Far too many hiring decisions are based on what's found in the resumé (education and experience) along with a favourable first impression. Believe it or not, in many cases the decision to hire has been made within the first 10 milliseconds of meeting a candidate. The interview is conducted only to confirm that the right decision was made in the time that it took us to blink our eyes.

I’m a huge proponent of using assessments to help match candidates to specific roles. Do that, and your chances of finding and retaining great talent go up significantly. There are plenty of great assessments available. If you’d like to learn more about the assessments I recommend to my clients you can find them here. This article is about helping you to pull more useful information from a candidate. One thing I know from experience, hiring managers hate interviewing! As a result, not many of them are very good at it. Bear in mind that hiring decisions based on unstructured interviews are statistically no better than a coin toss! My guess is that you wouldn’t make any other meaningful business decision if the odds were so low.

If you want to upgrade the level of talent you have in your organization, there are five areas you should be digging deeper into during the interview process with each candidate. We want to find out as much as we can about each candidates:
·         Attitudes and beliefs
·         Self-motivation
·         Stability and persistence
·         Maturity and judgement
·         Aptitudes/capacity to learn

Here are some examples of questions you can use to probe thoroughly into each of these areas so you understand his/her capabilities fully.

Attitudes and Beliefs

Q: Tell me about a recent assignment or project at work that demonstrated the standards you’ve set for yourself.

Positive examples will show that they’ve managed to stay positive in times of crisis, set high standards for themselves, demonstrated a string sense of commitment and handled “grey” areas in an ethical manner. Negative examples will show doubt in their own abilities, criticism of colleagues, boss or direct reports, more focus on what went wrong than what went right, cut corners or is distrustful of others.


Q: Tell me about a situation where you had to stay really pumped up to get the job done.

Positive examples include going beyond what was expected, showing a strong, driving inner force, tackling problems proactively, pick themselves up after a major setback and signs of tenacity. Negative examples are showing little interest in, enthusiasm for or intensity about previous work/projects, displaying little initiative in assignments, relying heavily on management for direction or defining the role too narrowly.

Stability and Persistence

Q: Tell me about a time when you faced a number of setbacks in your job? How did you handle it?

Positive examples will indicate whether the candidate has shown consistent interests and activities over time, stood up to resistance, or been able to win people over to his/her point of view, even when initially considered controversial. Negative examples will show that s/he has backed away from adversity and had difficulty staying the course, has taken the path of least resistance, switched gears often and either had performance issues or let them slide with direct reports.

Maturity and Judgement

Q: Tell me about a time when you received criticism that you felt was unjust. What did you do?

Positive examples include making good judgement calls, using common sense to solve problems, accepting responsibility and responding well to positive criticism and foregone short term rewards for long term benefits. Negative examples are acting with little forethought, difficulty controlling temper, avoiding responsibility, blaming others (including direct reports), taking all the credit and refusing to admit mistakes.

Aptitudes/Capacity to Learn

When you started your last job, what things came to you naturally and what areas did you really have to apply yourself to understand?

Positive examples are demonstrating that s/he has solved complex problems, been able to take difficult, multifaceted projects and compartmentalize them so that s/he can tackle them effectively and has demonstrated a willingness to be a lifelong learner. Negative examples would be having difficulty learning new skills or concepts, little professional reading or studying to keep him or herself current or a lack of ability to keep up with technological changes.

Don’t forget the importance of checking references. Brad Smart suggests a practice of identifying early in the interview that you will be checking with former managers to confirm the information that you’re being given during the interview. He refers to it as the truth serum. As you go through each of these questions make a point of asking the name of the candidate’s supervisor at the time.


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