How Not to Hire a Rob Ford

The massive scandal and disruption surrounding the Toronto mayor could have been avoided had voters used a smart recruitment strategy—one that all businesses should employ

Written by Edwin Jansen

With all the unwanted attention and disruption of city business in Toronto these past few weeks, it certainly looks like the city’s citizens are paying the price for making a “bad hire” in Mayor Rob Ford.

As business leaders who have to make our own important hiring decisions, what can we learn from the mistake Toronto voters have seemingly made?

It’s well established in psychology that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Politicians like to campaign on what they will do if elected, making promises about their future actions. But voters would be much better off casting their votes with a view to the past.

In Rob Ford’s case, he already had a long track record of inappropriate remarks, public intoxication, and even arrest on charges of drunk driving and drug possession. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that these things continued to happen when he became mayor.

This is a simple and powerful lesson for hiring: Always focus your assessment of a candidate on past behavior and experiences.

The proper name for this approach in the HR world is “structured behavioral interviewing,” and it has been proven to be nine times as effective in predicting employee success compared with typical unstructured, non-behavioral interviews.

A structured behavioral interview is a lot different from the typical fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants meeting with a candidate.

Read: 5 Steps to Managing Problem Employees

Instead of asking how a candidate would behave in a hypothetical situation, you as the interviewer asks how the candidate actually behaved in previous relevant situations. Questions that begin with “tell about me a time when” uncover behavioral patterns and, by digging into the candidate’s stories to understand why they acted as they did, what they learned, and what the results were, you can uncover a gold mine of predictive information.

To make it a structured behavioral interview, the questions should be pre-planned and connected to competencies that you’ve determined to drive performance. You ask all candidates the same questions and score the answers using standard evaluation criteria, such as a five-point scale. This helps temper our natural bias towards likeable charmers, and helps you to compare candidates objectively.

Ready to try a behavioural interview? Here are three lines of questioning you can ask your next batch of candidates.

1. Probe for the Achiever Pattern

If you’re looking for someone to exceed expectations, you need to find evidence they’ve blown their goals away in the past. Dubbed the Achiever Pattern by recruiting guru Lou Adler, this is about looking for such things as rapid promotions, assignment to cross-functional teams and difficult projects and, of course, achievement of so-called “stretch” goals.

Killer question: “Tell me about your greatest accomplishment.” (Adler says this is the best interview question of all time because you can unearth so much in the details).

Video: The Very Best Interview Questions

2. Dig into conflict

We all want to find employees who play nice with others and avoid people who create unhealthy conflict. Asking candidates to describe their weaknesses rarely works, but digging into the actual situations where they faced conflict will tell you how they’re likely to handle things in the future.

Killer question: “Think of someone you’ve had problems with in your career; we’ve all had them. Tell me how they would describe you, why they felt this way and what you did about it.”

3. See what drives them

As Daniel Pink pointed out in his bestselling book Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, many psychological studies have proven that intrinsically motivated people perform better than those motivated by extrinsic things (such as money, status and recognition). Looking at a candidate’s motivations will tell you whether they care about the right things.

Killer question: “Tell me about a time when you persevered through a really tough set of circumstances, in which most people would have quit. What drove you?”

Read: How to Replace a Culture of Employee Entitlement

Of course, there are always going to be hires that don’t work out, no matter how diligent you are in the recruitment phase. But if you embrace the idea that past behaviour is the best predictor, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of making an awesome hire. Plus, you should be able to avoid the workplace equivalent of a Crackgate scandal.

Edwin Jansen is the managing director at Hirefly, a new service created to help Canadian small businesses get to a shortlist of the highest potential people they can interview for a position, while saving 60-90% of the cost of using a recruiting agency.

More columns by Edwin Jansen

Do you agree that past behaviour is the best predictor of an employee’s success on the job? Why or why not? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com