Hiring: I have done it 350 times for my clients and 50 times for myself since 2001! Phone qualification, personal interviews, reference taking – I have seen ’em all. Add personality and motivation tests, role plays or assessments centers for a more scientific touch – I have been there too.

Which step is the most reliable one? Or is there a magic bullet, THE final hiring test, the number 1 indicator that will tell you if you should hire that very candidate?

The good news first: Yes there is!

Berfore we get there, let us break the steps down:

  • Phone interview: You have identified the candidates who could do the job. If you had an advertisement out, this will be probably be 2-5% of the candidates that have applied. All you will want to check are a general technical fit, a match in salary and a first glimpse of the personality. Will you know how the candidate ticks and if you will be happy together? No. We must move on.
  • The personal interview: Much has been written about interviewing a candidate, including on this blog. The job interview is about the art (“do I want to spend the day with that person?” and “will this person get me in trouble one day?”) and the science (“is s/he able to do the job?”). You will know after 5 minutes if you want to see the candidate again or not. If there is a doubt, do not continue. Yet is it good enough to hire if you have an entirely positive feeling? No. There is a a reason the trial period is not 1 hour long but several months. You have to move on.
  • Personality and motivation tests: Yes but no. I have always been very careful: let us not forget that the candidate fills them in at home. Alone. This is about reflect self-perception which is not always identical with how one is perceived by others (…). Remember that awful candidate you met once who said he is a great communicator? And was not? We all met him! So how reliable are these tests? Next point please.
  • Assessment centers and role plays: Better but it is still clear to the candidate what the purpose is who knows s/he is in examination mode (teaser for “The 5 Seconds Final Hiring Test”). Role plays can be powerful but are how reliable are they? I did badly in a role play on sales back in 2004 though I was number 1 consultant among 70 peers in terms of number of recruitments. We have to move on.
  • Reference taking: I like them. Critical voices say that no candidate will ever give name someone who will give a “bad” reference. However, I cannot confirm and see that candidates are wrong sometimes. Read on here for more on that topic.
  • The second interview: Always meet your candidate again. I have seen candidates – and hiring managers – who have changed from interview 1 to interview 2. Or in the third one if there was one because they thought the “offical part” was over and suddenly became natural? We are almost there! Read on


Let us breathe for a moment and see where do we stand.

All the above should give you a good idea how your chosen candidate will perform on the job. Yet only an idea because many recruitments fail. According to Heidrick & Struggles, 40% of (their) placed candidates leave within 18 months (ugh: at Kennedy that number is closer to 5 or 10%).

We need to see the candidate’s real face, meet him or her unprepared.

So when can we see his/ her real identity?

To me the final hiring test is the short question to my receptionist “How was s/ he?”.

The moment the candidates arrive and talk to the receptionist is the magic time where they show their real character, thinking they are not interviewed yet and “only” talking to the receptionist, to someone “not important”. I had many candidates who were OK with me but arrogant with my receptionist: No smile, no respect and no whatever they tried to show me 10 minutes later.

Actions speak more than words. “Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater one” (Mark Twain).

To me, it is the same in recruitment.

I do not hire for skills but for potential, personality and values.

Thus – and let this be the conclusion – this posting is also an ode and a thank you note to all the colleagues who have accompanied since 2001: Danke and merci to Bettina, Agatha, Eli, Mirza, Dominique and today Emeline, Sarah, Vincent and Julien who have helped me make better decisions for my clients and myself!

PS: Pretty frightening and complicated all the above, no? Why not call us here at Kennedy and we manage the entire process for you, including briefing our candidates to be nice with your receptionist! We will run 200 strategic recruitments in Europe or North America this year. Contact us to learn what we can do for you and your organization.