Last night Miss New York, Kira Kazantsev, won the 2015 Miss America Pageant, and joins a small but beautiful group of women to wear the crown. As a child, my sisters and I counted down the days and then hours until the pageant, and my mom even let us stay up late to watch it. We had deep discussions about how Miss America was preferable to the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants because, by golly, Miss America didn't just have to look pretty, she had to have a talent.
As an adult, I still like the fancy dresses, but the whole process makes me cringe. Not because I'm opposed to beauty pageants--if that's your thing, go for it--but because it reminds me far too much of job interviews. The Pageant format may be the best way to find a beauty queen who can give smart sounding sound bites, but it's not the best way to hire. Here are the mistakes you may be making.
Looking for skinny, young and beautiful. Yes, this is a given and is in the job description for Miss America, but it really shouldn't be in the job description for your jobs. People rate fat candidates lower than thin candidates. Pretty people make more money. Why? Is there a real correlation between facial structure and knowledge? Between hip size and competency? Stop looking at how people look and consider what they can do for your business.
Not asking what you really want to know. Miss America judge, Kathy Ireland explained, "I'm looking for someone who can captivate, someone who can connect with America and get great results. These women have a servant's heart and she's got a huge responsibility ahead of herself. She's got to communicate in everything she does. I'm looking in the eyes."
Fair thing to ask for in a Miss America contestant, I suppose. Except, how did Ms. Ireland hope to determine that? In the swimsuit competition. Let me repeat that. In the swimsuit competition. If she wanted to know about compassion, she should ask about compassion, not have the contestant parade around in a bikini and high heels.
Likewise, I see candidates rejected because they don't show "leadership" or "initiative" without the interviewer asking any questions about such things. Or worse, asking "creative" questions like, "A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?" Ask what you want to know about, and be direct.
Hiring from the same source. This is the third year in a row that Miss New York has won the crown. Good job New York! With only 6 percent of the US population, you've managed to produce the most beautiful and talented woman, 3 years running! Likely? Maybe. But, are you always hiring people from the same university? Or do you always look for people who worked at a particular big named firm?
Yes, some schools are particularly talented at churning out what you need, but don't reject other candidates because they didn't come from there. Consider the possibility that you always find the best from this place because you only look at people who are from there.
Expect world peace in under 30 second. Miss America contestants get asked questions about issues that experts have no solution to. For example, poor Miss Virginia got asked what the US response to ISIS should be. First of all, there is no way that question can be thoroughly answered in the time allotted. Second, she lacks the proper information to answer that question (unless she's a top level military person with security clearance and an expert on the middle east), and third, experts disagree strongly on this question.
If you want candidates to give clear and coherent answers to how to solve major issues, give them the issue or question in advance, and ask them to prepare a presentation, with the understanding that you cannot expect them to put in more than a few hours work for free, and that because the candidate does not already work for you, she'll lack full information about your internal problem.
You ask, they answer, that's it. The contestants in the Miss America Pageant don't get to turn the tables and ask anything of the judges. They just get to answer questions, smile and look pretty. This is not how a job interview should go. It should be a conversation--much more like a date than a beauty pageant. The questions should go back and forth. Remember, not only are you trying to determine if this person would be a good fit for our company, but the candidate is trying to determine if she wants to work there. If you don't have a conversation, you're not conducting a good interview.
I'm sure the pageant version of things makes for a great Miss America, but it won't work for your next market analyst, so cancel the swimsuit competition and pay attention to actual knowledge, skills and abilities.