A few years ago a twenty-something CEO asked me how to ensure a manager he was planning to hire wasn't a jerk as a team leader. Now some of my clients are also asking if this type of performance-based Interviewing and assessment technique could be used to identify potential sexual harassment (#metoo) problems.

The answer is likely yes, but let me go back to how I approached the "avoid hiring jerks" challenge to explain the interviewing technique. For this I suggested that during the interview have the candidate draw an organization chart for his last position and describe how each person was hired, how he ranked each person on a performance basis, how he was developing these people and if any were rehired from a previous company. Then ask the person how he got the current job - whether he was promoted, rehired by a former co-worker, or found the job on his own. If the answers are in-depth and meaningful, do this again for the person's previous one or two jobs.

I summarized by saying that the information gathered from this type of questioning will provide all of the insight needed to ensure the person is not a jerk, but more important, it will reveal if the person is a superior leader and manager. Raise a caution flag if the answers are vague or evasive.

I've successfully used this approach as a recruiter interviewing thousands of managers and placing hundreds. It's possible that a similar approach could be used to avoiding hiring those who might have some sexual harassment issues lurking somewhere in their histories. 

By way of background, this technique is a variation of the Most Significant Accomplishment question I've been advocating and teaching managers around the world how to use for the past 20-30 years. The idea behind this is to dig deeply into a candidate's major individual and team accomplishments and observe the trend of growth and impact over time. Then compare these accomplishments to the actual individual, team and management performance objectives for the open role to accurately assess the person for competency and fit.

Using the same process, I'd look for these clues to discern any potential #metoo or related gender bias issues:

  • Determine if the makeup of teams are representative of the gender mix of the talent population as a whole. I'd want to dig further if there was a big difference one way or the other.
  • See if the people hired and rehired and coached or mentored indicated some gender preference, and then relate this to the quality of the people hired. This discussion alone, whether it's superficial or insightful, will reveal a few clues as to the candidate's character and people biases. This is invaluable insight, irrespective of any potential harassment issues. 
  • Find out if the person was rehired by a former boss or co-worker. I get concerned when a person has never been promoted internally or been rehired or recommended by a former boss or co-worker.
  • I also like to find out if the person was assigned to important project teams and why the person was assigned. The makeup of these teams on a gender, functional and management level basis offers great clues as to the quality of the person's team skills. As important is the success of these teams and what happened to the person as a result of being on these teams. Being asked to lead other important and successful cross-functional teams by those on the team, including women who were peers, supervisors and subordinates; would pretty much confirm the person is a strong and trusted manager.

From a practical standpoint all of this information is insightful in determining if the person is a strong manager and a person who proactively develops, coaches and mentors others. So the effort is invaluable on this dimension alone. However, if some level of overt and continuing bias was observed, this should raise a caution flag that something is amiss. But it would be a bit of a slippery slope to then suggest that some kind of harassment issues were at play.

It's important to note the Performance-based Interviewing approach recommended here involves gathering evidence to support a conclusion. The conclusion could be that the candidate is a strong or weak manager, a highly motivated person or not or someone who might or might not fit with the team. Emotions have little to do with this type of assessment.

Based on this concept, a person shouldn't be excluded from consideration for a managerial role without multiple examples of specific evidence determining the person is unfit. Suspicions don't count. More important, by using the evidence-gathering approach suggested, you'll discover if the person is a strong manager or not. And if not, the person shouldn't be hired. Not conducting the due diligence is when you might run into bigger problems than just harassment.

Published on: Dec 11, 2017