Job interview, application process deserves a fresh look

Feb. 27, 2024
Testing for fit and core skills provides a new "precision" approach to hiring.

By Karen Hanna 

If you’re still relying on your gut to vet candidates for job openings, some human resources (HR) experts would like a word. In their eyes, you’re leaving to chance your plant’s most important asset — your workforce. 

“What I find often is people forget to select, and they just hire. There’s a big difference between selecting people to work with for your company, who fit your company ... your corporate core values, versus just hiring the next person who walks in the door,” said Kathleen Quinn Votaw, CEO of TalenTrust, a strategic recruiting and human capital consulting firm that works with manufacturers. 

Instead, some HR experts suggest trying to identify skills and personal characteristics common to people who already excel in positions of need. 

By zeroing in on specific skills and traits tailored to the needs of the company and particular position, Quinn Votaw said employers can succeed with an approach she dubs precision interviewing. 

Julie Davis, VP of people strategy at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), noted that the ways companies vet candidates are evolving. 

“We see organizations that are winning the war for talent, looking at career pathing in manufacturing through identifying core skills for each position and looking at how core skills might interact, which is maybe a different way of looking at that than they’ve looked at in years past,” Davis said. 

Science steps up 

One company looking to bring more objectivity to interviewing is L&L Products, based in Romeo, Mich. 

Recently, its HR and training and development teams rolled out new interview questions, said Andrea Smith, global market communications manager. 

“They were questions that not only pull out what this person can do for the position, but how they fit with the company culturally, and I think that that was a really important part, not only for the people coming in interviewing, but for the interviewers to understand that these are the items that we’re looking for in people,” Smith said. 

The company combines expertise in both materials science and advanced engineering to create custom-engineered solutions that deliver reduced noise, vibration and harshness, static sealing, acoustic improvement, structural reinforcement, and substrate bonding for industrial applications. Many solutions integrate plastics as carriers for structural adhesives and static sealant materials. 

It takes pride in both the chemistry produced in its labs, as well as the chemistry among the people in its workforce. 

Unfortunately, say HR experts, the strategies manufacturers employ to identify people often aren’t as high-tech as the machinery they run. To HR experts like Mike Campanella, the president and CEO at Prevue HR Systems — which offers employment assessments Quinn Votaw recommends — that’s a mistake.  

“I'll talk to a company, and they will have equipment in their manufacturing plant that’s state-of-the-art, costing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. And then we’ll look at their HR environment, and they’re using spreadsheets,” he said. 

Precision interviewing 

Before coming to Prevue, Campanella worked for a phone company, where he thought he’d mastered the hiring process. In reality, fewer than two-thirds of his hires panned out.  

That experience eventually led him to Prevue, which has developed over 1,000 position benchmarks for its clients., each based on a growing library of profiles of characteristics of more than 25,000 people in various roles.Its AI engines have analyzed data collected over the past 15 years. 

In addition to helping companies vet candidates, Prevue also assists with promoting openings. 

Many of its clients are looking to fill manufacturing jobs.  

“In North America, one in 25 positions literally can’t get filled; they just can’t find somebody for it,” Campanella said. “So, employers have to identify quickly good employees and hire them fast, and they are doing that. But the problem is, without a tool like this, they’re doing that, and they’re causing chaos, because they’re doing it so quickly that they’re missing stuff.” 

Too often, companies are judging candidates just by how they’re dressed or the answers they provide to rote questions that are easy to game. 

“People are showing up, and they present well and they’re likable and precise, so they hire them ... because they know they’ve got to fill roles, and there’s a lot of pressure on them to do that. But what happens is, is they end up short-cutting good practice because of that pressure, and then companies are creating turnover on top of turnover,” Campanella said. “I’ve personally been witness to organizations that have had to turn down massive contracts, because they literally can’t fill the positions to fulfill those contracts. The key to our product is that it’s going to help companies move quickly but with confidence, and limit the turnover and grow.” 

Using statistical methods to validate its findings, Prevue touts an approach that Campanella says is not only more effective than the traditional process, but more fair. 

“If you remember that people naturally create a mental impression of someone within 3 seconds of meeting them, you can appreciate that traditional interviewing is flawed and biased,” he said. “By reviewing someone’s assessment results prior to any form of face-to-face people are not being viewed on their appearance or how well their resume is crafted but by the same measures as everyone else and presented in the same format for everyone. This creates a more objective, Inclusive, fair and efficient form of evaluation.” 

While the company has profiles for about 80 percent of the types of jobs clients need to fill, it’s also adept at creating objective assessments for unique positions — like the time it helped a pet crematorium find a driver responsible for returning the ashes of people’s pets to customers. 

By analyzing the characteristics of people likely to succeed in a given role, Prevue also has developed insights into strategies companies can use to improve retention. With a simple recommendation from Prevue, for example, one customer was able to rein in a carousel of CNC machinist departures. 

“ ‘I’m losing people for a dollar an hour. They work for me, and they leave. They’re not loyal at all,’ ” Campanella recalled the customer saying. “So, we started digging into and building a profile about these people, and we tested a bunch of people. What we found is that, whereas they were introverts, they weren't extreme introverts; they were just to the left of it, which means they do value building relationships with the people they work with.” 

Prevue’s recommendation? 

Make room on the calendar for Pizza Fridays, to allow people to better bond with their colleagues and develop a sense of belonging. 

Prevue’s assessments ensure early that candidates will actually be engaged with the jobs that they might eventually fill. Instead of simply interviewing and presenting well, candidates have to demonstrate they’re suited for the role for which they’re applying. 

In the long run, Campanella said, that benefits everyone. 

“In the average manufacturing company, 20 percent of their employees are fully engaged, 40 percent are somewhat engaged, and 40 percent are collecting a paycheck. We want to move that engagement level up,” he said. “And the way to do that is to make sure people are doing the kinds of things that they like to do.” 

Moving on up 

But that gut feeling still has its place. 

Employees who are engaged in their work and invested in their company are good bets for future development, even into leadership roles, Campanella said. But subjective factors, like personality and people skills, have a role in companies’ promotion decisions, too, according to Bob Hersh, partner-in-charge for Grant Thornton’s New York and New England business advisory services. 

“I don’t think it’s necessarily scientific or easy to predict success in the next level up, until people have that experience and learn the challenges and the art of doing that next job,” said Hersh, who recommends that companies should be “really sensitive to a personality and a style,” as well as individuals’ career needs and interests. 

Companies need to strike a balance, according to Quinn Votaw and Campanella. For example, Campanella said, companies can use Prevue’s assessments to identify in-house candidates to consider for future development and promotion — and then vet them through a more traditional process. 

"If you’re looking at, say, five people in your company, for promotion, what you can do now is you can take those five people, compare them against the leadership profile and choose the two that are best suited for that,” he said. “And then grab the interview guy and interview them for it.”  

According to Quinn Votaw, companies — especially in blue-collar industries, like plastics and manufacturing —too often dismiss as “mumbo jumbo” new methods that would open up better candidates and new labor pools to them.  

Ultimately, though, by investing time and effort to consider alternative approaches, they’ll make themselves more competitive. 

“It takes a little bit of work, but once you put the time in, you’re going to have a better success rate at selecting for them — for their fit and your fit. But it requires you to slow down a little bit versus just hiring the next one who walks in the door, and look at who’s the best person, not the best human, but the best qualified person? Persons who work for me now, what is the theme? Where are the similarities? Where’s the value alignment? What are the behaviors?” she asked. “And start selecting based on what’s been successful so far.”  


Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Milwaukee, 414-272-0943, 

Grant Thornton LLP, Boston, 617-723-7900, 

Prevue HR Systems Inc., Vancouver, British Columbia, 888-277-3883, 

TalenTrust, Denver, 303-838-3334, 

About the Author

Karen Hanna | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Karen Hanna covers injection molding, molds and tooling, processors, workforce and other topics, and writes features including In Other Words and Problem Solved for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. She has more than 15 years of experience in daily and magazine journalism.