Do You Hire for Common Sense?

Posted by: Robert Wendover

Hire MeDo you hire for common sense?

Sounds like an obvious question, doesn’t it?

“Well duh! Of course I hire for common sense!” 

But do you really? Other than the fact that we really don’t have an idea about how to identify common sense, there’s really no way to measure it.

What we’re really talking about is critical thinking and problem solving. Without making too broad a generalization, critical thinking might be categorized as strategic and problem solving as tactical. Critical thinking is examining the overall context and scope of an effort to define a specific goal. Problem solving is making those day-to-day decisions required once the effort has been launched.

How do you test for this? Immersion. Provide applicants with situations gleaned from everyday organizational activity. But don’t just ask them how they would handle the situation. You’ll get nothing but stock answers. Instead, make it real and make it long.

Does the position require correspondence? Give them assignments that contain ambiguities. How do they handle them? What questions do they ask? What decisions do they make without assistance? What initiative do they demonstrate?

How about managing a service desk? Provide them with the essentials and have them manage a desk for two, three, or four hours; enough for fatigue to set in and so that you can see the patterns in their thoughts. Arrange for people to call them and ask ambiguous questions, questions for which there are no solutions, and complaints about which the customer refuses to be satisfied.

Perhaps you hire project managers. Give applicants a complicated set of plans with ambiguous instructions. How to they plan their work? How do they deal with recalcitrant vendors (your employees in character)? How do they deal with changes introduced once the plan has been established? You get the picture.

Please don’t tell me you can’t do this because your best applicants won’t stand for it. If they really want the job, they’ll indulge you. If they don’t, they weren’t a good long-term match anyway.  Remember, with every hire, you making a $20, 30, 50, 70, even $100,000 bet. You wouldn’t brush over the details in purchasing equipment that costs that much. As the saying goes, hire slow and fire fast. But make sure they demonstrate their common sense before you give your okay.

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