Are You Interviewing the Candidate or Just Checking Their Pulse?

The interviewer with a candidate at the Starbucks in Hong Kong Central seemed nice, bright and engaging.shutterstock_117963070

She was, unfortunately, conducting a train wreck of an interview in front of me; when she asked early on, “You’re not a micromanager, are you?” I thought she was a goner.

When the candidate smiled, said “Of course not” and she smiled back, I knew she was dead on arrival,

She had just confirmed that the candidate had a pulse and an IQ (e.g. he knew the correct answer to “Are you a micromanager?”) but not much else. The rest of the interviewer was about the same.

Interviewing candidates for jobs is a little bit like buying a car. It starts with a roster of the key qualities that are most important (for success) that you’re looking for, and a way to know if and when those attributes get evidenced or expressed. If it’s mileage that’s most important, you start with the MPG rating. If it’s trunk size, you start with storage capacity.

The only wrinkle for candidates is to figure out what are the key qualities – organizational culture and fit within the workgroup aside – that makes someone in that role successful. One simple way is to look at the people who have performed well in a role and figure out what attributes they have in common. Hunch is that you’ll get an 80% bead on what’s important if you do that bit of dissection.

The second step, once you’ve figured out the key success factors, is figuring out how you’ll know them when you see them, when they get expressed, when they get evidenced. If for example, it’s something like attention to detail, you look for that attention to detail in the stories they tell, how they have pulled together their resume, and every bit of data that shouts out “I pay attention to the details.

The questions you ask  are of the “tell me about a time” variety. Now that our friends at Google have done the research proving that those hypothetical questions, while interesting and clever, are worthless (see SVP of People Operation Laszlo Bock’s interview with the New York Times at In Headhunting, Big Data May Not Such a Big Deal), it’s back to the basics of good, behaviorally based interviewing with strong reference checking using the same methodology.

Asking “yes” and “no” questions in an interview is pointless unless it’s at the end of a series of “funnel questions” narrowing down someone’s background (“Did you actually work alongside Laszlo Bock or did you bump into him in the cafeteria?“) or akin to “Is there anything I should know about you as a candidate that I don’t know” sort of thing.

To repeat, the simple steps are:

  1. What are the most important qualities/attributes/factors that people in this role exhibit that are correlated to their success?
  2. How will I know those factors when they get exhibited / expressed / evidenced?
  3. What are the types of “tell me about a time” questions that I can ask to have a candidate narrate stories about times when those qualities might be present.
  4. What’s the experience with the candidate during the interviewing process (or any other experience) tell me about how they map against those qualities.

That’s it. Collect your data, see how the candidate maps, and reference check like crazy using the same methodology if you think it’s a candidate with whom you’re potentially moving forward.

P.S. Those cultural qualities that apply to organizational or workgroup fit? Same process.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub. 

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