Of interviews and outer-views

George Carlin on driving: "Have you noticed? Anyone going slower than you is an idiot and anyone going faster is a moron."

This year, there will be 5 million to 6 million people who will leave their jobs. There also will be about the same number of auto accidents. Thinking about all those accidents, I started wondering this: What do all the people who cause auto accidents have in common? For one, they all passed a driver's test.

And the same is true for the people leaving jobs -- they all passed the test called a job interview. Job interview. Driver's test. Hmmm.

Here's the thing to remember: Thinking that a person's behavior on the job will be the same as it is during a job interview is like thinking that people are really going to drive like they do when a Department of Motor Vehicles official with a clipboard is in the passenger seat.

Let's face it, most interviews are really outer-views. You see the person's person, and not much else. That's not his or her real personality, of course, much less real attitudes about work. Oh, I know some of you are thinking, "But, Dale, I have a sense for people -- I can spot BS a mile away." That won't help.

If job candidates tell you that they get along with everyone and put in more hours than anyone else, odds are, they are telling the truth . . . as they see it.

They believe it, just as much as the guy who cuts you off in traffic or the woman who flips you off for having dared to go the speed limit are both certain of one thing: That they're great drivers. I suspect that the worse the driver, the higher the self-evaluation.

And there's something parallel with employees -- it's overconfidence that makes for the corporate version of bad drivers.

Studying how great bosses avoid bad hires led me to this little principle of hiring: See the work. If you can see the work, you might be better off not even seeing the person; it will only confuse you. And if you can't see the work, at least talk to someone who has.

What got me thinking about hiring was getting an e-mail from John Anton, owner of DesignAShirt.com, a company that sells athletic wear, mostly custom-printed T-shirts. The e-mail was clearly sent to a lot of people out of his address book. The subject line of the message was this: "$500 in cold cash if you introduce me to the Web developer of my dreams." He went on to describe the person he wanted and to offer "five crisp hundred dollar bills" to anyone introducing him to the person he hires. Yes, "cold" and "crisp."

I didn't have leads for John, but I was quick to respond, asking him to let me know how it worked out. When we eventually talked, he told me that he'd gotten more than 60 leads and had found three people, any one of whom would have been a star.

The young man he eventually hired came to him through a colleague who owns a furniture store and who was prompted by the e-mail to ask his employees if they'd worked with any star IT people. This asking around is common. "It wasn't the money" John insisted: "People understood that the cash would go to the person making the actual referral. It wasn't multilevel."

I suspect that people paid attention because it took John's e-mail out of the category of someone asking for help and put it in the category of offering the recipient the chance to offer help to someone else.

How's the new guy working out? John reports that one of his suppliers, an IT person, called to say: "Oh my God, where did you find this guy? He's unbelievable." (Still, John is not planning to do e-mails with cash offers for all his hiring. He's sticking with traditional job ads for traditional jobs, and he's saving his address book search for highly specialized positions.)

Why did it work so well? He backed into the principle of "see the work . . . or talk to someone who has." As John put it: "None of the finalists were in the job market. They all were working, and everyone we saw already had been vetted by a friend or friend of a friend."

Easier, faster, more enjoyable: That's the carpool lane of hiring.

Dale Dauten is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached at dale@dauten.com.