Category Archives: Hiring Talent

Fictional Behavior in the Interview

“What do you mean, my questions were more real during the exit interview than the initial interview?” Marianna wanted to know.

“In your initial interview, it sounds like you depended on a personality profile, whether people liked the candidate and a response to a hypothetical question,” I challenged.

“What do you mean, hypothetical question?”

“You asked him how he would plan a project. You didn’t ask for an example of a project he actually planned. Even more important, you didn’t ask how he executed the project according to the plan.”

“But, I figured, if he could explain his planning process, he should be able to use that on a real project,” Marianna defended.

“You figured wrong. Lots of people can talk. Fewer can execute in the real world. That is why you have to ask questions about real experience. Hypothetical questions reveal only fictional behavior.” -Tom

But, the Candidate Was Likeable

Marianna was puzzled. “How long does it take to know if a new hire will make it?” she thought out loud. “My last hire, I had to terminate after six weeks. Funny, I had high hopes. We did a personality profile and his graphs lined up with our best candidate profile. I introduced him around and everyone who interviewed him, liked him. Since planning is one of the critical role requirements, I asked him how he would plan a project. He nailed it, showed me a seven step planning process almost identical to some of our project schedules. In response to some of my open ended questions, he had great stories to tell about how he would be valuable on our team.”

“So, what happened?” I asked.

“He was likable. He was friendly. He got along well with everyone. That is why it was so difficult to terminate.”

“So, what was the problem?” I pressed.

“He never actually did any of the things we talked about. During his exit interview, I asked him about his planning process, the one he elegantly described in his initial interview. He said he got it off our website. No wonder I was impressed. But, he never actually put a plan together.”

“Sounds like your questions in the exit interview were more real than the questions in the initial interview?” -Tom

How Long Does It Take to Know?

“How long does it take to know, if the selected candidate will be successful in the role?” I asked.

Marianna thought carefully, remembering those who had crashed and burned. “I get some early clues, but it depends on the role. Sometimes a week, sometimes a month,” she replied.

“What does it depend on?”

“The level of work. If the role is physical or mechanical, low S-I, it doesn’t take long to see confusion and bewilderment. Often, we can see clues during the initial orientation and training.”

“So, a higher level of work takes longer to confirm the selected candidate was the right one?” I pressed.

“A higher level of work, high S-II or S-III, has longer time span goals. It takes longer to figure out if the selected candidate will be effective at longer time span goals,” Marianna said.

“Why? Why does it take so long? What would have to happen in the interview process, so you, as the hiring manager, would know on the first day, that the candidate had a high likelihood of success in the role?” -Tom

Process Important, but Not Sufficient

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“When you hired George, your interview focused on the process of project management?” I pressed.

“Yes, and understanding the process is important, but not sufficient for the Operations Manager role,” Anne replied.

“What else should you have included in the interview?”

“To manage two or three projects requires knowledge and adherence to our process. That’s a project manager role. To manage ALL of our 36 projects requires building a team of competent project managers. That’s what I should have included in the interview. I never found out if George ever built a team.”

“If you had to do it over again, what questions would you ask?”

Anne paused. Then carefully generated a series of questions related to building a team.

  • Tell me about a time when you built a team of project managers?
  • How many people were on the team?
  • How many projects did the team have to collectively handle?
  • How many individual projects did a PM have to manage?
  • How long were the individual projects? Shortest? Longest?
  • What qualities did you look for in each team member?
  • How did you assign the individual projects to each project manager?
  • How often did you check in on project status with each PM?
  • Step me through one of your check in meetings?
  • Step me through how your PMs mobilized the start of the project?
  • Tell me about a project where there were unseen problems?
  • Step me through the diagnosis of those problems?
  • Step me through the coaching process with the PM in charge of that project?
  • How did the PM respond to the problems on that project?
  • What changes did the PM make?
  • What was the outcome of that project?
  • Tell me about another time when you built a team of project managers?

How to Manage 36 Simultaneous Projects

“I don’t think I missed anything,” Anne replied. “I don’t think I knew what I was looking for when I hired George. He was a good senior project manager, but I think I underestimated the level of work of an Operations Manager.”

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

“Our senior project managers can handle two to three large projects at the same time. But we expect our Operations Manager to manage all 36 projects.”

“It’s just more projects,” I chuckled. “Seriously, can’t the Ops Manager run 36 projects the same way as three projects?”

Anne shook her head slowly side to side. “Actually, the Operations Manager doesn’t directly manage any single project, the role has to manage ALL the projects. The level of work is different.”

“How so?” I probed.

“The only way to manage ALL the projects is to create a competent team of project managers who manage the individual projects. If the Ops Manager builds a good team, then the role is a cakewalk. If the Ops Manager has weakness in the project manager team, then life will be miserable.”

“So, what’s the key difference in the level of work?” I pressed.

“A project manager (S-II) manages a process. It’s a coordinating role. The Operations Manager (S-III) has to create a system for managing ALL the projects. That’s where I went wrong when I hired George.”

How to Get to the Truth in a Candidate Interview

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I’ve conducted interviews where we’ve asked behavioral questions, like “Please share a specific example in your last position where you led a team in accomplishing a specific task. Share what steps you took and any processes you put in place to be successful. What were your challenges?” These questions did help us see how the candidate thinks and leads and whether s/he’s innovative. But in the end, some candidates are really great at interviewing and talking the talk, but when they get in the position they are not effective. So, are there other questions or exercises we should use in interviews to further test the veracity of the candidate and their experience?

The truth is always elusive.

Two things I ask about in the interview to get closer to the truth.

  1. Details
  2. Repeated patterns

Take the same example you cited, leading a team through a task assignment. Here are my questions.

  • Tell me about a time when you lead a team to accomplish a project?
  • What was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • What was the time span of the project, from beginning to end?
  • How many people on the project team?
  • What was your specific role on the project team?
  • Step me through the initial team meeting, how did you describe the project to your project team?
  • How did you select each person on your project team?
  • How did you make individual task assignments to your project team?
  • How did you monitor progress through the project?
  • To monitor progress, what documentation did you use? Paper based? Excel spreadsheet? Project software?
  • When did you notice the project was behind schedule?
  • What steps did you take to keep the project on schedule?
  • How often did you meet with your project team?
  • Step me through an interim project team meeting?
  • Did you prepare an agenda for that meeting? Step me through your preparation for the agenda?
  • How long did it take to complete the project?
  • What changed about the project as it neared completion?
  • What adjustments did you make, as the leader of the project, to accommodate those changes?

In the candidate responses, I am looking for details and patterns to get me to the truth. -Tom

Send Interview Questions in Advance?

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

When interviewing for a specific role, is there any benefit to sending at least some of the core interview questions to the candidates prior to the interview so they can be better prepared to provide the specific work examples we are interviewing for?

What’s the purpose? Every element of the interview protocol must have a purpose. No purpose, don’t do it.

My primary purpose in an interview is to gather truthful data points surrounding the critical role requirements identified in the role description. I connect the dots with data points (step me through the process). I connect to the truth through details and repetitive patterns of response (give me another example).

I hesitate to send interview questions in advance because I am not interested in a story, I am interested in details. Sending the questions, in advance, allows time to create a story with fabricated details. I am not interested in the enhanced resume or exaggerated detail.

I would send the role description. What’s the purpose? The job posting and the role description (two different documents) exist to attract qualified candidates. I need candidates. The job posting creates my candidate pool. The role description self-disqualifies people in the candidate pool.

I want the candidate to look at the role description and say one of two things –

  • I did that.
  • I have no idea how to do that.

I will find out the details in the interview. I will see the patterns in the interview. -Tom

What’s So Important That You Can’t Do This?

Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
Public Presentation
October 6, 2016 – 8:00a – 12:00 noon
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
Fort Lauderdale Florida
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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. We are growing fast. I am the manager-once-removed with three managers that report to me. Between the three of them, they need to hire five people. You say that I should be the quarterback, that I am accountable for the quality of the hiring decisions made by my team of managers. I have more important things to do than to screen resumes and conduct interviews. I say that is their job.

Manager-once-removed – O

Hiring managers – O O O

Open Roles – O O O O O

Perhaps you are right. You can’t do it. Maybe your role is overwhelming. Or maybe you think all that other work is more important.

What more important thing do you have to do, than to build the infrastructure of your teams?

Look, I know you are busy. And I know it seems like a lot to ask of you, to hire five people. So, let me pose this question. If you had to hire, not five, but fifty people, how would you do it? And I am not asking you to just open the flood gates, but make fifty effective hires, how would you do it?

The answer is, you would enlist the help and support from your hiring managers, your HR department, your technical person, your culture person. You cannot do this alone, but you are still the quarterback.

The central document in the hiring process is the role description. I don’t think you could write fifty role descriptions fast enough to keep up, so how would you do it? You would gather your team together and delegate out the pieces. You are still accountable for making sure quality role descriptions are written, but I would not expect you to personally do the writing.

And what is that other stuff you are doing, that you think is so important? -Tom

Interview Questions Do Not Come From the Resume

Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
Public Presentation
October 6, 2016 – 8:00a – 12:00 noon
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
Fort Lauderdale Florida
More information and registration
From the Ask Tom mailbag –

You said, in your workshop, that the resume wasn’t that important. I use the resume for all my notes and to help guide me through the interview.

I use the resume as a reference. It’s in the room with me, but it is not the piece of paper I hold in my hand. I only use it to nail down the name of an employer, the name of a project or a specific date range. I rarely read the resume for content, because the content has been carefully fluffed.

My questions do NOT come from the resume and I do not make my notes on the resume. I do not ask questions to increase my understanding of the resume. I do not need to correlate candidate responses to the narrative on the resume.

My questions come from the role description. I make my notes on a sheet, left column for my written questions, right side for my notes. I ask questions to increase my understanding of the candidate’s experience related to the role. I correlate candidate responses to the critical role requirements of the position.

When I evaluate each candidate to the same criteria in the role description, I can more easily distinguish between candidates’ capability and skill related to the role. The crucible that helps me form my judgment is not the candidate’s resume, it is the role description that defines what is necessary for success in the position.

How to Interview for Passion at S-IV Level of Work

Before we can interview for interest and passion, we have to define the work. It’s always about the work.

Most S-IV roles are integration roles, integrating systems and sub-systems for total organizational throughput. The tools at S-IV are system metrics. The role is typically an executive manager, VP or C-suite. Longest time span goals and objectives would be 2-3-4-5 years. Learning would be long-term (longitudinal) analytic. Highest level problem solving would include systems analysis (Senge-Fifth Discipline). Value-add to the organization is multi-system efficiency and total throughput. It is the role at S-IV to optimize multi-system output so that no one system overwhelms or drags on other systems, and to improve handoffs of work output from one system to the next system. One of the most important functions at S-IV is as the manager of S-III and the manager-once-removed (MOR) at S-II.

Managerial roles at S-IV are accountable for the output of the team at S-III.

Interview questions –

  • The purpose of these next questions is to look at some of the systems in your prior company and examine the way those systems worked together?
  • In your last role, list the functional systems that existed?
  • What was your role title?
  • Which single function were you most focused on?
  • Looking at that system, what impact did other systems have on its output?
  • Describe the balance or imbalance of your focus system and its surrounding system?
  • When one system in your organization was out of balance, in your role, how did you discover the imbalance?
  • When one system in your organization was out of balance, in your role, how did you influence or take direct action to correct the imbalance?
  • How did you communicate the corrective steps necessary to re-balance the systems?
  • How long did it take to re-balance the systems?
  • How did you know, what metrics indicated the systems were back in balance?
  • Step me through the work flow, start to finish as work moved from one function to another in your organization?
  • As work moved from one function to the next, how was that work transferred, communicated, handed-off?
  • Looking at the work transitions between functions, in your role, how did you detect problems?
  • Looking at the work transitions between functions, in your role, how did you influence or take direct action to improve the hand-off transitions?
  • How did you communicate the necessary steps to improve the hand-off transitions?
  • How did you document the hand-off transition steps?
  • How did you know when the hand-off transitions improved?
  • Tell me about another example?

Each of these questions asks for a specific piece of data about the candidate. And though we are trying to find out about an attitude or feeling, the questions are still laser focused on the work.

How to Interview for Passion at S-I Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-II Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-III Level of Work