How do you decide how many people to interview?

Deciding how many individuals to interview for a job opportunity is a problematic and challenging task. For many, one of the easiest and simplest solutions is to interview everyone that appears to be suitable for the opportunity and has the necessary qualifications. Whilst this may seem like a good idea on paper, a large pool of applicants does not necessarily mean that they are all competent individuals suitable for the role in question. Whilst there are obvious benefits to this approach such as the ability to directly compare the skill sets of all candidates to make more informed decisions, it in fact presents several issues that can be very difficult to overcome.

For example, it takes a great amount of time & effort to interview large amounts of candidates; significantly more than a smaller and more focussed group. This has an added disadvantage of additional administration & HR work and can slow down the feedback process after interviews, further hindering the overall timing of decisions. Additionally, a bigger pool of candidates can almost certainly mean that in some instances, it will take longer to make a final decision on who will be hired.

Perhaps you would be right then, to assume that the easiest solution is to simply interview less individuals? In fact, this solution comes with its own unique set of benefits and challenges.

The answer it seems is not a simple one.

Generally, it is good to narrow down the individuals you wish to interview to 3-5. This is a good amount that still allows for direct comparison with meaningful results and means that more time can be spent compiling a meaningful job description and specification to better attract more suitable candidates.

In addition to this, screening tools such as personality and aptitude tests can be utilised to narrow down the selection even further with results more suited to desired need. This also means employers can make a more informed decision on hiring for culture add vs culture fit and how the candidates will benefit the organisation in question.

Overall, there is no real way of knowing how many individuals to interview for a job opportunity. In truth it depends on the job opening itself; some job opportunities may attract more applicants than others and, in some instances may require more than just 1 hire. Each opportunity presents its own unique challenges which is why it is important to identify exactly what you are looking for from the onset and to also consider the benefits and disadvantages of interviewing more than 5 people as opposed to interviewing less.

Using the tools you have, not the ones you want.

I was having a discussion with a colleague this week who was having trouble with a new database they have been using for their job. A substantial amount of money had been spent on a sourcing platform which was marketed to us on the basis that it would make the process of finding associates for our clients quicker and more efficient without sacrificing quality control for the process overall. Although many of the functions of the new database worked as well as expected, many notable elements of the programme, such as the messaging function and the interface, were not an immediate “fit” with the way we had previously gone about sourcing associates online.

It may be tempting in a situation such as this to go back to square one, write off your new purchase as a bad investment and return to the less developed methods you had being using to do business before. However, it would be wiser to avoid going down that route.

When it comes to performing a task or project, we all have our own methodology and procedures, some of which we have developed and consolidated over years in the business. Even when circumstances change around us, be it new technology, new opportunities, or radical changes in the marketplace, we often prefer to cling religiously to our own working habits. When innovative tools and products that could make our jobs easier do become available, we welcome them, but we tend to only take to them if they can be easily tailored to the existing processes through which we work.

But would it not make more sense to reshape our work to the tools we have available to do it?

Always expecting the systems we use for business to suit us perfectly can always be expected to fail. If we force any product or database, be it a messaging platform, a LinkedIn product or a CRM, to suit our business needs without adapting to them ourselves then we will only end up getting frustrated when these tools don’t comply with our preconceived notions of what “works”. This will only make us less efficient and productive at work. Being adaptable is a necessary trait in any line of work, if we encounter a situation where established business processes don’t fit with the available infrastructure, it’s up to us work within the parameters that we can given the tools available.

We all like work to be routine, safe and familiar, but if we allow ourselves to be more open-minded with new ideas and products, we may find that a little flexibility is no bad thing.

The Art of the Middleman

From brokers and lawyers to head-hunters, agents and consultants, and the modern economy is awash with “middlemen”. It’s a word that is often used derisively, but in a market largely defined by its almost endless choice and unlimited demand, the ability to facilitate the relationship between supplier and customer remains a vital function within almost all sectors.
To be an intermediary and mediator, to facilitate and enable transactions, clearly requires a unique and crucial skillset. But how are these skills best applied? What separates individuals who struggle as a central link in the business chain to those who flourish?

Quality not quantity.

To put it simply, A middleman’s value is derived from the value of the relationship they can generate between the supplier and end-user, and the volume of these relationships they can cultivate. The most successful third-party relationships however are built upon trust. Whilst a reputation for supplying a trusted service at a high volume can be useful, the long-term viability of providing a high-quality boutique service for returning customers is self-evident, as there is room for a more comprehensive relationship between facilitators, end-users and suppliers to develop.
There is often a tendency in business to reach for a large quantity of deals made and relationships brokered to drive profits. However, this can repeatedly come at the expense of cultivating a relationship which will yield loyalty and repeat business. The best business-to-business partnerships should be more than just transactional.

The “intangibles” that underpin continuous relationships.

There’s a reason retained executive search companies, and not contingency firms, are considered the gold standard of recruitment. Any intermediary actor is largely valued on their expertise and ability to address an end-user’s business needs. But these needs are usually complex, not immediately obvious and often not entirely known to the client themselves, especially in high-stake transactions. Individuals who can retain the services of their client over a long period are only able to do so because of this greater appreciation of the depth of their client’s needs. This involves appreciating the intangible variables that may affect the circumstances of a business partnership. Too often when brokering a deal or relationship, we tend to focus solely on fundamentals such price, margin and contract length, with little consideration for other needs that are not as fundamental but also of interest to the client. The skill here is not only to be in possession of excellent market knowledge so that you can identify trends and contingencies that should be considered, but also a measure of strategic and emotional intelligence.

Keeping an ear on both sides of the table.

Facilitating a relationship in this sense requires a considerable measure of neutrality. Being a middleman invariably involves bringing two parties together for the purposes of negotiation, but it is not enough to merely perform the function of a bridge between two parties. The middleman that survives is the one who has something to offer well beyond the making of introductions. Crucially, professionals must consider their suppliers and resource-holders as clients just as much as the end-user. The aim of an intermediary party should not only be to facilitate discussions between the two camps but also to effectually manage them. the needs of the supplier should not be overly side-lined to suit the preferences of the end-user, so the aim of the intermediary should always be to “tease out” an arrangement or outcome that suits both sides.

Could outsourcers benefit from mediation?

It hasn’t been the most successful couple of weeks for Outsourcers.

At one point last week, Interserve’s share price had dropped to 29p, the lowest in over 30 years. Interserve have also been forced by investors to pull out of the consortium heading the expansion of Durham University, as well as being fined for numerous safety blunders at an animal testing site in Weybridge. Allied healthcare has also run into trouble recently, being forced to sell off its remaining contracts to other providers in order to stay afloat. Meanwhile, Capita have come under increasing scrutiny following a critical mishandling of cervical screening tests.

At this point, so fast on the heels of Carillion’s collapse, trust between the outsourcing industry and their clients are at perhaps their lowest ever point.

So how can this trust be won back?

It could be argued that the breakdown in the relationship between outsourcers and the public sector can in large part be put down to both parties negotiating without possessing a comprehensive understanding of each other’s motives and needs, thus leading to contractual and financial difficulties which disrupted the relationship.

Take the case of Carillion. From the government’s perspective, Carillion represented a stable support services partner with a successful track record. PFI contracts were awarded to them on the understanding that they were a financially viable, low-risk partner that could be relied upon to deliver a high-quality service. For Carillion, outsourcing and public sector contracts represented a vital revenue stream and an opportunity to keep their teams and subcontractors busy.

But crucially, these deals were negotiated with little regard for the viability of the long-term business relationships underpinning them. When awarding contracts to bidders, government departments would often prioritise cost over the quality of service and accept bids well below the cost of the service provision itself. For their part, firms such as Carillion and Interserve have spent millions renegotiating on deals where they only maintained either very small or negative margins.
Whilst we could diagnose the problem as one of poor negotiation, could the practice of negotiation itself be at the heart of dysfunctional business relationships?

Negotiation, when performed solely as a settlement or dispute resolution between two parties, can easily result in a zero-sum game, where one party’s needs are often side-lined in favour of the others. In any binary negotiation, the process of starting from an entrenched position and gradually meeting in the middle invariably results with one party gaining the upper hand over the other in the final terms of the settlement. Not only does this strain the trust in the relationship, but the constant need for expensive renegotiations and resettlements as problems arise render it inefficient and unproductive.

When such large contracts, often tied to substantial financial risk, must be enacted, the bidding process could benefit greatly from a mediating neutral third party.

Recently, MyFM enacted the role of facilitator in discussions which had to resolve very similar conflicts to those that have plagued outsourcers, a bidding party seeking to protect their margins and an end-user that prioritised cost. As a neutral broker, the mediating party has knowledge of what each side’s primary needs and requirements are, you have a greater understanding of which cards each side are playing close to their chest and what they will be willing and unwilling to compromise on. Through unique market knowledge, you often understand your client’s desires better than they do.

In this case, mediation allowed us to address the concerns of both sides of the table and find a solution that synthesised the needs of each party without either one compromising on their core requirements from the deal.

Instead of pursuing a price that would eat into the service provider’s margin, we encouraged a settlement in which the end user paid an acceptable price for the service, whilst also encouraging an agreement on price by encouraging more appropriate methods of reducing costs, such as providing a more efficient service.

If it is true that conflict largely arises from misunderstanding, then using mediators, with their clear grasp of respective priorities and ability to identify actions that resolve conflict, presents a scalable, elegant solution to all high-stakes negotiators.