Originally Published : October 1, 2010 | Lisa Rothblum
My previous article "How to Make A Successful Hire," (found in issue 37 of search-consult magazine) provided tips for initiating a search, and setting up the search process. But as I noted then, even with the most organized, efficient and effective process, finding the right candidate for the job is not guaranteed. In today's economic climate, with no shortage of candidates for each job, this "buyers market" poses challenges in sorting through all the resumes, deciphering out the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, and determining if the best person on paper is really the right one for the job in real life.
Assuming that the search is on, and the process is impeccable, what are the most effective ways to get to the heart of each candidate's suitability? How can one best elicit information needed to ensure good cultural compatibility between the candidate and company; whether the candidate will address challenges at work creatively and thoughtfully, posses a sound work ethic and high levels of integrity, share the same temperament and personality as the company's underlying culture, and inspire colleague and subordinates with the most effective management style? Knowing how to find these answers is key, so the wrong candidate is not hired, and the right candidate is not too quickly dismissed.
THE FIRST TWO MINUTES - IMPORTANT BUT NOT THE WHOLE STORY
There is nothing as immediate as one's first impression of someone. We have all decided in a split second whether someone seems like "our" kind of person. And we establish these impressions from the simplest of things: Is the candidate dressed appropriately, neatly, and seemingly comfortable in his/her skin? Does the candidate look you in the eye, seem sincere and interested in meeting you?
If the candidate has been waiting in a room before the interview begins, does he/she stand up when they are approached? If (as sometimes happens) there's been a delay to the meeting's start, what's the reaction? Gracious? Resentful? When I was General Counsel of a large entertainment company and pressures were high, I once rushed late into an initial interview with a prospective hire. Despite my apology, the candidate berated me about how her time was valuable and I had treated her unfairly The impressions she made, obviously, was that she would not fit in to the kind of "hurry up and wait" atmosphere of the company. The interview was canceled.
What's the candidate's handshake like? Fishy or strong, loose or with conviction? I have been teaching my daughters how to look someone in the eye, offer their hand, and provide a firm grip when they meet people since they were six. It's not just polite, but it provides the first marker to one's credibility and confidence. Nonetheless, sometimes no one's ever told the candidate to beef up their handshake. If after further discussion with a weak hand-shaker the candidate seems otherwise impressive, a simple suggestion to refine this habit going forward might be in order.
A candidate who constantly interrupts, finishes your sentence, or talks over you might reflect a cockiness and inability to really hear what a client says, means or needs. If this tendency continues, it could well be the candidate was just nervous, over eager and trying too hard to impress.
While I do admonish clients to trust their instincts about their initial impression, I also believe they should be taken in perspective. These are red lights, but need not be non-starters. Just do not dismiss them if other warning signs appear.
CHOOSE THE SETTING - PICK THE AUDIENCE
An interview can serve as a good backdrop for keen observation. It's always a good idea to mix up the settings or what should definitely be several meetings (and with people at several levels at the company) throughout the search process. If the initial interview is held in one of the company's offices -- the HR Department, a conference room, an office of one of the company's employees -- the standard-issue setting should not be taken for granted as a potential barometer. Observe the candidate's body language, eye contact, openness, whether they are avoiding a question or being vague in their answers. Do they have a sense of humor, or sense of entitlement? Are they defensive? Do they seem to suffer from "sour grapes" or tell-tale frustrations about their former employer? DO YOU LIKE THEM?
If the interview process moves to the next step, it's a good idea to change the setting. A meal in a restaurant is a great way to watch their rapport and manner with their people, their patience level, manners, ability to small talk and develop a connection, engage others in conversation, be comfortable with banter, and not squirm during lulls of conversation.
"ACTIVE" VERSUS "PASSIVE": ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
The interview process is intended to discern how a candidate will approach the job, deal with thorny issues, communicate to the right people, and incentivize subordinates, colleagues and management to include trust, reliance and working well with him or her. A mere recitation of the candidate's background and experience will not foretell whether he or she is a good match for the company. Rather, one needs to assess the manner in which the candidate will act, react, and lead or follow -- as assessment that is best made by asking what are commonly known as behavior-based questions. For example How long you dealt with a subordinate who is always late and misses deadlines? Tell me a situation where you were asked to perform a task that you felt ill-equipped to handle - due to knowledge, experience or resources - and how you handled that challenge?
What sorts of accomplishments in your previous jobs are you most proud of? What provides the greatest sense of satisfaction?
Have you had mentors, or been a mentor, in your other job(s)? If so, how did that relationship come about? How did it affect you?
What's the biggest mistake you have made in a job setting and how did you deal with it?
What makes you best "tick" in a job setting? What irks you and discourages you most?
What would your subordinates say about you? How would your colleagues perceive you? What would management say about you? Are their assessments accurate? Do you see you as you see yourself?
A candidate's answers to questions such as these provide insight into not only the type of employee the candidate has been in other jobs, but also whether the candidate will be likely to adapt well to and be compatible with the culture of the new company. Moreover, it has been my experience that when discussions include such behavior-based questions, the candidate, in turn, seems to ask more pointed questions about the company's environment, culture and "personality." In some circumstances, the dialog results in self-selection; for example, a candidate who acknowledges his or her preference for autonomy and frustration with bureaucratic approval processes is then hard-put to feign interest in a position that reports to a micromanager.
Each candidate (and company) is complex, complicated and unique, as is the relationship between them. Therefore, it is imperative that sufficient time and effort be devoted to thoughtfully examine the expectations of each party and what similarities (or differences) exist between their personalities and cultures to gauge whether the fit will be good. Both sides should have the opportunity to share and exchange information and reveal as many dimensions about themselves as possible. The company that thoughtfully engineers the interview process to include a multitude of methods to gauge the suitability of a candidate stands the best chance of finding the right match.