Interviewing with a Purpose

By David Witmer posted 08-10-2016 04:05


I recently read a good piece on interviewing by Jim Schleckser, CEO, the Inc. CEO Project. In this essay he describes asking candidates "If I was to hire you, how would I know if you were doing a good job?" He goes on to describe how weak candidates will talk in generalities and offer noncritical metrics while the top candidates will offer specific ideas and be able to instantly provide 2-3 key measures that would define and measure their success. This certainly matches my experience with employees who have been top performers and I think it’s a great question. Those candidates who are self-aware will seek ways to verify that they are successful. They understand what they are trying to achieve and they have a clear understanding of how to determine if success has been achieved. I have also observed that top performers actually want to be measured and they seek ways to self-validate that their work is achieving success.

I really like Jim’s question. I find that all too often interviewers focus too much on the education, training, and experience of a candidate and not enough on the critical skills/traits that will be needed for them to be truly successful. Any candidate granted an interview should have been screened to ensure they meet the basic requirements for education, training, and experience described in the job description. This got them through the door and it’s good to briefly review these areas with the candidate to verify that they have the prerequisite knowledge and skill, but this should just be to verify and add context. What are you really looking for in an interview? To me it’s exactly what Jim alludes to in his essay, identifying what will distinguish the good candidates from the great candidates. Does another year of experience really distinguish who is the better candidate? I like to focus on trying to ask open ended questions designed to get the candidate to reveal more about their personality, how they problem solve, how they deal with adversity, and most importantly how well they communicate and collaborate in teams.

The following are a couple of quick examples to get at these “softer” skills. It’s important not just to listen to what they say, but more importantly know what you are looking for in their responses and assess how they respond.

Ask them to explain their views on a complex topic related to their area of expertise. Evaluate how well they can boil down their detailed knowledge to an executive summary that those not in their field can understand. A candidate may have great technical skills but if they can’t assess and more importantly communicate the value of what they are doing to others then they will likely struggle.

Ask them to describe key projects they worked on and to describe the most critical factors to achieving a successful outcome. Avoid candidates whose focus is on themselves and their personal accomplishments and look for candidates who describe how they collaborate, encourage, and support their teams.

Ask them to describe how they would approach discussions with their team if organizational priorities suddenly shifted. Look for responses that demonstrate empathy and emphasize teamwork and motivation. Avoid candidates whose responses seem to lack empathy or are not sensitive to helping their team understand and appreciate the need for change.

Ask them to describe an especially difficult project that at some point they thought was going to be doomed to failure and inquire as to how they finally got it over the finish line. Look for answers that describe how they sought out opinions beyond their team and how they engaged their teams in exercises to rework the problem from new and different perspectives.

Service Focus
Ask them to describe a project that they are proud of and why it excites them? Be leery of candidates whose focus is solely on sales or on growing their area of responsibility. Instead look for answers that demonstrate a commitment to serve the needs of the member/customer.

These are a few ideas for getting at the skills that will separate the wheat from the chaff. What questions do others use? I’m always looking for some new ideas in this area. Please share your best interview question and let’s learn from each other.


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08-11-2016 03:27

Thanks Ashley

08-11-2016 00:43

Great thoughts. I struggle sometimes to come up with good, thought provoking interview questions and this is helpful.