Your success is all about “the people.” More specifically, your company’s success comes down to the employees you can attract, hire, train, grow, encourage, motivate, challenge, and retain. In most service-based companies, 95% of the company’s assets go home every night.
Employees make all that customer stuff possible with the skills and work they bring to your company.
A huge step in the “people” process is The Interview.
I call that meeting you’re having with a potential job candidate a recruiting interview. Why? Consider what’s happening. You’re attempting to recruit them to your company, and they’re attempting to recruit you into the belief that they’re the one you should select.
I’ve seen countless articles about ways to “ace an interview,” or “answer all the interview questions correctly,” or “how to control the interview process” from a candidate’s point of view. To be fair, I’ve also seen a bunch of articles about ways for the interviewer to “put the candidate on defense with curve-ball questions,” or “ways to get the candidate to tell you about their true selves,” or “how to use the secret questions Google (or Apple, or any other successful company) uses in their interviews.”
The reality is that there aren’t any secrets to creating a perfect interview. Each interview is as unique as the human beings involved. Having said that, I always try to get the following questions or topics into each recruiting interview I conduct (not necessarily in this order):
- I’ve seen your written resume. Can you take a couple minutes and give me your verbal version? Also, tell me how you found us, and why you’re here today. I like this line of questions at the beginning because it gives the candidate open-ended questions to talk about their favorite subject (themselves). It also lets me see what they prioritize or emphasize. The answers to these questions usually lead to a series of follow-ups and propel the conversation in a way that most candidates find comfortable.
- What do you know about our company and the position we’re trying to fill? This one lets me know if they’ve done any research on my company. At a minimum, have they looked at my company’s website for a few minutes? They can also tell me about people they know who either work for my company or people who have told them about my company. Do they have a sense of what makes this company special? Do they know the company’s position in the marketplace? What is their view of the company’s reputation?
- Tell me about the training you received in your past positions. How did your training process go? What did you learn? This line of questions gets to how “trainable” someone is. It doesn’t matter if this is a 20-year veteran or someone who’s just out of high school or college. Getting them to talk about how they learned their craft, obtained their skills, hone their knowledge, their favorite classes, who taught them, etc., provides a window into their trainability. It’s also good in the interview to mention how important trainability is to you. You like a person who knows they don’t know everything (since none of us do), and who has the humility to know it’s okay to ask for help. This person will have to learn how to be successful within your company, regardless of their technical skill set. The trainability factor is critical in evaluating a candidate’s fit for your company.
- This position works independently. You won’t have a manager or supervisor (or me) telling you what to do throughout the day. Tell me about how you’ve worked independently in your past positions. Do you consider yourself to be a self-starter? Are you someone who takes the initiative and runs with it? Tell me about a time when you took the initiative and delivered beyond the expectations of your managers. This line of questioning is obvious, and often people answer these questions with what they think you want to hear. It’s important to be thorough in this section of the interview and ask for examples. How do they anticipate taking the initiative, or being creative, within your company? It doesn’t matter that they don’t know anything about your environment. Ask anyway. See how they respond. You’re looking to see how engaged and creative this person will be in your environment.
- The “goals” questions… These are so commonplace that they’re almost cliché. But, they’re worth asking: What are your goals with this position you’re applying for? What do you think is an ideal role for you in a year, two years, five years? How do you see this company fitting into your personal goals over the next 5 years? I’m interested in their personal goals, the vision they have of their future, and what they see as their future self. How does my company fit with their view of the future?
- Do you have any hobbies? What are you most passionate about? What do you do when you’re not working? Often when the person tells me their hobby, I ask them how they got into that hobby, how long they’ve been doing it, what do they like about it…all focused on learning more about this person and what motivates them. If I happen to know anything about their hobby, I ask some specifics. If they say that they like to watch movies or read books, I ask them what they saw most recently or the last book they read. I want to see how they think on their feet, and again, what interests them the most…plus, I’m curious about them as a person.
- I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I also spend time describing the company, its history, why I love it here, the position we’re trying to fill, the reasons the position we’re filling is difficult but rewarding, why it takes a special person to fill the role, and how important the role is within the company. I want the candidate to know what our company thinks is important, the values we have, and the culture we’re trying to create. The way a person fits into our specific company culture will be critical to their success. They may be the best fit technically for a job, but not fit in with the culture…a recipe for failure.
- Wait, I thought there were only seven topics! True, but there’s one more thing to mention: the technical abilities of this candidate. The topics listed above will touch on the candidate’s technical skills (whether in accounting, programming, deep tissue massage, customer service, call center operations, marketing, ad copywriting, concrete finishing, auto mechanics, or any other skillsets you’re trying to hire). But, none of them directly test or assess a candidate’s actual skills. It turns out that it’s almost impossible to assess a candidate’s actual skills in an interview setting. Some companies require candidates to take a technical test, but that’s not a common practice. Beyond a technical test, you have their resume, the stories they’ve told you, your assessment of how they might fit within your organization, and then a leap of faith that they have the skills they’re representing. Not ideal, but that’s where your ability to assess and improve their performance (once they’re hired) enters the picture (and that’s a topic for another day).
Will these topics ensure a perfect interview? No. In fact, you may not get to cover one or more of these topics in the interview (which is a warning sign).
Will these topics guarantee you’ll always choose the perfect candidate? Again, no.
But, if you cover all these topics, your batting average will increase dramatically, and you might even hit the occasional home run.
It’s your turn: What other topics do you include in your interviews? Let me know in the comments section below.