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
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
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.
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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