On Leadership and Hiring

Why Leaders Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Push Past Surface-Level Interview Questions

Interview Questions

If you’ve been in a leadership position for more than a couple of years, you’ve likely interviewed dozens of job candidates.

You know all the textbook tactics, and you’ve seen every character imaginable — from the guy wearing an Armani suit and too much cologne to the recent college graduate nervously shaking in her boots.

But you’re also smart enough to know that it’s all an act.

Performing Arts

Don’t kid yourself; you’re interviewing actors and actresses. Some candidates could win Academy Awards, while others would struggle to make the cast of a low-budget horror flick. But whether the candidate is Meryl Streep or an extra on a laundry detergent commercial, you’re interacting with a façade.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve fallen for the act in the past. Remember when you were excited about the candidate who knocked the interview out of the park, only to find out that she was a dud a month later?

So to guard yourself against this mistake, you try to be shrewder than the interviewee. You ask her sly behavioral questions, have her come in for multiple interviews, and make her take a series of tests. But unfortunately, no amount of testing will reveal the real person, especially in the artificial environment of an interview. You can’t really know whether the candidate will be a self-starting, knowledge-hungry superstar or a clock-watching D-list player until you give her the job.

So what should you do? In short, there is no easy answer. But when it comes down to it, the first step is revamping your interview process.

The Interview

Tactic You Need to Employ Right Now

What if the interview became a personal conversation instead of a casting call? What if the primary focus was on the person, not the résumé?

I’ve found a way to make this happen. I call it the “personal letter interview.” My company has been using it for four months now, and the people we’ve hired have been outstanding. Time will give us more data, but I’m convinced we’re on the right path.

Here’s how it works:

  • If you have a qualified job candidate you’d like to interview, ask her to write a letter to a loved one — a child, spouse, parent, or friend.
  • Ask her to describe both what she is proud of and what she regrets, and prompt her to tell you how she feels about where she is today.
  • Finally, have her conclude with how she envisions her future.

Keep your instructions loose; the letter can be to anyone and about anything.

Move Beyond the Surface Level

This is when the mask comes off, so be ready for some tearjerkers. The first candidate who submitted a letter to me talked about the impact of his newborn baby on his life. Another talked about how she was still hurting from a breakup 10 months after the fact.

But this process is about more than a few tears; it’s about opening the door to a deeper conversation by responding to something personal in a caring, compassionate way. And even if the letter you receive is more matter-of-fact, you’re still chipping away at the façade.

As a result, the interview becomes more of an exploration into how the person truly feels about her life, career, hopes, and dreams — and less of an exploration into her sales numbers. That’s not to say experience is unimportant, but the candidate’s experience is in her résumé.

You wouldn’t be interviewing her if you didn’t think she could do the job.

She has already met your initial screening criteria, so you might as well spend more time getting to know her personally.

Be Smart!

Still, there are a few questions that are “off the table,” so to speak. You have to guard against veering into legally unacceptable areas — anything that involves gender, nationality, social club memberships, age, or family status. That’s not what you’re after, and you can still have a meaningful conversation without diving into those subjects.

If your current process is consistently churning out less-than-stellar hires, consider the personal letter interview. You’ll feel more confident that you really know the person you are hiring, and that will positively impact your company in the long run.

And at the end of the day, I’ll take the hard working, sharp, and determined person with a high level of honesty over 20 years of experience.

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Bob La Loggia

Bob La Loggia is the founder and CEO of AppointmentPlus, a fast-growing SaaS business based in Scottsdale, Arizona. His company has won a number of awards, including CareerBuilder’s Best Places to Work award. Bob is a serial entrepreneur who’s passionate about his business and helping Arizona develop a world-class startup ecosystem.

Image Source: yessalesrecruitment.co.uk

 

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