Job interview tip: Consider first, the BIG questions.


Hiring good people is always a challenge.  According to HR firm Watson Wyatt, even the best organizations there have a success rate in new hiring of about 60% (not much better than flipping a coin).

I think one of the big reasons this statistic is so low, is that when we interview in many companies, people focus on the wrong things.  We tend to look at someone’s qualifications – like where they went to school, their major, their areas of technical competence, and some of their accomplishments.   These are easy areas to probe, I suppose, because they are kind of factual. These are also the kinds of interview questions we all expect, and for which we can easily prepare answers.

If you think about the bad hires you made – they typically are not so because they lacked the above-listed attributes.  We fire people over shortcomings in character – things like having a poor work ethic, a lack of EQ skills, a poisoning negative attitude, ethical issues, or the inability to work collaboratively.  Such are things that seldom came up in any job interview I went to.

Assessing an individual’s values or character is, to be sure, much harder. But, if you think about it, you CAN develop interview techniques or questions that reveal a lot about someone’s character.

I remember interviewing a young engineer for my company, and I gave him a scenario where he uncovered that one of our products had a design flaw that could be potentially harmful to users.  “But”, I told him, “If we suspend production, we would likely incur the anger of the customer and cause serious harmful financial consequences.”  So, I asked him what he would do.

His reply was that he would do “whatever his boss told him was best for the company”.   I knew instantly that he lacked the strength of character I was looking for and the interview ended.

The key is to know what you are looking for before you walk into the interview, rather than going in expecting to talk with someone and deciding at the end, if you “liked” that individual.

In his column The Corner Office, New York Times columnist Adam Bryant interviews CEOs from various industries and shares some of their wisdom.   In one of his columns, called Job Interviews: Lead With 2 Big Questions, he interviews Andy Lansing, president and chief executive of Levy Restaurants.  Levy operates a dozen successful Chicago area eateries that bill themselves as: “We are a family of passionate restaurateurs.”

Sometimes I love to read about the innovative (and simple) ideas developed by small company entrepreneurs.  As you read Lansing’s interview, consider carefully his interviewing approach.  He says that for him, it comes down to two key questions – Are you nice?; and Do you have passion?

When talking about the question “Are you nice?” here is what Lansing has to say:

“It’s a question that you don’t prepare for and you’re not used to answering. And quite honestly, who is ever going to say no — nobody is. So I let them talk for a little bit about it as they try to figure out why I am asking that question.”

I love these kind of questions since because they are not expected, the interviewee isn’t likely to know what “right answer” you are looking for – so their reaction is likely to be raw, and revealing.  These two questions (nice and passion) also make sense for Lansing because they are central to his company culture and brand.  They are what matters for him.

So next time you are in hiring mode, think about the traits that most matter for you in your organization.  Start there, and get around to the normal questions later — if at all.

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Filed under Leading, Managing Teams

One response to “Job interview tip: Consider first, the BIG questions.

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