As part welcoming a new hire to your department, you and several coworkers have taken him out to lunch. Someone asks him to share some personal things about himself, and, after a pause, he says, “I am an oenophile and a philatelist and suffer from occasional triskaidekaphobia,” after which he leans back looking mightily impressed with himself.
Meanwhile, that sinking feeling in your stomach tells you that, despite having asked him all sorts of questions about his resume during his interview, you didn’t learn enough about him to realize that he’s the kind of guy who makes simple things complex by unnecessarily using showy, polysyllabic words, rather than saying he likes wine, collects stamps, and is superstitious about the number 13.
But how did you wind up here? Well, apparently you didn’t bother to ask him the right questions, which means you conducted a lousy interview.
Let’s face it: most people aren’t terribly good at interviewing job candidates. The tendency is to ask questions that focus on job history or job-related skills, rather than the personality traits and motivational characteristics that are necessary for actual success in the position.
There are at least a couple of reasons that asking lots of questions about an applicant’s job history/skills isn’t likely to be very revealing. First, if the candidate wasn’t at least minimally qualified for the position on paper, presumably he/she wouldn’t be sitting in front of you for an interview in the first place.
Second, just because someone might have a great-looking job resume doesn’t mean that he/she will fit with the team, respond well to your style of management, or be able to handle the real-world pressures of your unique work environment.
In the end, skills can usually be taught, refined, or enhanced, and the measures for doing so are easily identifiable. The same is not true of personality. Or the ability to deal effectively with frustration, challenges, and adversity. Or the ability to be motivated simply by the desire to do a job well, and thus feeling a sense of personal reward when a task is done right.
Job fit should also include an exploration of the environmental factors in which a job will be performed. For instance, does the team contain some strong personalities? Are you short-staffed, and thus will the job potentially require atypical hours or workloads? Are there big changes anticipated for the position, department, or organization in the foreseeable future?
Point being: if you don’t assess an applicant based on how well he/she will adapt to the real world needs of the job itself, then you’re much more likely to wind up calling someone like me to ask whether you can fire that same person because he/she isn’t “a good fit” for the job.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that an interview is the same thing as a conversation (only the most skilled interviewers can pull off both at the same time). Instead, an interview is more like an investigation, since you’re trying to learn as much as you can about each candidate that sits down in front of you. That means you have to:
The “right questions” are those that will reveal the elements of a candidate’s personality and motivation that you have determined to be important to integrating well with the team and preforming at a top level in the face of the challenges the position will likely face.
For instance, if there has been tension on the team, you’ll want to know how the applicant has dealt with conflict in the past. However, the way in which you ask your question can be almost as important as the question itself. For instance, asking a close-ended question (“Do you usually get along with your coworkers?”) will get you a close-ended answer (“Yes!”) that doesn’t tell you anything at all.
If, instead, you ask an open-ended question (“Give me an example of a time that you felt a coworker was upset with you or was being unfair to you, and how you responded.”), you will get a more expansive, and thus useful, response, since the applicant will have to tell you a story.
And as you listen to the story the applicant is telling, pay close attention to what is actually being said (and what isn’t). As you’re doing so, think about what else you’d like to know about the situation the applicant is describing, and how the applicant’s answer fits into the context of your workplace. Be curious, and try to learn as much as you can about the details of the story.
Did the coworker have a legitimate reason to be upset? What steps did the applicant take to try to resolve the problem? Did the applicant self-initiate the resolution process, or was he/she urged to do so by the manager (or the other person)? Did the applicant face any resistance, and if so, what did the applicant do to move past the resistance? How could the applicant have behaved differently that might have reduced the likelihood or degree of conflict, and what things could the other party have done? What was the working relationship like after the conflict, and did they have problems again in the future?
As you can see, the more you know about the way an applicant has behaved in previous workplaces, the more you will know about how he/she is likely to behave in your workplace when faced with similar challenges. And, as I said in the beginning of this article, focusing on behavior (i.e., job fit) will be a lot more revealing than focusing on task (i.e., job history). After all, how many follow up questions can you really ask about how somebody operated a piece of equipment?
Effective interviewing can be difficult, and doing it poorly can not only lead to a bad hire, but, in some cases, can also get you sued. For a deeper exploration of the issues raised in this article, as well as a number of others, join us on October 4, 2018, for our webinar, “Effective interviewing takes more than just asking questions.” And if you’re a Hotline member, feel free to call or e-mail us for more guidance.
James provides guidance to employers on a variety of topics with a focus on employment, risk management and liability issues. In addition to working directly with employers, he regularly conducts in-depth training through webinars, at client sites, and through the University of Minnesota’s Continuin
James provides guidance to employers on a variety of topics with a focus on employment, risk management and liability issues. In addition to working directly with employers, he regularly conducts in-depth training through webinars, at client sites, and through the University of Minnesota’s Continuing Ed program. He previously was a plaintiff’s attorney and brings that perspective into his advice to employers. James received his law degree from the University of Minnesota and his BA from Washington University in St. Louis.
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