Have you ever heard about the Wart Theory?
No? Chances are that you too have been a victim of it.
It’s about hiring people for a vacancy. And more specifically about hiring a stranger over a very suitable internal candidate.
Sometimes a manager decides to hire a complete stranger over an employee who is well known, a good worker, great team player with the right competencies, just because the job interview was not 100 percent perfect. The manager expects that a complete stranger is going to do a better job just from talking with him (or her) during a 1 hour interview. That stranger might just be a good actor or BS artist.
Everyone has “warts” (so-called weaknesses, challenges, areas that need improvement). With an internal candidate, the company already knows what their warts are. Even though we all know (intellectually) that a stranger could have much bigger and worse warts, there’s a certain denial at work, and managers sometimes engage in some magical thinking that maybe, just maybe, the stranger doesn’t have any warts at all.
How can a company prevent this from happening and make sure that the best person is hired for a job?
I have worked in the past for an insurance company where we tackled this phenomena successfully with an assessment center.
The hiring managers first had to explain to the HR manager why an internal candidate was not suitable for the job. Only if those reasons were legitimate, the search for an external candidate could be started. When the hiring manager then presented his ideal candidate for the job, this candidate would be invited for an assessment day.
All new employees were assessed during a one day assessment called “The Close-up”. Two assessors ( a senior manager from a different department and a professional external assessor) monitored the new candidate closely during the entire day. At the end of the day each candidate would be presented with a signed contract when he, or she, successfully finished the assessment. Those who were less successful received a detailed report with the findings of the assessors. This presented them with some significant and valuable feedback.
During the assessment, candidates were confronted with ‘live’ situations in which the company’s core competencies could be measured. Surprise situations, where candidates had to react or respond immediately, proved to be a valuable test for the ‘everyday’ situation.
BS artists or great actors would have a very hard time fooling the assessors for the entire day.
You might be interested in the effects of this process over the years. Since I was the senior manager in charge of the assessment center, I had this researched by a prominent University.
Of all the candidates that were invited for the “Close-up”, 25% did not make it successfully through the day and were not offered a full time contract. Mind you that these were the favorite candidates of the respective hiring managers!
Another significant result surfaced from the research. The competence that stood out as most significant for a successful career in the company was: learning ability. Those who paid attention, were open to feedback and were able to adapt to changing circumstances quickly during the Close-up, were promoted faster in the next few years than others. Needless to say that these candidates would also be great candidates for coaching to leverage their learning curve and work on their ‘warts’.
Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be a great nickname for an assessor? The Wart Detector! And for a coach: Wart Remover?