Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Interviewing: What's your Agenda?

In my last post, I talked about approaching an interview with skepticism and working to extract useful and objective information. I want to build on this by suggesting an interview format, particularly for the first phone screen.

1. Prepare
. You don't walk into a client meeting with no prep whatsoever. You already have surprisingly little input about this person you will be spending your time with and entrusting with your company! So dig in.
  • Re-read your awesome job posting, and think again about the type of person you need in the role. What do their accomplishments look like? Their expertise? What do you expect their demeanor to be like?
  • Read the resume and cover letter. Are they directed to you personally and address the challenges of the company? Do they want your job or just a job?
  • Google the candidates name and past employers. What did the companies they work for do? How big (or relevant) are they?
  • Reflect. Why might this person want a job with your company? Why do they have 10 jobs over the last year?
2. Agenda. Have an agenda and stick to it. An agenda helps you be at ease during the interview and ensures consistency across candidates.
  • First, tell the candidate the agenda for the meeting.
  • Ask the candidate questions.
  • Then tell the candidate more about your company and the open position. You'll likely be tempted to explain the role and company first, so candidates can explain how their background fits your needs. Resist. You want people to rise to the top because they naturally have the past experiences and mindset that fit the role - like a missing puzzle piece. Plenty of the candidates can tell you how they are like your open role and can fix your challenges. If you make them 'go first' it just makes your job easier.
  • Have a hiring time line, communicate it and then stick to it. Tell them if you have another week of interviews, when your review team will look at resumes and meeting notes, and when they will hear back (i.e. you'll here from me in the early part of the week starting May xx). Let the candidate know they can check in, give more info, or ask questions before this time if they see it valuable.
  • Leave time for questions.
3. Put the candidate at ease. Be conversational and make small talk. I know I just said stick to the agenda and to make them give their experiences first. BUT, if someone is in 'interview mode' you'll likely miss what they are really about. It is ok to find some common ground, talk about where they live, a hobby they've listed on their resume, or what not... Set them at ease and feeling as natural as possible - this is the person you will work with, not the regurgitating polished interviewee.

4. Focus. When talking about past experiences or how a candidate would deal with a situation in your workplace, keep them on target. It's easy to find yourself listening (with head in hand) as they digress into tangents.
  • Hone in on actual results reached. Ask for data points and facts. Candidates may reveal their feelings, what they think they contributed, and they will analyze ... but dig for facts. What was their sales quota? Actual sales? Biggest account? What was the targeted release date for the software they worked on? Target budget? Actual budget?
  • Instead of company and team achievements, get at personal achievements.
5. Manage. Keep notes - you'll want them after meeting with 10 folks. Have a rating system for key criteria (use even numbered scales so you force good/bad).
  • If/when you have multiple interviewers, avoid asking all the same questions over and over. Share your notes and outline what each interviewer should be focusing on. You can have some similar questions, but in general some folks should verify technical skills and others looking for company fit (for example). Asking the same questions over and over can reveal your disorganization.
6. Challenge your instincts. You form an opinion in the first 20 seconds with someone. In person, they may dress more casually (or formally) than expected. They may try to control the interview or seem quiet and unapproachable. Recognize that you have formed an opinion and then try to prove it wrong.
  • If you assume they aren't technical enough, ask specific details about how they accomplished their last project.
  • If they seem scattered ask about their organizational tools.
  • If they come across as bossy and direct ask about their personal relationships.
  • Take your opinion of the candidate, imagine the opposite and ask questions about it.
Interviewing is one of the most important things you will do. It's also a time consuming task that teaches you very little about the person you will entrust with your company. You need to make the most of it. An agenda should help things going smoothly and help you to use every tool at your disposal. What's in your agenda?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Interviewing 202

What is your greatest weakness? Well, I often stay out way too late drinking and come to work late and struggle to be productive.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? I'm hoping to be the benefactor of some crazy lawsuit or come into a huge inheritance so I can be sitting on a beach.

No. This does not sound like your typical interview. But, to be honest, I think I would enjoy hearing these answers from time to time. It would be ... refreshing. Instead candidates give answers that sound good. They can prepare an 'acceptable' answer. So what can you ask to really let you learn more about a candidate?

I've been interviewing quite a bit recently - more often than not, I take a casual approach, generally knowing what information I want to cover. It turns out, most folks follow a similar 'unstructured' interview format. I learned, unfortunately, this format (and typical interview questions) just don't allow you to see the realities of the person. You are judging a book by its cover. Candidates manage their 'cover' closely, acting to create the most favorable impression. The Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, as well as numerous other sources, quote Prof. Allen Huffcutt, who has done some serious examinations of interviewing and the link of interview assessment as a predictor to performance on the job. In the book Sway, he posits that most interview questions provide little value. He recommends focusing instead on job-related hypothetical scenarios, past experiences based on data and verifiable accounts, and/or aptitude tests.

These are some real and helpful points to consider! I still see value in the interview, so with Prof. Huffcutt's comments in mind, here are a couple good things you might add to your interview:
  • What do you know about our company?
A solid starting point. Did they take the time to research your company? Did they find relevant aspects of the business? Were they able to identify what might be core issues? Did they see how their position and possible contributions might fit in?
  • Specific past experiences
Dig in to the resume and ask about their role on the Deloitte project or how they reduced spending by 40%, or whatever! Even asking specifics about how they managed their team, enforced milestone achievement, or stayed in touch with an off-site worker. The process of answering these can be revealing.
  • Job-related hypothetical scenarios
What would you do if you your sales support staff never wanted to follow-up with difficult people, your receptionist always came in late, or your CEO never gave you details needed to accomplish a project? Think of a real scenario in your company the candidate might face ask how they might deal with it. First of all, they can't prepare for that question, and secondly you will have an idea if their answer will work for you.
  • What was the largest personal conflict / power struggle you have seen at work and how was it resolved? Or what do you think people might misunderstand about you?
Perhaps candidates can prepare for these questions, but I still find the answers revealing. I like to just listen and have candidates expose themselves.
  • If talked to someone at Your Past Company, what would they say about you?
Like the last question, this can help draw out characteristics or performance your candidate might not have volunteered. If they have something to hide, you are likely to hear about it now.

Keep in mind, as I imagine Prof. Huffcutt might remind us, the interview may give you nothing of value. So, I say make sure to take the opportunity to prepare the candidate and to sell the company! Give them a realistic picture of the company (yes, the bad stuff) and see how they react? Do they embrace it constructively and have suggestions for improvement? And of course, get them excited about the position, the team, and the company. If they turn out to be the dream candidate, then they need to be intrigued and enticed after talking to you.

What are some of your favorite interview questions?