what you would do next.

Tests for:

  • Speaks clearly and precisely
  • Identifies the problem
  • Empathetic
  • Detail-oriented
  1. Your manager presents you with a crisis in which public transit issues are causing a halt in your service business and asks for your help. Come up with a list of possible solutions.

Tests for:

  • Can conceptualize a solution
  • Considers the big picture
  • Can triage and prioritize

A candidate’s answers to questions like these can offer a clear picture of the type of work they would do on the job, and allow diligent, thoughtful, and talented applicants to rise to the top.


4. Evaluate Candidates’ Answers in a Systematic Way

Now that we’ve identified the traits we’re looking for, and written questions that test for those traits – the final step is to make sure that we can evaluate applicants’ answers in an efficient and thorough way. It’s easy to look at a work sample and get an overall positive or negative impression. But it’s also easy to think that someone seems great, and to later discover that they’re missing a key skill or personality trait that they’ll need on the job.

At HireArt,  we use rubrics to help our graders systematically check for every trait with every question. A rubric for the question above might look like this:

Identifies the problem

    • Pass – Identifies at least one problem that the customer is facing.
    • Fail – Does not specifically identify any problem that the customer is facing.
  • Empathetic
    • A – Acknowledges the customer’s state of mind.
    • Pass – Does not mention the customer’s state of mind.
    • Fail – Interprets the customer’s state of mind in a way that is at odds with the content of the e-mail.
  • Uses positive language
    • A – Uses positive language and/or forecasts a satisfactory outcome.
    • Pass – Doesn’t use particularly positive or negative language.
    • Fail – Uses negative language and/or does not forecast a satisfactory resolution to the problem.
  • Takes ownership of the problem
    • Pass – Makes an effort to solve the customer’s immediate problem.
    • Fail – Does not make an effort to solve the customer’s immediate problem.

These rubrics make it possible to develop a comprehensive breakdown of an applicant’s strengths and weaknesses. They also make it easy to compare candidates. Like the video interviews, the rubrics can be widely shared in-house during the hiring process, so that everyone involved has the same thorough picture of each applicant.


Predictive screening

We’ve found that these four steps are enough to dramatically improve the average company’s screening process.  Using this framework ensures discipline – every candidate is checked for every trait. It ensures structure and consistency in how candidates are evaluated. And in our case, because the questions are ready to go, and the interviews happen online, the whole process takes up as little of the employer’s time and resources as possible – you only spend time with candidates who you already know can do the job.

The final step to a great screening process is continuously checking that it’s working as well as possible. At HireArt, we constantly collect information on employment outcomes (retention and performance) and compare them with our screening results.  Which questions are proving most helpful to employers?  Which traits seem most correlated with job performance?  We’re continuously using real data to hone our approach and to arrive at a set of best practices. This is tricky to pull off, and will be the subject of a future post.

Hiring is a matching game.  We can’t presume to do it for the employer.  But we can help make the process much much easier.  And by screening for measurable traits on work sample questions, we have a foundation for a predictive system.  Our work sample based screening solution is flexible yet rigorous.  And it’s user-friendly.  It’s a great experience for candidates, it’s a fantastic solution for employers, and it’s getting better and better every day.



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