How to avoid being Schundler-ed with your team. Build the right questioning order.

For those of you who are outside the state of NJ, this may not have hit your local news. Bret Schundler, the now former head of education for the state of NJ, made a 400 million dollar error for the state just a few weeks ago.

When applying for federal funds, Schundler and his team neglected to provide certain budgetary and expensing details for a previous fiscal year. Governor Christie was told that the federal government did not provide a way for Schundler and his team to correct the problem, initially identified as a clerical error, and Christie immediately put out a statement that the Fed was in the wrong, based on a post-mortem conversation with Schundler. The US DoE quickly replied with a video showing that Schundler and his team were asked about the error during the application meetings and he, nor his team, could provide the necessary information. Because of that poor readiness, NJ schools lost $400 million in funding.

So let’s talk about how this relates to hiring. In my very first job years ago, I was charged in selling to the PA Department of Education. I had to write grants, fill out applications, and jump through more hoops than any corporation has ever had me do to date. Had to do the same at the federal level. I can tell you from experience that there are no mistakes on numbers. It is inexcusable. Of all the items on an application for funds, your budget, spending, and cost allocations have to be very tight and absolutely accurate. Otherwise you get NOTHING. So maybe I should opt in for the Secretary of Education for NJ.

This was a clear lack of “technical proficiency and knowledge”, something needed in every job. par of this job’s knowledge is about the meticulous nature of federal applications.  Each interviewer needs to probe on technical knowledge and proficiency during the interview process – apparently being meticulous was either missed or Schundler did not have the props.

Every job also has critical success factors. For the head of NJ education, increasing the level of education is clearly one, and finding additional resources for that effort is critical. So the interview question, “what are the steps that you have taken to increase the likelihood of gathering more resources for education” should have been asked, and interviewees should have been listening for experiences and processes that include being meticulous on federal funding applications, taking project leadership on critical initiatives, and other best practices.

But technical knowledge and technical proficiency are two dimensions that are part of usually 12 to 15 dimensions for a job. Attention to Detail and Integrity were clearly not vetted either, and here is how I know:

> the application was likely rushed and not reviewed enough by Schundler personally. What other pressing $400 million dollar additional funding resource was he attending to?

> as for out right telling Christie one thing when it was clearly another, well this is all about Integrity.

I am not picking on Schundler. Clearly he made errors, but I also am stating that the hiring manager (Christie) did not vet the candidate correctly. Mistakes happen for sure, but a poor match up of candidate’s resident competencies to the job is the fault of the hiring manager and his/her peers.

So what can recruiters and managers learn from this? We always talk about the cost of a bad hire. Build the right questioning and executing the following in this order will help avoid a bad hire:

1. Screening that recruiters perform are about experiences. Have you done this? Did you do that? See what they highlighted on the resume, and see if that experience matches up with a critical project or task of the job.

2. Hiring managers need to probe on technical knowledge and proficiency used during the experiences highlighted. How did you do that? Why did you do it that way? If the how and why is off, so is the candidate.

3. Hiring managers and their interview panels need to probe around dimensions and behaviors that are not only needed everyday, but especially ones that are critical to success. In a public position, Integrity is clearly important. In Schundler’s position, Attention to Detail is critical. I would also add leadership, strategic planning, decisiveness, judgment, delegation of authority, written communication, and oral presentation…to name a few. Sometimes these dimensions can be proven during screening and experience, but if you don’t know for sure, you better ask. We have 48 dimensions and over 750 competencies in our system, so there are plenty out there to ask about.

4. Once you have a few finalists, focus on motivational fit. We have over 50 factors that measure this, so take some time in thinking about it. Compensation and that fact that the job is close to home is not enough for a match.

5. Use the reference check. Does not matter if it’s automated or on the phone. Whatever questions you ask should reinforce the critical success factors for the job, and any assumptions that you are making. This way if the third party questions something during the reference check, it is about being successful in the job or it pokes holes in your matching theory, which is really what you want.

Don’t get Schundler-ed. Just plan, ask the right questions in the right order, and you will avoid serious mismatch, which will avoid serious problems later.

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