Coach’s Challenge for 3/11/12 “Effective Interviewing – Part 1”

Good day team,

I’m happy to see that organizations are hiring again and hear about renewed interest in interview techniques. This week and next, I’ll be writing about good interview techniques – this week from the perspective of the employer and next week, from the perspective of the applicant.

First things first – a big part of what results in a good interview depends on how well the hiring manager has articulated the responsibilities and qualifications. Many companies write their job ads using a general view of the skills they want for the job, rather than specifics, e.g.. “Selected candidate will have strong financial analysis  skills” vs. “We require 3 to 5 years of financial analysis with strong business acumen, analytical, problem solving and quantitative analysis skills demonstrated in previous work experience.”

All good job descriptions make a clear distinction between the job responsibilities and the qualifications for the job. If you write, “we’re looking for someone who can thrive in a fast paced environment and communicates well” and you put that under the job responsibilities, you’ve gotten it wrong. Job responsibilities are the specifics of what you want them to do on the job. Qualifications are the specific things they’ve done in the past that qualify them for the job. For example, under the responsibilities heading – “Job responsibilities include communicating effectively in a fast paced environment across many levels of the organization”. And under the qualifications heading – “Advanced communication skills both verbally and in writing are mandatory, with demonstrated ability to work effectively in a fast paced environment with all internal and external customers.”

Most employers don’t include behaviors in their job ads. And yet, behavioral interviewing is highly effective. Specifying up-front what kind of behavior works well within your culture is a smart thing to do. If your company has a values-based culture, that is, a culture that focuses on what’s foundationally important to the company’s mission and the people who are part of it, then state that. For example, Zappos, a company with a very strong values-based culture, points that out in the first sentence of every job they post by saying, “Live the Zappos values and WOW co-workers at all levels, in all departments, customers, and vendors.” Their values are clearly defined. Zappos looks to hire people whose personal values are similar to the company’s and will, therefore, fit well within the Zappos culture. If you read Zappos values, they clearly state the employee behaviors that support those values: http://about.zappos.com/jobs/why-work-zappos/core-values

Once you’ve posted the job and selected some good candidates to interview, how do you conduct behavioral interviews? Resumes can tell us what the person has done and a little bit about how they do it. But, how do we discover what really motivates someone? What do they do on the job that gives them energy? What do they avoid? What happens to their behavior when they’re under pressure? How would others describe what it’s like to work with them? Knowing the answers to these questions is essential to making good hiring decisions.

Here are some examples good behavioral interview questions from an article entitled, “Behavioral Interviews: Use a Behavioral Interview to Select the Best”, by Susan Heathfield (this is for a sales job):

  • Tell me about a time when you obtained a new customer through networking activities.
  • Give me an example of a time when you acquired a customer through cold calling and prospecting. How did you approach the customer?
  • What are your three most important work-related values? Then, please provide an example of a situation in which you demonstrated each value at work.
  • Think of a customer relationship you have maintained for multiple years. Please tell me how you have nurtured that relationship.
  • Assume that your manufacturing facility shipped the wrong order to one of your important customers. Describe how you solved this problem both internally and externally.
  • If you are hired as our sales representative, you may see the need to change the organization of the department. How have you approached such situations in the past?
  • Give me an example of a time when your integrity was tested and yet prevailed in a selling situation.

And, here are some of my favorite questions to get to the heart of matter:

  • What excites you most about your job? What are you doing that gives you energy and what do you do that takes a energy away from you? What do you avoid doing?
  • How have you re-engaged in the past when you’ve felt that your commitment was waning on the job?
  • What are you most proud of achieving in your last job?

With answers to these behavioral questions, you can compare your candidates based upon how they get the job done and how they performed in real-life situations.

Most of the difficulties we have with our fellow team members are not based on competency issues. Those are relatively easy to fix – often just a matter of teaching them new skills. The real problems arise around their commitment to the job, how they feel about their fellow team members, and how deeply they believe in the company. If they’re not actively engaged, then no matter how competent they are, they will have a negative impact on the rest of the team. On the other hand, team members who are completely on-board and committed to supporting their team will gladly acquire the skills they need to be successful.

The best question I ever received in a job interview was:

“Kathleen, what strengths do you have that would be enhanced by this job and what makes you uniquely qualified to do it?”

I realized, when asked this question, that I’d never thought about how the job would enhance me. I always thought about how I would enhance the organization. By turning it around, the hiring manager encouraged me to talk about how well I knew myself, what worked and didn’t work in a job for me, and what I was most passionate about. In one question he exposed my level of self-awareness, my strengths and qualifications, and what kept me engaged.

I discovered later that part of the reason I got the job was that the other candidates didn’t answer his specific question because they weren’t listening. Their answers focused on what they would do to enhance the job, not how the job would enhance them.

This brings me to the most important thing you can do in conducting successful interviews – listen. Hear every thing the candidate says and note what they’re not saying. Watch them carefully, body language speaks volumes. If you’re conducting a phone interview, listen carefully for changes in tone of voice. If they start speaking faster and seem more animated, you’ve touched on something that has gotten them excited. If they stumble over their words, you’ve hit a spot where they’re not too sure of what they think. Don’t be afraid to explore those less scripted places. That’s often where you’ll discover the real person.

At the next opportunity, try using some of these interview suggestions and job description writing techniques. Don’t forget to ask your human resource professionals for help. They can be an excellent resource when it comes to writing effective job ads and improving interview techniques. A good HR person will also be very clear about what you can say in an interview and what you can’t. Always ask if you’re unsure. Employment law protects individuals from discrimination in the interview and hiring process and is very specific about questions you must not ask.

Think about your culture and what’s most important to your company. Find ways to describe what’s unique about it and don’t be afraid to let people know it’s ‘who’ you are as an organization. You’ll make better hiring decisions and save yourself many hours during the candidate screening process if you articulate up front exactly what types of experience you’re looking for and what behaviors fit well within your organization.

Have a good week!

Kathleen

© Copyright 2012 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.
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