Hire the Best

Job Candidate #17 has just entered your office and is now seated, all smiles, focused on you like a laser beam, eager to answer your interview questions.

You’ve already read her resume and jotted down a few inquiries about her qualifications. After a long search, you’re hopeful. With this hire, you get the chance to make a key decision with long-lasting ramifications for the company.

What if, instead of choosing a dream employee, you pick someone who doesn’t know how to play nicely with others? Or, one who turns out to be just enh on the job?

In a recent poll of CFOs, 95% of them said that one bad hire messed with the morale of the whole team. And that’s not even addressing how much it can cost your business to train and then get rid of that dud. 

Obviously, it pays to learn how to become a more effective—and perceptive—interviewer. Liz Ryan, founder of the online community Human Workplace, and a former Fortune 500 HR exec, has ideas:
Talk less. It’s tempting to chatter on, in an effort to connect with the person across the desk, or to smooth over a silence while they decide how to answer a question.

If you fight that urge, however, you’re likely to glean valuable info.  The more you allow the interviewee to talk, the more you’ll see how her thought process works, and whether she has that passion you’re looking for.

Ditch the “classic” interview questions. Job seekers have read them all, and they’ve come up with canned, bland, one-cliche-fits-all-companies answers. (Q: “What is your greatest weakness?” A: “I have trouble delegating.”). Doesn’t tell you much.

Pose questions that begin with “why.” This tactic will get you more revealing and helpful answers. (“Why were you attracted to your previous company?” Heck, even, “Gee, I see you went to so-and-so college. What made you choose that one?” may tell you something interesting about them.)

But sometimes, you don’t want to go there. Get clear on what federal law forbids you to ask during an interview.

Unpack a resume item. She indicates that she has created a new system of checks to keep clients happy? Ask her to walk you through it, starting at the beginning.

This way, you’ll be able to flush out anyone who may be, er, exaggerating. But if this really was their baby, you’ll also be witness to someone’s honest enthusiasm and smarts, says Ryan. Also, you’ll get a true feel for how they dealt with setbacks, or juggled priorities.

Share the job’s downsides. No, we don’t mean that you should try to discourage them from pursuing it. But to truly get an idea of how they might do, why not summarize a common problem, then say, “So, what are your thoughts on how we could handle this better?”

Maybe, says Ryan, the person you want is the one who doesn’t just start reeling off three long-winded solutions, but the one who says, “Hmm, okay, let me understand. What’s happening with this, and this?

Pay attention to their questions. If this person has truly researched your company, she’ll pose thoughtful questions that show she’s particularly interested in it, and have a clear idea of why.

You can even say, fairly early in the interview, “Listen, I’m dying to hear what questions you have for me,” says Ryan. Or let the candidate know prior to the interview to come full of questions for you.

Be open. Don’t assume that someone who has job-hopped isn’t worthy, even if she has stayed at various positions for less than a year. She may simply be a casualty of the lousy economy. Or maybe she is a younger person who tends to get restless, but is looking to settle in for longer this time around. To find out if that’s the case, ask the candidate to tell you about a particularly fulfilling project she has worked on, be it at a previous job or in her personal life. Perhaps she’ll reveal her ability to see things through when she tells you she ran a marathon, or headed up a ten-month campaign for her local Board of Ed.

Wait. When dating, you don’t decide whether or not to marry the person by the end of the first night. (Right?) Similarly, hold off for 24 to 72 hours before declaring to yourself that a job candidate is ‘the one’, says Ryan. Listen to your gut and give yourself time to synthesize all the 411 you’ve gathered on this person. Two days later, it may hit you that the person barely described working with other team members. That could be something to ask when you call references. And speaking of references…

Don’t rush them. When you call, ditch the rat-a-tat-tat list of questions (Did Genevieve do X? Y? Z?). Instead, just say, “Tell me about Genevieve,” and utter encouraging, “mmm’s” as you listen. You’ll get the truth eventually (i.e., that old Genevieve’s great with customers, but not a details person). One warning sign: When the references don’t seem to have a close connection with the applicant (“I don’t know her that well, but….”).

Finally, update all candidates as the search goes on (at least when the position’s filled). It’s good karma. Besides, you never know when you two will meet again.

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