Six lessons in how to interview… from the trenches

Posted April 27, 2010 in Latest News & Insights

Skills and experience get you hired; attitude and behaviour get you fired.  That’s an oft quoted managerism that speaks to the importance of (in Jim Collins’ words) getting the right people on your bus.  Too often, we fall into the trap of using “gut” and surface first impressions (resume, how well the person interviews, rapport) to make our hiring decisions. Spending more time upfront on your interviewing can save you lots of time, money (and tears!) down the line.

Before getting thrown in head first to the world of assessment, I conducted countless management interviews using the same toolkit of questions:  what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, blah, blah, blah etc. etc.  I used to spend most of the time asking people to tell me what they would do in certain situations.  I made some good hires… I made some terrible hires.  Now, I’m no interviewing guru, but here are five lessons that I’ve picked up along the way that, when I use them (and that’s the key!), are surprisingly effective.

Lesson #1 – past behaviour predicts future behaviour.  In a nutshell, this means ditch the “what would you do if” questions and ask “tell me about a time when” questions.  This is “behavioural” interviewing at its basics.  By hearing the candidate tell you about real situations, you hear how they actually dealt with something vs. their fictious version of how they would deal with something.

Lesson #2 – building on point #1… get specific.  As they are telling their scenario, listen for the following key components and probe more if you need to:

            Situation – have they described what was going on clearly?

            Task – what was the task they were doing/their role in the situation?

            Action – what actions did they take?

            Result – what were the outcomes?  How did they feel?  What did they learn?

Lesson #3ask about their values.  In my opinion, an alignment between a person’s core values and that of the organizations’ is crucial for long-term success.  One way to find out what the person’s values are is to straight up ask them, but don’t be surprised if you get a blank stare.  If that’s the case, ask them for 5 people they really admire and what it is about those people that they admire.  Another way to ask is to find out what they think former colleagues would say about them.  From there, listen to their answers and see if you can “hear” some of the values come through. You’re not looking for a direct match to your organization’s culture, but someone who values “teamwork” heavily, may not fit well in an “eat what you kill” culture where it’s every man/woman for themselves.

Lesson #4Shut up.  Too many interviewers spend the first 30 minutes of a 60 minute interview giving the candidate the “overview” of the role and the company.  Depending on how persuasive your candidate is, all that does is give them lots of fodder to feed you the right lines.  In a first interview, a brief set up and overview of the interview process (5 mins) should kick it off and save the last 15 for candidate questions.

Lesson #5 – Max out the reference requests.  Ever wonder where asking for 3 references came from?  My former boss used to get us to ask for 9.  As he pointed out, it’s easy to dig up 3 people who love you… nine is more of a stretch.  Now, it doesn’t mean you have to call all 9, but if boss number 1 gives you some red flag info, you have 2 more bosses to go to if you want to put your concerns to rest.

Bonus Lesson #6 – Hire slowly, fire fast.  Getting the right person on your bus from the get go is probably one of the most important management activities you can do, so make sure you have the right fit.  Getting comfortable and competent at interviewing is a key tool for your toolkit. But, we all make mistakes.  If you’ve made one, there’s no sense if ripping the bandaid off slowly for anyone involved.  Once you’ve recognized the fit isn’t there, it’s best for your employee and you to move on.

Happy leading!

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  1. Barbara Gilbert says:

    Thank you for this!

    We are just heading into hiring for 2 YCW positions. Last year’s student gave a wonderful interview but her work was, well, less than impressive.

    This year, I am better prepared for the interview process and have made note of some of your tips. I’ll be sure to use them.