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.

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L2L Infographic: Millennials and Business Leadership

What They Really Think

Millennials and Business Leadership

Infographic Courtesy of Brighton School of Business and Management

 

HR Leaders: How Decisions Actually Affect Talent Retention in a Real Way

Talent Retention

It isn’t uncommon for the human resources department to be viewed as one having little impact on a company’s profitability, finances, or sales. However, is this consensus a fair one?

After giving it some thought, which department in the business is responsible for the talent driving the finance and sales sectors?

Developing Your Business Infrastructure

Once all the layers of a business are peeled back, it is safe to say that it is truly only as first-rate as the talent working within each department. Without those individuals, the business wouldn’t exist, and the human resource department is responsible for each of these employees.

They not only attract them, but they also help develop them and organize them strategically throughout the company, so they perform at their best.

Giving further thought to this subject, it makes no sense not to give credence to the critical factor that HR plays in a company’s profitability and decision-making process. The real question is, though, how this department’s decisions impact the company’s bottom line, where their value lies, and how their decisions affect the retention of talent in a real way.

Decision-Making and Talent Management

The most obvious point of contention regarding HR is the decisions the make regarding talent management, and its impact on retention. The driving force behind every successful company is a solid talent. Therefore, it’s up to the HR department to have a thorough understanding of the business’s talent requirements, how to attract them, and the requirements necessary to develop that talent to enable them to assist the company strategically, so goals are met.

Because it’s so difficult for organizations to attract and retain experienced leaders currently, those holding these management leadership roles deserve separate mentioning.

A business is a “make or break” situation if strong leadership isn’t in place, especially when times are tough, or during periods of transition.

Attracting the Right People

The HR department can have a huge impact on an organization when they attract the right leadership and develop them effectively. They don’t just advertise for a particular leadership role and fill that slot.

Instead, they will assess the needs of that leadership position for a particular department, first attracting an individual fitting that specific need, and following through by developing their behaviors and skills based on particular requirements.

When each of these decisions is made, and all of these goals are accomplished by the HR department, how the company’s bottom line and the retention of talent are evident. Companies not only have the correct people serving in the right positions, but they are working at their highest level that, in turn, will inevitably have a positive effect on the company’s performance and profitability.

HR Strategy Alignment and Decision-Making

Every department in a business is an important one and, with every strategy and decision, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Therefore, when it comes to HR activities, some of these decisions truly impact employee retention in a real way. Integrated HR software helps management hire and retain employees.

These organizational tools assist the HR department to organize hire dates, compile data, and track every employee’s career path. The importance of this data includes making a determination for future leadership roles, as well as identifying where employees can serve in various departments in the company.

When strategies are intrinsically linked to the goals of the business, as a whole, then there is greater success for talent retention. This is because when employees know that companies are willing to invest money into developing them and increasing their skills, then they’ll be more willing to stay with the company.

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Robert Cordray

Robert Cordray is a freelance writer with over 20 years of business experience
He does the occasional business consult to help increase employee morale
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10 Steps to Create a Killer Succession Plan

Retirement Pocket Watch

As a matter of age and evolution, every 10 to 20 years or so almost every business is forced to find new leaders to carry it into the future. As older leaders retire, replacements must be brought in to carry on their work.

In some cases leaders quit, die, are promoted, or transfer elsewhere.

Staying in Business

In all of those cases, they must be replaced if the business is to survive. Despite that inescapable truth, many businesses and organizations I work with are not properly prepared to replace their outgoing talent.

Often there seems to be a “head-in-the-sand” mind-set wherein, decision makers choose to leave well enough alone and hope that their current personnel structure will last forever or that a new, exciting leader will fall out of the woodwork on cue, when necessary.

Unfortunately, woodwork is often populated by termites, ants and beetles…none of which offer any great organizational leadership potential.

In order to build a valuable and effective succession plan, decision makers must firstly, “always” be on the lookout for future leaders. They must be thinking at all times about perpetuation of their organization and what will happen when their current good or bad leaders move on.

Succession should not be an emergency decision.

It should be like a cougar on the hunt…ready, alert and waiting to pounce when the opportunity arises.

10 Steps to Create a Killer Succession Plan

Here are some things to think about when planning for the perpetuation of your organization:

1) Be a savvy shopper.

In order to identify your future leaders you must accept that it is not always a good idea to buy your talent at the head-hunter storeIn many cases, people who register with head-hunters have issues that have prevented them from finding work through other channels. You might want to consider them your last resort as they may be your potential undoing.

2)  Always try to promote from within.

This is a commonly accepted business principle that is often avoided or overlooked. It takes much less time to bring an existing employee up to speed than it does an outsider. Current staff members know your business, your culture and your brand…and you already know them.

3) Select from values-ready candidates.

Always promote or hire leaders who already possess your corporate values rather than trying to teach them your values after the employment contract is signed. Perform some professional skills and talent testing and use solid investigative interviewing techniques before you give them an office and an email address.

4) Never promote people out of obligation.

Organizations of all types tend to offer promotions to people who have hung-in-there the longest regardless of skills, talents or value. Tenure is NOT necessarily an indication of leadership ability and it should not be rewarded with a leadership position unless the person is actually a good leader.

5) Always be on the lookout for “keeners.” 

Keeners are people who love their jobs and quite naturally encourage others to excel in theirs. These people often offer advice and counsel to other even when not in a formal leadership role. There are many of them in many organizations and they often go unnoticed by the decision makers. They may or may not thrive in an elevated leadership position but if they are ignored or passed-over they will never realize their full capacity for leadership. Be a talent-scout within your own organization.

6) Once you have identified a potential leader, talk to them.

Let them know that you appreciate their work and that you see a bright future for them. Human beings of all personality types and skill levels love to be encouraged and they appreciate knowing that they have a future.

7) Put your future leaders on a “career path.”

Most people of the current younger generation want to know where they are going and how long it will take them to get there. Work with them to create milestones and expectations so that when the time comes, they can easily slip into a new leadership position.

Really good future leaders want advancement and if you don’t provide it, someone else will.

8) Provide leadership training to future leaders.

Although some people possess almost “natural” leadership skills, there is a lot to be learned about leading that cannot be gleaned through osmosis or exposure to ones immediate supervisor or manager. Formalize your leadership training and offer it to anyone who wants an opportunity to learn.

9) If you hire a new leader from outside of your own firm, never hire based on your “gut instincts.”

Your guts might help you in a fight–or-flight situation or when you are selecting an item on a restaurant menu, but they don’t work well for talent selection. Always utilize good talent assessment tools and have a panel of your peers and/or employees participate in the interview process so that your decision is not tainted by your guts.

Job applicants almost always adapt their behaviour to the interview process and what you saw is seldom what you get a month or two after they have settled into a new job.

10) Never hire in your own image or enforce your own leadership style.

Most of us tend to feel comfortable with people who are most like us. However, it takes many types of personalities to make a great team and one leadership style is not the “best” or the “only” way to lead. Take your personal feelings out of how a new leader should lead and allow them to deal with people in the way that works best for them.

Give them an array of leadership tools and then stand back and watch them fly.

A Brighter Future

In an increasingly competitive world you must have the best-of-the-best leaders if you want to have a commanding presence in the new millennium. If you have not started to build a leadership plan for the future, now is the time.

What have you done to ensure a successful succession process in your organization? If you have not yet started a succession plan, what’s stopping you? What would be an easy next-step in this direction to get you started? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

——————–
Wayne Kehl

Wayne Kehl is President and CCO at Dynamic Leadership Inc
He is author and behavioral analyst who lectures on leadership and motivation
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