Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without integrity, you really want them to be dumb and lazy.
Imagine committing to marry a stranger after a one hour meeting. Following this sit-down, you invite the stranger into your house and depend on him or her for your financial success. This doesn’t feel like a good strategy for success and happiness, does it? Yet, it plays out every day across corporate America.
You do not have six months or a year to evaluate employment candidates as you would a prospective spouse. But you have other tools, including the job interview. A good interview can lead to a productive, long-term, drama-free employee. Conversely, today’s poorly executed interview is tomorrow’s problem employee.
Despite their importance, many companies give short shrift to interviews. This is bad business. The after-effects of a bad hire are many: lost production, poor morale, time wasted on discipline, and other forms of mayhem, such as lawyers and lawsuits.
Let’s look at how to improve your job interviews.
ONE QUESTION CAN REVEAL ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
You have limited time to ask questions in an interview so they better be good — geared towards eliciting answers that help you evaluate your candidate. With as little as one question, you can detect the person you want, or do not want, in your organization.
“What went wrong?” This question can be used to great effect. Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, describes how Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, uses the question to make multi-million dollar hiring decisions:
At the NFL combine, Belichick invites a prospect to the team’s hotel room. The athlete walks in, Belichick says a brisk hello, clicks off the lights, then pushes PLAY on a video of one of the player’s worst moments of the previous season: a major screw-up. Then Belichick turns to the prospect and asks, “So what happened there?”
Belichick not really interested in what happened on the field, of course. He’s interested in how the player reacts to adversity. How does their brain handle failure? Do they take responsibility, or make excuses? Do they blame others, or talk about what they’d do differently? (One player started ripping into his coach, and Belichick flicked on the lights and ended the interview right there — possibly saving his franchise millions.)
The idea is not just to weed out players with the wrong mindset, but also to identify those who have the right one. Players like Tom Brady — a skinny, incredibly slow, unathletic quarterback (below), who developed into one of the all-time greats.
HIRE WINNERS, NOT VICTIMS
You want to hire people who take responsibility for what happens to them and in their workplace. You do not want to hire candidates who display a victim mentality. Such types do not take responsibility and complain incessantly. They make poor leaders and bad subordinates. They kill the spirit and morale of your workplace.
The following questions can reveal candidates who possess victim mentalities:
• “Describe the best boss you ever had, and describe the worst boss you ever had.”
• “Tell me about a failure in your life and tell me why it occurred.”
• “What are some of the things your last employer could have done to be more successful?”
• “Did you ever tell your previous employer any of your thoughts on ways they could improve?”
• “What are some of the things your last employer could have done to keep you?”
Evaluate the answers you receive: Does your candidate speak briefly of his best boss, but rail on negatively about others? Can he identify any of his failures and, if so, does he take responsibility for them or blame others? When your candidate speaks of ways his previous employer could have improved, are his comments constructive or laced with condescension or anger? When your candidate identifies things his previous employer could have done to keep him, does he list reasonable things or grandiose demands. Observe your candidate’s body language and demeanor when giving his responses — are they a “tell” that you are dealing with an overly emotional or negative person?
These questions appear in Gavin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, in which he details how to identify and assess troubled people, including employee candidates you are considering inviting into your workplace.
Understand, you have limited time to assess your next hire. Much of your job interview will be consumed with discussing job requirements, the candidate’s qualifications, and other topics which will reveal little of your candidate’s character. Do not leave anything to chance: make sure that you ask an adequate number of questions to reveal your candidate’s emotional intelligence.
HEDGE YOUR BETS AGAINST A SKILLED INTERVIEWEE
A “professional” interviewee can sometimes fool an interviewer who does everything right. So, before you decide to interview someone consider the following red flags:
• Have they frequently hopped from job to job?
• Have they been associated with failed business ventures?
• Is their resume excessively grandiose?
• Does your background search reveal past litigation, credit problems, or an association with sketchy people or businesses?
• Do previous employers have nothing good to say about your candidate?
Hire quality people into your organization and it will thrive. Leave bad candidates to your competition.
Bonus tip: The principles discussed in this article go beyond interviewing employees. Use them to interview prospective business partners, independent contractors, professionals, vendors, and would-be lovers. Surround yourself with winners.
Art Bourque is an AV rated commercial and employment lawyer who has been practicing law in Phoenix, Arizona for 27 years. Art provides employment law training, including how to interview, conduct background searches, hire, discipline, supervise, and terminate employees; he is also an experienced litigator. Art can be found at www.bourquelaw.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 602.559.9550, linkedin, or trail running with his dog, Eli.