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

 

Want or Need? Rethink Your Recruitment Priorities

Recognizing Long-term Potential Means Looking Beyond Short-term Expectations

Uncle Sam Recruiter

Before preparing a new job posting, recognize that the “ideal” candidate does not exist—yet.

In trying to separate the good from the great, people like to start with perfection and list all the traits that make someone ‘ideal.’

The Difference Between Needs and Wants

Whether it is describing the ideal mate, planning the perfect day, or defining the ideal candidate for a position, conventional wisdom holds that by making a wish list covering every preference, you have a firm base for comparing your options.

The trouble with this approach is that people are usually very bad at distinguishing “needs” from “wants.” You see this disconnect often in the form of budgeting and buying decisions, but the same principle applies to recruitment.

Think of this way: Needs are basics; Wants are all bonuses.

Typically, a new-hire wish list is made up of few Needs, layered between lots of Wants that ultimately hurt your chances of finding the best fit for the job.

Aim to Replicate Success

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat through a meeting where a new job posting is being drawn up, and the “must have” column gets so big and detailed, that even existing employees wouldn’t be able to fit every requirement.

You can define true Needs quickly by looking at what makes your current team function. Not what makes them excel—that comes later, through practice and slow, steady cultural integration.

It is easy to reinvent the wheel when preparing to do recruiting, but expecting new hires to come in to your organization ready to meet and exceed the performance of existing employees is beyond unrealistic, and sets the whole relationship up for failure.

Plan on Remedial Training

The fact is, you need to plan for remediation in any recruitment effort.

Too many executives hear this and think it is a compromise: if they aren’t getting the absolute most skilled recruits, they must be settling for mediocrity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any job in any company has a learning curve.

Bruce Tulgan, researcher, author, and expert on generational issues in the workplace, explains how organizations face a baseline skills gap even in the most promising new, youthful recruits.

He says this:

One of the things we’ve measured over 23 years is, what are the hiring managers saying? And an awful lot of what they’re saying, with increasing incidence, is that [Millennials] have the hard skills, but they lack the old-fashioned soft skills.” 

Before you can capitalize on any fresh talent, your recruits have some learning to do to get acquainted with your company, your staff, your product, your mission, your systems, your expectations (let’s face it: nobody is completely forthcoming in an interview).

If every new hire is going to require an upfront investment to train and get up to speed, why pretend that raw talent matters more than the will and ability to learn, fit in, and care from day one?

Tulgan goes on to say:

One of the things you have to do to succeed with the new young workforce, is find a way to channel their fresh training and new technology that they’re comfortable with, the new processes, new ideas, new energy—you have to find a way to tap that. But you also have to find a way to teach them some of the ‘here is how we do things around here, and this is our culture.’”

Reframe Your Needs as Learning Opportunities

Getting the best talent on your staff isn’t just a recruiting challenge, it is a responsibility of management and leadership. Know that going into a new hire decision, and you can make sure they know they are expected to learn, grow, and evolve alongside your organization, from the beginning.

Presenting potential recruits with a role as a learning opportunity allows you to cultivate a cultural fit alongside the skills fit your organization needs. This is where an investment of effort on their part will be met with an investment of training, high expectations, and coaching on your part.

Tulgan continues with this:

Good management is synonymous with teaching, and good followership is synonymous with learning. Good management is constantly, systematically focusing on what they can do to make things better. People should be doing that up, down, and sideways every step of the way.”

Whether that is remediating soft skills in Millennial recruits, or getting older workers up to date with the latest technology, every member of your team needs both expectations, and opportunities to continue learning and growing.

Attract Character by Demonstrating Character

If your hard skill need happens to be programming, remember that:

You don’t need the best programmer in the business, you need the best programmer your company and your culture can attract and retain.

When it comes to posting a new job and attracting candidates, you have more reach and access than ever before. The number of resources and opportunities you have to set yourself apart from the other dull, grey “Help Wanted” postings online (especially free ones) gives you freedom to experiment, have fun, and put the focus from the very beginning on what really matters: finding the right fit.

Try doing this:

  • Convey that you take cover letters as seriously as resumes.
  • Show how skills needs align with cultural norms.
  • Ask what you can learn from applicants, and what they hope to learn from you

If you are looking for skills without consideration for character, you’re trying to hire a robot, not a person. As a result, your job posting is probably going to come across as equally robotic.

Finding someone with the right skills who also fits your company’s culture requires you to not just ask for evidence of skills, but demonstrate an interest in the person offering to help you.

What are the most unique, captivating job postings you’ve ever seen? What made them memorable? How can you go from advertising a job to advertising a culture? Are you focusing on too much on Wants and forgetting what your organization truly Needs? How are you helping your youngest team members learn the soft skills that allow them to fully realize the value their hard skills can provide?

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Edgar Wilson is a Writer, Consultant, and Analyst
He follows trends in Education, Healthcare, and Public Policy
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Image Sources: recruitusmc.org