By Mike DuBose and Blake DuBose
New employees represent not only a huge investment of time and money, but they can also significantly add to or detract from an organization’s culture. Each time you hire someone, you’re committing yourself and your staff to spending a large chunk of your week with that person. You simply can’t afford to introduce a “rotten apple” or a “slacker” into the mix, and if you do slip up, getting rid of them can be time-consuming and stressful!
When seeking new employees, you must have a crystal clear idea of what you need from them. As DeeDee Doke writes in Interviewing People, “Developing a precise person specification requires an in-depth understanding of the competencies, knowledge, skills, experience, education, aptitudes, and attitudes that the best possible selected hire for this role could have.” You should start with a thorough, detailed job description when preparing to hire for any new position. Looking at the position’s responsibilities, make a list of the traits a person will need to succeed in that role.
Even if a potential employee is perfectly competent at the basic job requirements, there’s another element they must have: culture fit. Only when both of these criteria are met can a new employee truly thrive in a workplace. As Jacquelyn Smith noted in a 2012 Forbes article, employers don’t hire resumes, but “the whole person: their personality, their resume, their critical thinking and creative ability.” Therefore, add to your list any attributes valued by your organizational culture that the applicant should display. (These may vary depending on the type of position or environment—for example, a quiet, introverted individual may perform well in accounting, but an extroverted, outgoing person would be needed for sales or marketing.) Doke suggested that interviewers break down their requirements into “essential” and “desirable” categories to help determine the short list of candidates. From there, it’s a matter of zeroing in on people who possess these qualities using insightful, legal questions.
What you’re looking for will be different for every interview. It depends on the culture of the organization and the requirements of the particular job. For example, a startup’s number one priority may be passion—a deep, powerful belief in the company and what it does—which will be necessary to deal with the long hours that will sometimes be required. Likewise, a laid-back, creative individual who takes time to explore all the options may not fit in as well in some results-oriented corporate environments. No personality is “wrong;” but some people may be a poor fit for the job or the culture—and it’s the interviewer’s responsibility to determine who is and who isn’t.
Many candidates will try to say what you want to hear, so it can be hard to tell who is genuine and who is just trying to snag a job. That’s why the best interviewers put interviewees at ease first by bonding with them and making them feel comfortable. Then, they sit back, probe with the right questions, and let the potential employee drive the conversation. Ideally, the job candidate should talk the majority of the time (roughly 80%), while the interviewer listens, watching for warning signs that that person won’t be right for the job.
We have a very thorough employment process at our companies that, although time-consuming, has greatly assisted us in finding and hiring the right staff. First, we collect resumes and screen the most promising candidates via telephone to find our finalists. We require the finalists to complete online personality and work assessments to pinpoint strengths and areas of concern, and we often use the results of these tests to formulate or target interview questions. From there, we follow the “rule of three,” interviewing the individual on three different days by three different people. (When following this strategy, each interviewer should create their questions in advance and coordinate with the others so there is no overlap.) Be prepared to spend at least an hour on each interview. Once they are complete, meet as a team to compare notes.
We have studied profiles of more than 50 CEOs that were published in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal over the past two years. The leaders described questions that they ask potential interviewees, and we were impressed by how deeply and cleverly they explored different issues. We compiled, combined, and adapted some of these questions for our family of companies’ use in the future, and we believe that others will find them valuable as well. Try using some of the following questions in your next interview to gain insight on the topics most important to your organization.
Personal history: A person’s past shapes their future. You can learn a lot about how someone overcomes challenges by the way they’ve faced difficulties in the past, and you can understand their level of self-awareness by how they define themselves.
Values: What is important to a person in life tells you a lot about his or her personality. Does the applicant glory in recognition, or seek to help causes from behind the scenes? Is he or she passionate about obtaining financial security, supporting an idea, or learning certain skills? All of these traits reflect on how the person will behave in a work environment.
Effort: Unlike most of the other topics, there are right and wrong answers for these questions, which are designed to determine how much effort the interviewee invested in preparing for the interview. If they haven’t taken the time to learn about the organization and the requirements of the job they’re applying for (not to mention the values that the company holds dear), they’re probably not the right person for the position.
Work habits and personality: These questions hint not only at how well a person has achieved in the past, but also about his or her personality and how it will mesh with the organizational culture. A person who goes on at length about their dislikes in a previous position but doesn’t have anything positive to say won’t fit in with a culture where the glass is always half full. They also shed light on the person’s expectations for the position.
Motivation and self-awareness: The phrase “know thyself” has been around since ancient times, but self-awareness is a skill that many find difficult. However, people who are able to admit their weaknesses and recognize their strengths tend to be great employees because they know their capabilities and often work to improve their faults on their own. Use these questions to measure self-awareness and motivation in potential employees.
Problem-solving and intuition: These questions are designed to measure how a person reacts to change and solves problems. Many of the leaders we studied named “ability to adapt to change” as a highly desirable trait in employees, and there are many circumstances in a person’s career where the ability to wisely assess and solve problems will prove invaluable.
The bottom line: Great organizations are built on great people, and it takes effort and innovative strategies to find the right individuals who best fit your corporate culture. Interviews are the key step toward identifying ideal staff members and weeding out the mismatches. Take the time to create and ask smart, engaging questions that hone in on the qualities you’re looking for in staff members. Then, listen carefully (and watch body language)! A lot of work goes into preparing for and conducting good interviews, but it’s worthwhile when the result is a staff full of smart, happy, and highly engaged team members.
See www.mikedubose.com for additional articles on finding, interviewing, and hiring great employees.
About the Authors: Our corporate and personal purpose is to “create opportunities to improve lives” by sharing our knowledge, experience, success, research, and mistakes.
Blake DuBose graduated from Newberry College’s Schools of Business and Psychology and is president of DuBose Web Group. View our published articles at www.duboseweb.com
Mike DuBose, a USC graduate, has been in business since 1981, authored The Art of Building a Great Business, and is a field instructor with USC’s graduate school. He is the owner of four debt-free corporations, including Columbia Conference Center, Research Associates, and The Evaluation Group. Visit his nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com for a free copy of his book and other useful articles.
Katie Beck serves as Director of Communications for the DuBose family of companies. She graduated from the USC School of Journalism and Honors College.
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