Employers Tips for Interviewing

Planning & Performing The Interview


Performing the Interview

In over 6 years of recruiting experience I’ve learned two important lessons: First, past performance is the best predictor of future performance; and second, people who have been top performers tend to stay top performers. The goal of every interview should be to uncover a clear picture of the candidate’s past accomplishments. You can conduct a complete interview to accurately measure past performance and predict future performance with only four questions. Sound too good to be true? Stay tuned.


The Right Stuff

The best predictors of success are a track record of high energy (work ethic, initiative), team leadership, and some level of comparable past performance. The likelihood of success is high for candidates with this profile. Add the strong ability to adept and produce in a new environment and you’ve got an excellent candidate. Using just four questions, this type of profile can be determined for any candidate. Asking about four to eight major past accomplishments in a patterned question format is the key to this type of interviewing approach. Past accomplishments should focus on individuals, teams, and specific jobs. When combined with fact-finding, these questions can reveal all the important details of each accomplishment.

The Four Questions: What to Listen For

Question 1: "Please describe your most significant accomplishment."

Ask this question for the past two or three jobs. Listen for personal energy and impact. Use fact-finding to get many examples and details--when, why, how, impact, results, and timeline. Ask SMART questions (Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Results-based, Time-bound). This should take five to ten minutes. Make sure the candidate paints a detailed word picture of each accomplishment and provides specific examples.

Question 2: "Please draw an organizational chart and describe your most significant team or management accomplishment."

Look for Span of Control and team leadership over the last two or three jobs. Get examples of the candidate's actual role, the time and effort involved, any interpersonal challenges that arose, how well the candidate motivated others and dealt with conflict. During this five- or ten-minute discussion, get details about actual team results and what the candidate would have done differently.

Question 3: Anchoring: "One of our key performance objectives is __________ [Insert the most important S.M.A.R.T. objective for your job]. Tell me about your most significant comparable accomplishment."

What you're looking for here is Job Specific Competency. Make sure you dig out plenty of details in order to minimize exaggeration. Many candidates can come up with initial examples that sound great, but as you delve deeper and probe you will discover the scope, initiative, and resources that helped them to achieve their results. Make sure that the candidate can anchor each major performance objective of the new job with a comparable past accomplishment. This question will take at least 10 minutes to answer if you are pushing for details. If they were working on a team, make sure the candidate clearly identifies their role and not just team accomplishments. You’re not hiring the team, just the individual player.

Question 4: Visualization: "If you were to get this job, how would you go about implementing and organizing ____________ [Insert the most important performance objective]?"

The purpose of this question is to see how effectively a candidate would apply his or her capabilities to new job needs. We call this a visualization question. Their answer should give a good idea of a candidate's adaptability, as well as their ability to contribute in a new environment. As you listen to the answer, consider these specifics:

o         Job-specific problem solving

    • Verbal communications
    • Reasoning and thinking skills
    • Adaptability and flexibility
    • Self-confidence
    • Insight and job knowledge
    • Creativity
    • Organizational skills
    • Logic and Intellect

Ask this question for the top two or three performance objectives.

Sound simple? It absolutely is … and it's guaranteed to help you find and qualify candidates. Just make sure you use fact-finding and lots of examples to get all the necessary details (when, why, how, impact, result, and time). Ask SMART questions. Situational questions help target job-specific problem solving, flexibility, insight, communication skills, strategic and tactical planning, intelligence, self-confidence, and communication skills. Caution: you must combine this with a strong pattern of past performance.

Panel Interviews: Learn More While Staying Cool

If you want to save time, learn more, and eliminate your emotional biases, try a Panel Interview. If done right, it can be one of the most effective tools for assessing competency. Shorter interviews test chemistry and fit but tend to be a little superficial.

Hint: "Interviewing" personality is not the same as "on-the-job" personality.

Here is some basic advice on conducting a panel interview:

  • Make sure each interviewer has reviewed the resume and Performance Profile before the interview. This is critical. Unless everybody on the interviewing team has a clear understanding of the specific performance objectives of the job, a panel interview will be a waste of time.
  • Tell the candidate beforehand that there will be a panel interview; don’t surprise them!
  • Avoid intimidating the candidate by limiting the panel to three or four people. Use a round table, if at all possible.
  • Assign a leader. This leader will be responsible for keeping the group on topic. Only leaders can change the topic. Other interviewers should be observant and ask fact-finding and follow-up questions for clarification. Leaders should make sure each important topic is explored completely and not change subjects too quickly. Explore each topic thoroughly and weave a thread around the topic with follow-up questions, fact-finding, and examples. The leader also keeps the discussion moving. Once a topic is fully explored, he or she should move on to another topic quickly. Also make sure that other interviewers don't come into the panel interview with a list of prepared questions.
  • Ask the candidate to visualize how they would solve a specific job-related challenge. Get into a give-and-take discussion using the "visualize" question (i.e., "How would you handle the task or solve the problem, if you were to get the job?").

Evaluation and Follow Up


We've told you about the four-question interview, and how to use it to zoom in on the best candidates. Let's expand that a bit now, with a Ten-Factor Checklist for Candidate Assessment. This is how you implement the four questions to look for the traits you want in a winning candidate.

Use the checklist to rate candidates on a scale of 1 (weak) to 5 (strong).

1. Energy, Drive, Initiative.

Don't ever compromise on this one, because it's the universal trait of success. The key to personal success is to do more than you have to, so look for this quality in every past job. Get examples of initiative and extra effort. Don't assume that an extroverted personality means lots of energy; have the candidate prove it by example, including specific dates, facts, and quantities. But the reverse is also true: a low-key person often has more energy and enthusiasm than an extrovert. It takes patience on your part to draw them out.

2. Trend of Performance Over Time.

By asking questions about leadership and impact on a company, you get detailed examples of a candidate's major accomplishments and organizational changes over the past five to ten years. From this, it's easy to see how the candidate has grown and impacted the organization. The ideal candidate has had comparable jobs and is still showing signs of upward growth. Rank this person a 5 on your scale. But remember: a comparable job doesn't have to be an identical job. Look at staff size, issue complexity, performance standards, company growth rate, sophistication level, etc. Combine these factors and search for an upward growth pattern.

3. Comparability of Past Accomplishments.

Use SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results-based, and Time-based) objectives to compare a candidate's past accomplishments with the required performance objectives of the job to be filled. Be concerned about mismatching. A highly energetic designer might be ineffective as a manager, and very bright consultants aren't always the best candidates for technical jobs. Make sure you have a copy of all the SMART objectives handy during the interview, and get anchoring accomplishments for each one. Give a candidate a 5 if comparable past accomplishments for each one are offered, a 4 if all but one matches up, and so on.

4. Experiences, Education and Industry Background.

Use this in tandem with the Past Accomplishments category. Strong education and experience can sometimes offset a weaker accomplishment rating. Examine experience in the context of the environment--the pace, style, and standards of performance where the experience took place. If the candidate's previous company had a slower pace and lower standards, of course, 10 years of experience doesn't mean as much. Give some credit for direct industry experience and education. Add a point or two if these add significantly to the candidate's ability, or if they improve the job fit.

5. Problem Solving and Thinking Skills.

How smart does a candidate need to be to be effective on the job? Just smart enough--any less and you're in trouble. A strong candidate needs to understand the work, solve job-related problems, and anticipate what needs to be done. Collecting and processing information to make appropriate decisions is important; so is the ability to apply previous knowledge and experience to solving new problems. Asking a SMART visualization question about the actual job tests all of these things much better than any intelligence test ever devised. You'll gain an understanding of the candidate's thinking and reasoning skills, adaptability, communications skills, logic, decision-making powers, and problem solving abilities.

6. Overall Talents, Technical Competency, and Potential.

How you rank a candidate in this broad category depends very much on the needs of the job to be filled. The score should represent the candidate's ability to grow, develop, and take on bigger roles. To get a 4 or a 5 in this category, candidates should have a broader focus than the job demands. Search for thinking skills (the same ones described in Category 5, but here you're looking at them in conjunction with other abilities to evaluate potential); breadth of business understanding (candidates who see the broader needs of a business beyond their own functional requirements add strength to an organization); application of technical skills (the ability to learn technical skills is often more important than already having them, unless the job is very technically intensive and requires immediate knowledge.)

7. Management and Organization.

Most interviewers focus on individual competency instead of managerial skills. This approach is a major cause of hiring error! If the management and organizational aspects of the job are important, spend as much time as necessary to validate a candidate's competency. Use projects to get at organizational skills, even if the candidate doesn't have a big staff. Ask a candidate to describe their most complex team project--you might be surprised at the answer. Early in the interview, have the candidate draw an organizational chart for the last few positions. Assign names, title, and direct and indirect staff size. This shows the size and scope of candidate responsibility; perfect for comparison with your current job needs.

8. Team Leadership: The Ability to Persuade and Motivate Others.

Team leadership is a component of both management and personality: it's important enough to consider separately. It represents the ability to tap into and harness the energy of others -- getting them to move in the same direction, to do something they might not want to do. Team leadership has two aspects -- motivating your immediate subordinates and motivating people who work in different departments. Motivating a subordinate is easier: look for managers who can point to a number of people they have personally helped to become successful. Give high scores to candidates who consistently go out of their way to hire superior people, and then take a sincere interest in upgrading their skills. As for motivating people outside their own department, get examples of major team projects and use fact-finding to uncover the candidate's true role.

9. Character: Values, Commitment, and Goals.

Character is a deep-rooted trait that summarizes a person's integrity, honesty, responsibility, openness, fairness in dealing with others, and personal values. Save this whole topic until the end of the first interview, or wait for the second interview. It will be more relevant then, and candidates will be more open and comfortable with their responses. Ask candidates to explain their personal value system and how they developed it. Be sure to listen carefully; this answer can be very revealing. It's important to know why someone wants to change jobs and what aspects of work that the person finds important. Understanding a candidate's value system allows you to predict how they will react to various work-related circumstances. When talking about goals, be specific: ask a candidate to describe one or two major goals already accomplished.

10. Personalities and Cultural Fit.

Personality is revealed in an individual's accomplishments. Look for flexibility and a pattern of accomplishments in different situations: as a team member, as leader of a team, and as an individual contributor. You can discover a preferred relationship pattern by categorizing the candidate's accomplishments on the ABC scale: "Alone," "Belong to team," or "in Charge of the team." This type of analysis becomes even more valuable when the candidate is free to pick the accomplishment. Keep track of the responses by putting little marks on top of your notes (I always make three columns: A, B, and C). By the end of the interview, a definite and revealing pattern should emerge.

Good luck in your search for winners!


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