Publish at June 23 2021 Updated May 31 2022

Appreciative hiring: candidate successes and skills at the heart of the process

Choose rather than eliminate

Hiring is a perilous exercise. Over one or more interviews, the life of a department, its evolution, its atmosphere and its performance are partly at stake. Who is this person who hides behind the role of model candidate?

The temptation is great to rush, to jostle, to create stressful situations to get the person out of the agreed image he or she has built up... Recruiters have indeed learned to be wary of the good impression a candidate spontaneously gives. Like investigators in charge of fraud repression, they look for flaws, weaknesses and risks behind enthusiastic speeches.

Guillaume Laurie is in charge of pedagogical quality at the Kedge Business School. He has created a method for deploying this posture in recruiting. A booklet outlines its main points. It is the opposite of traditional approaches. We were able to ask him a few questions. He reminds us of the difficulty of assessing skills and the limits of traditional techniques:

"The more we look in the scientific literature, the more we realize that recruitment is complex. Indeed, the best way to predict a candidate's future performance is to know their past performance. However, in most external recruitments, organizations have little access to this information. So they use tests and increase interviews, but there are three main problems identified by Peter Capelli in a 2019 article in the Harvard Business Review.

  1. Organizations don't necessarily know what they are looking for. Analyzing the need is very complex because it relies on the ability to determine a priori the contours of the position, the qualities and skills needed to fill it, but also other factors such as the ability to grow.

  2. Even when the employer knows what he is looking for in terms of qualities or skills, it is extremely difficult to create tests or interview questions that will really allow for the analysis of these qualities or skills.

  3. Even when the structure manages to evaluate the qualities and skills, it is not able to correctly weight the criteria because cognitive biases distort the decisions. A simple mathematical formula is more effective than a thoughtful weighting by a manager.
    A recruiter who wants to test stress resistance can create a stressful situation and subject the candidates to it. But these know they are being observed and you therefore react differently than in a real work situation..."

A reminder: appreciative inquiry

We spend a lot of time making diagnoses, flushing out problems in an attempt to solve them. As in the medical world, to make a diagnosis would be to look for diseases, pathologies, or at least aspects of the organization to treat. Gradually, one might believe that managing is about solving problems.

Appreciative questioning is, on the contrary, a method of developing organizations and teams that consists of looking for resources, successes, positive experiences in everyone [...]." We will talk about the successes, the prides, the solutions, the skills that are our strengths.

The questioning is often done in pairs. Participants question each other around a theme. They share their prides, their successes, the skills mobilized in connection with this theme. The exchange on assets is followed by a discussion on what could be positive. The grid "strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and constraints" becomes "strengths, opportunities, aspirations and achievements. This last word refers to what would be visible and observable, if the aspirations were realized.

In an environment where we appear smart when we criticize or show dissatisfaction, this approach is braver than it sounds. Appreciative recruiting is inspired by the method and posture of appreciative questioning.

The main features of the method

The approach is based on the principle of benevolence. No more tricking the candidates and placing the interview in a relationship of distrust. Candidates will present a positive situation that they have experienced, of which they are proud. The recruiter will accompany this narrative by helping candidates make the connection between their skills, personal qualities and their story.

The manager identifies the motivational elements put forward, the need for recognition and the person's objectives. He or she gives the person time to tell his or her story, thus avoiding conventional and prepared speeches. In fifteen minutes, candidates can get to the bottom of an experience. The exercise can be destabilizing for those who would have practiced from traditional interview patterns:

"I had prepared the classic questions, says an employee recently selected by appreciative recruitment... My qualities, my faults... But it was no use to me"

The manager presents a positive experience in turn. It allows candidates to perceive the expectations, the culture of the organization and its values. It restores equality between the two players.

Some recruiters engage in a guessing game. They say little about the position and see if the candidates fall right when they imagine their future job. Appreciative recruiting is all about transparency. They explain the rules of the game up front, but they also introduce the position before asking candidates how they envision themselves in that position.

Telling oneself through an experience

As the method relies on an ability to tell a personal experience, we asked Guillaume Laurie about the inequality of each of us in our ability to analyze ourselves, to tell stories, and to put ourselves on stage through a narrative.

An exercise in self-knowledge?

He clarifies that this is not an exercise in self-knowledge.

"Unlike a traditional interview where the candidate is asked to be able to analyze themselves and give an explanation of who they are, how they react, how they think, appreciative recruiting simply asks you to recount in detail an experience you have had. This does not require any hindsight and it is often the recruiter who will even teach the candidate that he or she has shown tenacity or open-mindedness, as the latter may not have analyzed the situation.

This will give the recruiter the opportunity to discover the qualities and skills of the candidate through the account of his or her experience. How he or she thinks, what is important to him or her, what he or she looks for in his or her actions."

A premium for impressive stories?

It will be objected that a candidate.e who has had the chance to travel a lot, to benefit from internships in beautiful companies with sometimes a family boost will have more things to tell.

"During an appreciative recruitment, Guillaume Laurie tells us, what we are looking for is not the experience but the candidate. How does he think? How does he react? What is important to him? How does he behave in a team? The story of the person who did his internship with the number one in the luxury industry will not necessarily be better than the one who worked in a small company, because the qualities that were at work will perhaps be much more important for the person from the small company. It is also difficult to build a story, to invent successes and to keep it going for ten minutes. The method does not favor those who would invent a story or intellectualize. On the contrary, it leaves room for emotion."

What is the reception for this method?

"Appreciative hiring" brings something new: emotions. For far too long, emotions have been dismissed from the professional environment, saying that they have no place there, denying their existence until burn-outs broke out everywhere.

Guillaume Laurie explains:
"Several HR managers have told me that they have totally changed their paradigm by using the method and one of them particularly enlightened me on the impact of the method when he told me: 'Before I was asking questions to try to weed out the worst candidates and unmask the liars. So I would look for the negative, dig to understand that negative and clear up my doubts, and finally end up hiring the 'least worst' candidate. Today, I look for the best in everyone and I only have to recruit the one who will be the best fit for the job because I know them."

Another had added, "Before, when candidates said thank you to me at the end of the interview, I felt that it was a thoughtful move to mark the end of the interview and leave a good impression. Now, when they say thank you, I can feel in their eyes that they were able to express themselves, that they felt heard and that I allowed them to discover something about themselves."

Illustrations: Frédéric Duriez


IFAI - Appreciative Recruitment, an experiment conducted by Guillaume Laurie at Kedge - accessed on June 20, 2021

Guillaume Laurie - Appreciative Recruitment - 2021 - an essential booklet to know the method.

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