What Do HR Pros Have in Common with Investigators?

Contributed by Tad Downs — NCHRA Talent Acquisition Conference Speaker —-

As a career criminal investigator my job for the past 25 years has been to put bad guys in jail. Yes, I know this has nothing to do with the HR profession, and I am sure you are asking, “Why is a criminal investigator writing an article for an HR publication?”

HR West Blog - HR and Investigators Have More In Common than you may think!It is simple: Investigators and HR Professionals have more in common than you may think!

The more I speak to HR professionals, the more I am convinced they could benefit from what I call, “Using the Investigator’s Mindset.” Over the past ten years it has become apparent to me that both professions have a lot in common. You see, I have spent my entire adult life working in state and federal law enforcement, as well as private security. In essence both professions are conducting investigations. The investigator does so to solve the mystery of who committed the crime, while the HR-professional investigates whom it is they want to hire.  Each uses various tools to solve their respective mystery, with the most common being an interview.  I know of no other profession that conducts interviews more than an investigator or HR-professional. For the HR-professional, one of their most important management functions is recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and retaining qualified employees. This endeavor has the potential to be challenging and frustrating. If it is done right, a qualified employee is hired. If it is done wrong, the HR-professional ends up with a problem employee. However, avoiding a bad hire is easier said than done.

During the employment interview, the HR-professional seeks to have an open and honest conversation with the applicant so that they can make an informed business decision. However, scientific studies show that applicants often lie in interviews to obtain the job. To further muddy the waters, applicants will go to great lengths to learn impression management skills. In my research for my new book, Using The Investigator’s Mindset – How HR-Professionals Can Interview Like An Investigator To Avoid Bad Hires, I found considerably less information for the HR-professional than for the applicant, on how to interview. This means interviewers are often poorly prepared to detect and combat the job seekers ability’ to mislead them. Here is where using the investigator’s mindset can be beneficial for the HR-professional.

We investigators have long been using non-confrontational interviewing techniques to have the same open and honest exchange of information that the HR-professional strives for. Investigators are experts at what I call creating a “psychologically safe” environment. When we use our Investigator’s Mindset for hiring we need to:

  1. Become a Student of Nonverbal Communication;
  2. Recognize the Seven Universal Emotions;
  3. Properly Prepare;
  4. Lower Our Cognitive Load;
  5. Aggressively Listen.

Become a Student of Nonverbal Communication

Investigators know that they can’t rely on “gut instinct.” Rather, they need to articulate the facts in which to base their decisions. One way to do this is by becoming a student of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication composes approximately 90 percent of any message being conveyed and investigators know that while the mouth may lie, the body does not. Nonverbal communication often tells us more how a person really feels more so than their words. This is because our nonverbal behaviors are driven by our emotions. The HR professional also needs to become a student of nonverbal communication, learn the rules for reading nonverbal behaviors, and understand the relationship between verbal and nonverbal communication. By using the Investigator’s Mindset and becoming a student of nonverbal communication you will be able to combat your applicant’s impression management strategies and to understand what it is your applicants are really telling you.

Understand the Seven Universal Emotions

Again, nonverbal behaviors are driven by emotions, and this nonverbal communication tells how a person feels, more so than their words. Emotions produce unique and specific behaviors when communicated nonverbally. The human face is where these behaviors are most often displayed.

Dr. Paul Ekman, and various other academics, through a series of experiments, confirmed that there are seven universal emotions shared by cultures throughout the world. These emotions, Ekman found, could not only be displayed by all cultures but recognized by them as well. These emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, and contempt. Recognizing the seven universal emotions will give you, the interviewer, an advantage when interviewing. These emotions shown on the faces of applicants will help you to determine whether the person’s feelings match the spoken word. Awareness of emotional intelligence in interviewing is essential for preventing the bad hire. Emotional information can be used to guide the interviewer’s questioning to uncover what may be causing the emotions displayed.

Properly Prepare for The Interview

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  – Benjamin Franklin

To be proficient at anything, takes preparation and practice. These truly are the keys to so many endeavors in life, and interviewing applicants is no exception. Fortunately for the HR profession, you have ample opportunity to practice. Setting aside time to prepare for the interview might be another story. Time constraints are extensive, and the tendency not to prepare adequately for an interview is often tempting. While tempting, when you use the Investigator’s Mindset, you know that “winging it” is not an option.

When we properly prepare, we can:

  1. Define what a successful interview will be. I consider not hiring a problem employee a successful interview just as much as hiring a qualified applicant.
  2. Avoid bias. Bias such as Confirmation Bias, a tendency to look for information and recall it in a way that confirms our beliefs or hypotheses while not paying attention to information contradicting it; Truth Bias, the fact that people want to believe others, despite evidence to the contrary; and Overconfidence Bias, which occurs when we believe our ability to interview is better than it actually is.
  3. Have a thorough knowledge of the position requirements. HR professionals often are hiring for an entire company, and, depending on how large the company may be, will have to interview applicants for several hundred varied positions. All good investigators know what it is they are interviewing for, the HR professional should as well.

Lower Our Cognitive Load

Perhaps one of the most important things to use the Investigator’s Mindset for is to lower our cognitive load. Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in an individuals working memory. When your cognitive load is great, it impairs your ability to assess what it is you are seeing and hearing. In layman’s terms, if too much is going on upstairs in your mind, you are not going to be able to conduct a successful interview. Your cognitive load will place a “road block” in the way of adequately interviewing your applicants.

Aggressively Listen to Your Applicants

Communication is conducted between people, and while this may seem obvious, how often do you quiet your mind and focus on the person’s emotions and nonverbal behaviors being displayed? When we use our Investigator’s Mindset, we do just that. We listen closely, quiet our mind, focusing on how things are being communicated, and go beyond just the words being heard. Doing so will help you discover valuable information about your applicants. This, in turn, will help you better evaluate your applicants.  Steven Covey said it best in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, “Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand.”

When you understand aggressive listening, you then have the ability to recognize stress being displayed in the form of “pacifiers” in those with whom you are communicating.  Pacifiers are easily recognizable and socially acceptable ways to reduce stress that the body is feeling. Pacifiers are self-soothing actions one does when under stress. Thumb twiddling, rubbing of the legs or hands, and self-hand holding are a few examples.

Maintaining eye contact is another way to aggressively listen to your applicants. Eye contact shows interest in what the individual is saying, and scientific studies have shown that, by maintaining eye contact you have a greater ability to recall what has been communicated.

Lastly, to aggressively listen, you need to use the power of silence—your silence. After all, if you are talking, you are not listening!

When we start to develop and use the investigator’s mindset, we start to look at things from a different angle, obtain a different perspective, and, hopefully, achieve better results.


About the Author

Tadd Downs, Hiring Consultant, Author

While he may be an outsider to the HR profession, Tadd Downs offers experiences that are invaluable to the HR professional. He has spent over 25 years conducting interviews and investigations. His law enforcement career began as a Trooper with the Virginia State Police, after which, he spent 22 years as a Special Agent with one of the world’s premier federal law enforcement agencies. Investigator turned consultant, Downs most recent book, “Using the Investigator’s Mindset: How H-R Professionals Can Interview Like an Investigator to Avoid Bad Hires,” takes an in-depth look at the applicant interviewing process.

Tadd Downs has spoken at a number of HR events across the country and we are proud to have him present his session, Interviewing For Engagement: A culture of employee engagement must start with you, at the NCHRA Talent Acquisition Conference in San Francisco on June 7th.

An engaged employee is a valuable asset, and creating a culture of engagement has to start within the Human Resources Department and with hiring managers. No longer does having satisfied employees help retain your best talent. To reduce turnover and attract the most qualified applicants, your company needs to create a culture where employee engagement flourishes.

Decoding the Body has taken an in-depth look at scientific studies involving employee engagement and the traits these employees possess. They then developed non-confrontational interviewing techniques to identify them early in the hiring process. Decoding the Body teaches how to interview for the 4 Ps of engagement (People, Purpose, Position, and Passion) during the applicant interview. By discovering whether your applicant has the 4 Ps, you can hire with confidence, knowing the applicant has the potential to be an engaged employee.

From this session, you’ll be able to:

·         Differentiate between employee engagement and employee satisfaction.

·         Develop an understanding of the importance of employee engagement.

·         Learn how to interview for engagement by interviewing for the 4 Ps of engagement.

Read more about this 1-day conference and register for the NCHRA Talent Acquisition Conference here.

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