How to Hire for NonTech Skills?

I started in a new company about 2 months ago, and for circumstances that I won't go into, I need to hire (actually, replace) an employee. Among other skills, the role requires critical thinking and attention to detail - two traits that the incumbent has had formally and informally documented as areas of improvement since their first performance review 3 years ago. I have tried every tool in my arsenal -- short of flatly saying, "You are going to lose your job" -- to try to help them improve in these two essential functions of the role, but they just aren't improving, and I, my boss, and HR are getting frustrated with their lack of progress and empty "I'll do better"s.

So my actual question: When I have to inevitably hire for this role, what are your tips in really vetting these two skills in the interview process? It's one thing to say, "give me an example..." but those questions always ring a little hollow for me. Is this one of those demonstrable tasks (aka, the dreaded "take home project") situations?

The only thing I've come up with so far is asking for the applicant to describe how they devised a process to help their understanding and execution of a confusing or complicated task (but, I'd word it more friendly than that).

Hi @Scott129, inheriting a team member who has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of care in their work is disappointing, but asking them to move on is probably the right thing to do, especially when they have already been given many chances to change their behaviour the past. So how do you ensure you don't hire a similar character? Here are some questions that may help you identify the critical thinking and attention-to-detail skills you are looking for: - Tell me about a time when you had to analyze a complex problem at work. How did you approach it, and what was the outcome? - Describe a situation where you caught a mistake that others missed. How did you identify it, and what did you do about it? - Imagine you're given a project with conflicting information from two different departments. How would you approach resolving the discrepancies?Beyond that, consider assigning tasks in which they can demonstrate their skills and approach to work during the interview process.For instance, presenting a real-life problem the company has faced (or a generic one), and asking the candidate to analyze it and provide solutions. This can be done in a limited time frame to simulate a real-world scenario.And don't forget to reference-check with past employers or managers, asking for specific feedback on critical thinking and attention to detail.These steps are never 100% foolproof, so do reserve the right to hire the candidate on a probationary basis and use this time to assess their skills in a real-world setting. It's more expensive, but still an option you can consider.I hope this helps, and wish you all the best for your hiring process.
Generous and thoughtful approach, @dawns. Follow up when it comes to assigning tasks - have you seen or heard of any that are especially effective for either (or both!) of these skills? I'm almost thinking about giving candidates one of those classic "Spot the Differences" puzzles :)
There is a whole industry dedicated to screening and testing interview candidates on a bunch of different aptitudes: numerical, logical, situational, visual etc. You can Google or Chat GPT "aptitude test examples" as a starting point and then follow on down the rabbit hole (this is fascinating and may take a while!) You can also take a closer look at the candidate's resume and check for any typos, inconsistencies or lack of quantifiable/ qualifiable evidence for their success stories. An example used during in-person interviews was to have a random piece of fluff or empty coffee cup positioned somewhere noticeable, and then seeing if the candidate would mention it, move it, tidy it away or ignore it. But it's important to note that job seekers are also wising up to these testing tactics and the strong candidates will tend to prepare themselves accordingly. If you want to create your own test, I recommend that you use real-world examples from your business, as you know what good looks like and can make a better judgement from a business perspective. You've got this!
Hello! Really good on your to pre-empt! My tips for you beyond the advice provided (types of interviews questions) are:- do in-person interviews and see them in action. Bring the person to lunch and see how they treat service staff, or have them in the office and see if they take the cup of coffee back (simple things like that show how much care the person has for people or things around them) - you can ask for an interview project maybe you make it live depending on the nature of the job or do it take home (some people prefer take home as it gives them more time to be creative and feel less under pressure, but I think it depends on the type of work you do and what you want from this person)- you can ask for some work samples: ultimately there's selection bias here as someone will never show you what they think is a bad work sample and will always try to show you their best work but if you try to ask for a couple (eg 3) you can perhaps start spotting a trend- you can do references: again a ton of selection bias here since the person will only give you recommenders who will have glowing reviews but you can chose the types of questions you ask eg. instead of the typical S/W, you could ask questions that are pointed towards finding out if the person can think critically and is meticulous and you can use some of @dawns' questions below for it "was there a time X had to analyse a complex problem, how did they approach it under your supervision (if you're talking to an ex manager) and what was that outcome?" Lastly, it is worth wondering why has the incumbent never been able to improve? They were there for three years so surely this is something that would have been addressed ahead of time (either this person would significantly improve OR would be let go way ahead of time). So I am curious, were they ever given a plan to help them improve from the team prior to you? it's one thing to give feedback but without any resources to help the person, it's not going to be super productive. Ultimately I bring this up so that you know how to approach the next person you hire and that you can ensure they have the tools to succeed too at work.
Thanks for the suggestions, @iynna. High-level, the incumbent has a disability that they (accidentally?) disclosed to me but won't disclose to HR in order to actually assign resources to the problem... which is super frustrating, because I just want to tell them how to help themselves here (but can't spell it out like that, as their supervisor). The other factor is that where they are located (not the U.S.), the next step is a severance package instead of a PIP, so their opportunity for improvement has to be them reading between my very obvious (but still HR-compliant) lines and helping themselves out of this situation, though I know that they can't/won't necessarily recognize that because of the disability. It's a pretty sticky situation.
I love all the interview questions @dawns provided above. I also think these traits are best tested during reference checks. You can ask a version of the interview questions to their reference and see how that person describes the applicant's working style.
Thank you, @hopemorley - great idea to also test these traits with the reference checks.
Hello @Scott129, because the hiring process is expensive and time consuming, I am wondering what employee development strategies you have in place to support the performance of existing employees. Your critical thinking responsibility should be to write down what characteristics you would like for someone in this role and break down why these are important to the success of the role. List in as much detail as possible and form interview questions related to the role responsibilities. Provide consistent correction and support for this role. The individual may have the skills but not the understanding of how you would like them to use those skills. Be very specific and provide opportunities for them to develop in this area.
Hi @lindasmith - There is a robust toolbox of support, training, and coaching resources for all employees in the company; in this case, the incumbent has been coached and nearly cajoled, but is not using the resources available, so they are not improving. There is more than three years of documented "consistent correction and support" for this individual -- I hate to use the term 'lost cause', but it is evident that they are not able to improve, whether by choice or not.The characteristics and skills needed for the job are clear, and where I'm feeling the burn from current lack of skills is in the areas of critical thinking and detail management, so I'm looking to the Elpha community for help in vetting for those two skills specifically - do you have any experience in screening for excellence in those skills specifically that you could share?
@Scott129, while I am not a hiring manager, I am an employee developer. I thought this blog had some great ideas on how to assess critical thinking skills in adults/candidates. This site has some vetting questions for detail management,attention%2Dto%2Ddetail%20skills.Maybe have your candidate do some pre-work to determine their critical thinking skills. Sometimes this is hard to assess face-to-face because they are giving a scenario from the past. Also nerves come into play. Give them a critical thinking skills test on paper right before the interview or virtually to vet candidates in advance. The main issue with vetting in advance virtually is they may be able to look up answers online. Having them take the test on paper before the interview may also put them in a mindset to perform better in the interview.