Strong Organizations Start with Careful Interviewing

Dan Toussant
February 23, 2006 — 2,064 views  
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Do you have the right people in your company?

Before you say “yes,” have you ever hired the wrong person for a job? It’s a very easy mistake to make, isn’t it?

Would you like to attract more of the right people if you could?

In his well-known book Good to Great, Jim Collins writes, “Those who build great organizations understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great organization is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.”

Before you begin interviewing for your next job opening, ask yourself the following three questions:

1. What kind of person(s) do we want to hire?

By thinking through this question before starting the process, you will have a better understanding of the exact person you are looking for and will know what you need to do to find this individual.

Consider your stars, your right people, already in place. What specific competencies do they demonstrate that you want to duplicate? Take a look at the current job description for the position, and reshape it to include your star’s competencies.

Also, what personal characteristics are needed to perform the job functions? An extrovert? A detail orientation? A team player? A sense of urgency? There are several tools available today that provide reliable information about the candidate’s natural personal characteristics.

2. What questions can we ask the candidate to learn the most about him/her?

Do you take the time to prepare questions? Questions are the tools of the interview process and should be designed to help you gather all the information from the applicant you need to make an informed decision. Here are some ideas of different kinds of questions for interviews.

Closed-ended questions such as, “Can you start Monday?” have a place. But, open-ended questions clearly solicit more information: “I’m interested in hearing about…” Have several open-ended questions ready. You want to get the applicants to talk openly about themselves so they trust you and are more apt to share their strengths and weaknesses.

Past performance questions are important: “Tell me about a time when…” Link these performance stories to competencies that you have identified. Try to determine how the applicant responds under pressure and identify how he/she has performed in the past. This information will be instrumental in your decision making process.

Be flexible in your questioning techniques and use a variety of question types. You can ask questions that help you find out how the applicant would act in different workplace situations.

Negative-balance questions can help paint a more complete picture: “Give an example of something you are NOT so proud of?” These questions may help you decide you do not want to pursue someone further.

Reflexive questions help you steer the conversation and control how the time is used: “With time so short, I think it would be helpful to move onto another area, don’t you?” As the interviewer, you must maintain basic control of the meeting yet allow the candidate to tell his or her story in a comfortable manner.

Mirror statements can tell a lot. Paraphrase a key statement, and then listen.

Question layering is a good technique. Play beat reporter, peel an onion: “Who? What? When? Where? Why?”

Planning the questions as well as planning your interviews are secrets to success in this process.

3. What interviewing styles should I include in my interviewing plan?

There are four different interviewing styles that ought to be in your bag of tricks. You can use one or two or even all four in the course of an interview.

The situational interviewer believes that the closer you can get to a real work situation, the better the evaluation will be. Get them to perform some aspect of the job. Give them a chance to show you what they can do.

Dan Toussant

Rea & Associates, Inc.