with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

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In this episode, we meet Nancy Slessenger, Founder and CEO of Vinehouse Hiring.

Nancy has a Bachelor of Physics degree from the University of Nottingham and her first job was as a Production Manager at Mars Electronics.

Her love of graphs and mathematics gave her the inspiration to solve the biggest challenge in the recruitment industry – hiring and keeping the best staff.

She created a remote recruitment system that has a >90% success rate compared to the industry average of 30%.

Nancy founded Vinehouse in 1995 and works with clients worldwide.

In this episode we talk about:

  • Her scientific approach to recruitment and how it has been so successful;
  • Why star performers often don’t interview well;
  • What most leaders get wrong about recruitment and what that could cost your business; and
  • What candidates should do to absolutely nail the job application process.

Connecting with Nancy Slessenger

You can reach Nancy on LinkedIn and via her business website, Vinehouse Hiring.
The Vinehouse shop has a wonderful range of books and booklets that Nancy has written, such as:

  • Difficult People Made Easy
  • Feedback for the Faint-hearted
  • Praise and the Appraisal
  • How to deal with Poor Performance
  • How to Motivate Yourself and Others

Thanks to Megan Macedo for recommending Nancy.

On some early discoveries in her recruitment journey

  • When I was a Production Manager, I said to all my colleagues, “Okay, who are your best three people? And your three worst?” So they gave me those names and then I went to the HR department and I got out all of the application forms and details of the interviews of both of those two groups of people.
  • The correlation was astonishing in that the people who were seen as the best people, in many cases were the ones who had only just scraped through our application process, and the people who were our worst people, were people that we thought were going to be great. The reason for this is that they had not recruited for the job, they just recruited someone they thought was going to be good.

On why many recruitment processes fail

  • When you’re talking about how much people spend on recruitment, I think it's not enough. What people do is they don't do it very well and then they end up paying the cost of getting it wrong.
  • Most people just recruit by doing what they saw their manager do or how they were recruited.
  • There's nothing wrong with people who are really extroverted, just don't put them into certain jobs as they could be disruptive to others.
  • When you get someone in an interview who's really shy and nervous, usually they fail the interview, but so often those people are gems. There are so many people around who didn't get the job because they are not good at being interviewed.

On Resumés, CVs and References

  • Never rely purely on CVs and Resumés for sorting your candidates. This is a really terrible mistake and the reason is because there are candidates who are brilliant candidates, but they are useless at writing their Resumés or CVs.
  • At the other end of the scale, there are people who really aren't great at their jobs, but they have hired someone to help them launch a glowing Resumé and CV.
  • If you have to go through a pile of CVs and you have to pick out your best candidates, it’s actually impossible, so stop doing that!
  • Also, do not rely on references…Hamish and Andy fake reference check

On selecting the ‘right’ candidate

  • What people often do is they have in their mind the person who's going to do the job…it may be a woman in her forties, it may be a guy in his twenties, it may be someone who's got this particular experience etc. That also is a really useless thing to do and it is damaging.
  • Instead of that, what you need to do is identify what exactly you need this person to be able to do and achieve. Think about how you want them to behave in your organisation and on what values you want them to share.
  • You then have to be really clear and objective about skills required. If we take the example of communication skills, what does that mean? What you actually have to do is say in a particular situation, what communication skills they need to display? For example, when they are presenting their ideas to the board, they need to be able to present them in that way that makes them clear and easy to understand so the board can make decisions.
  • Framing skills like that means that you can test them. Put questions into an application form based on those things. Do not even bother with the CVs and Resumés unless the person passes the questions on the application form. I guarantee you that will cut your shortlists down really, really quickly.

On giving candidates feedback

  • Firstly, because these are people we're dealing with, they need to learn and they need to know how they can improve for next time.
  • Secondly, we want our client to look really great. We want that candidate who didn't get the job to go away and think, “The interviewer seems like a really nice guy and I would have loved to work for him, but I can understand why I didn’t get it. But, I might even apply again or I will tell my friends they’re ok, and I'll still buy their products.”
  • And thirdly, if you reject this candidate, you've got to be able to say why you rejected them. It makes you much more clear and objective and honest.

On common mistakes interviewers make

  • Often they just go through the CV or Resumé. They will just have a chat and they’ll think they’re a really nice person. It doesn’t go deep enough.
  • Also, if you ask a hypothetical question, the reliability of the answers you get is a low predictor of what they're going to actually do in the future. However, if you ask what they did in the past, that's a more reliable predictive indicator.
  • And the classic question, “What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?” Well, candidates will prepare for that question and they'll say, “Oh, well I'm too much of a perfectionist.” or “I work too hard.” It's just not that useful an answer.

On how to ask useful questions as an interviewer

  • Most of the questions we would ask candidates are designed specifically for that actual role so be clear that if it's not important for the job, it’s not really worth asking.
  • Most of our clients are looking for someone who's reasonably well organised, so one useful question is, “How did you plan for this interview?”
  • Also, if you get someone who isn’t a huge talker, that’s fine. Ask them a question and just give them a chance to respond. Don't keep talking and talking and trying to fill the gaps, especially if it’s not actually required for the role.

On common mistakes interviewees make

  • Turning up late! Get there an hour early, take a book if you have to.
  • Turn your phone off during the interview, and definitely don’t answer it in the meeting.
  • Saying you have used a specific software and then not being able to explain when and how you’ve used it.
  • Not reading the advertisement carefully to see whether this is actually a job that you want.
  • Not researching the company properly. Know a bit about the history of the company or how fast they're growing or what the opportunities are. It does depend on what's important to you, because if you're looking for somewhere where you can grow and progress up the tree, then you might want to ask what training they offer or what the career paths are.
  • If there is an application form, please read the questions properly. If you have a lot of candidates, if they don't answer the question or don't provide the details you are asking for, that's it, they're out. I would also put my answers into a Word document, run the spellcheck and then copy and paste it in.
  • Often half the candidates don’t complete the application form! So that filters out a lot of the people who just can't be bothered to put in the effort.
  • I would always do my best to predict what likely questions are going to come up in the interview and it's probably going to be what are your greatest strengths? What are your weaknesses? What would your best friend say about you?
  • Make sure that you've got examples where you've done stuff that's relevant to the job ie. this was the situation, this was what I achieved, and here's how I did it.
  • Also, it looks pretty professional if you get out your little list of questions.

On what makes the Vinehouse method different

  • We spend an hour initially with our client getting out of their head what they want. Then we go back to them and say here's these 60 or 70 things we've called out and here's how we think you should test them ie. here is the question or the actual task they have to do and here's the answer we think would be the right answer. We then ask the client to review and check it.
  • Then we take all those questions and tasks and we divide them between the application form and the audio interviews so that every base is covered. Usually, most bases are covered twice because people sometimes behave differently on paper than they do in a telephone interview and differently again than they do face-to-face.
  • Then in terms of the final interview, we actually design that for the client because we know that most people aren’t really good at conducting those.
  • Finally, we have a one year guarantee. What that does is it creates a feedback loop for us. So if a candidate didn’t work out, we will then go through that and find out what went wrong and fix it. So we've got a system that is continually improving what we do. And what we find most of the time is when the candidate didn't work out it’s because the system, the process was not followed properly. This is what we're known for and that's what we do and it makes us better.

Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders

  • Marian Diamond, one of the world's leading neuroscientists, was an amazing woman. She did the initial research that shows you are still growing new brain cells even in your nineties! She did the initial research to see your brain is plastic and she said that without feedback, there is no learning. So be really clear about what you want to achieve, then gather the facts, and then get that feedback loop going.

Books and resources mentioned in the episode