Competition is all about finding the best – those that earn their place at the top of the podium clasping gold. Great competitions are engaging and effective at evaluating talent and are grounded in fairness so that greatness succeeds.
From cooking competitions to competitive scholarships to the Olympics, great competitions have three things in common:
- Definition of competition
“To compete, you must submit an essay between 500 and 1,000 words that addresses one of the following four topics…”
- Categories of evaluation
“You will be judged on presentation, flavor, and how well you showcase the flavor of the secret ingredient.”
- Set scoring system
“Points are awarded for complexity, height, and execution of a jump. But fall and touch the ice, a point will be subtracted.”
The contestants are evaluated and scored by experts. Usually, it’s a panel of experts to accommodate the slight subjective variations that can mean the difference between winning gold and going home empty handed. And, after a pause to tally the results, the big announcement: and the winner is…!
We may not always agree, but we can understand when the competition is based in definition, categories, and a scoring system.
So why – when it comes to the competition of evaluating talent to bring onto our teams and organizations, when the stakes of who wins can change the course of our future – are we generally… lacking?
Hiring – Contest of Olympic quality or high school popularity
We’d all like to have Olympic-level quality in our candidate selection process – using a series of questions, scenarios, interviews to separate the gold from the rest.
Unfortunately, many hiring processes look more like high school popularity contests than Olympic competitions.
Does this look familiar:
- Definition of competition: i.e. the questions
“Whatever the interviewer feels like asking? I think they are asking about their resume… I don’t know, they’re the experts.”
- Categories of evaluation: i.e. what criteria the hiring team looks for in the answers
“We are looking for someone who has the right experience, knows how to do the job and will ‘fit in’ around here.”
- Set scoring system: i.e. measurement how well the candidate meets the criteria in their answers
“I liked their designs, but I feel like they won’t fit in here…”
In other words – there is no consistency in the questions, no set criteria for evaluation and no way to measure how a candidate measures against the criteria. Not exactly the formula for an effective, engaging, or fair competition.
So… change it. Go from a hap hazard popularity contest to a truly effective and equitable talent evaluation.
1) Set the definition – standardize questions
To ensure a fair competition, everyone must be playing the same game. How can you compare candidate performance if they are all being asked to do something different?
Set standardized questions before interviewing the first candidate. This ensures everyone is playing the same game by the same rules before the judging begins.
To maximize the effectiveness, take the time to create questions that are relevant, insightful, and equitable. How to do this is a subject within itself and covered in a different blog.
2) Define the categories of evaluation and scoring – the response criteria and measurement
Equity expands beyond the question to how the answers are ranked. Even when playing the same game, if each contestant is held by different standards, the scoring system will feel more like a comedy than a competition.
What are you looking for in an answer?
- What is the primary purpose of the question?
For example: Process approach, correct answer, preference to a style like teamwork, ability to defuse a situation, etc.
- What additional information you want from the question?
For example: Attention to detail, spelling/grammar, organization, tone/style, math skills, level of team vs. individual work, etc.
What are you not looking for in an answer?
- What details that don’t matter for the job but could be lurking in an answer – (i.e. things that will not count toward the score.)
For example, Spelling/grammar, eye contact (if video or in person), speed, tone/style, etc.
How will the things that matter (the criteria) be scored?
- Have a defined scale from ‘bad’ to ‘good’ that is tied to the desired criteria – be as descriptive as possible so that responses can be evaluated fairly.
For example: one-to-five star ratings where one is bad and five is good. One star answers lack all criteria, five star answers meet all criteria, three starts have all primary criteria but lack three or more secondary, etc.
- Use the appropriate scale based on the goals of the step. As the candidate evaluation process shifts from identifying those who are qualified to identifying those who are best qualified to identifying the one out of many great candidates to hire, the scale should shift with it. Use simple early on (yes/no) to quickly filter in the right candidates. Add depth to scoring later to distinguish between great candidates to find the best.
For example, a point system where candidates earn up to five points for quality of answer, 2 points for grammar and spelling, 3 points for design, etc. Or a multi-star rating system where 1 star shows little understanding of material and no accountability, 3 stars shows understanding of material but little evidence of accountability, 5 stars shows both depth of understanding and strong sense of accountability for results.
- Specify how the results are to be documented. Include both the ratings and the reasoning behind the ratings so if the scores are contested or questioned, the reasoning is readily available.
3) Document, communicate, enforce
Setting rules, and scoring is required to have a fair and effective competition. Making sure everyone is adhering to them is critical. No one wants to make the news for deflating footballs, using performance enhancing drugs, bribing the judges, or having unfair and discriminatory hiring practices. We’ve all seen those headlines, we don’t need to be in them!
Ensure the rules are followed by everyone – candidates and hiring team alike.
- Document. Document the process including the process steps and what happens in each step. Document the questions, the criteria for evaluation and scoring system for the positions before evaluating the first candidate. Document the results – the candidate responses, hiring team scores and evaluation notes, and reasons for selecting, progressing, or discontinuing candidates.
- Communicate. Communicate the process and expectations to both candidates and hiring team. Communications must be consistent, relevant, applicable, equally accessible, and timely. There are many tips to strong communication which are shared in another blog.
- Enforce. Hold everyone to the rules. Have established and well-communicated consequences to those that break them. Corrective actions can be anything from training to removal from the process (for both candidate and employer). To be effective, enforcement must be consistent, impactful (i.e. people have to care), and visible.