Who Controls the Interview

Kimberly almost chuckled. “What do you mean, I have power? I’m the one being interviewed for the job. How do I control that?”

“Actually, it’s pretty easy,” I said. “And understand this is not through some trickery or fancy technique, but by doing two simple things.” Kimberly was all ears.

“Since most people who conduct interviews don’t know much about hiring, you have an opportunity to help them make a better decision, and, as a candidate, it usually gives you a leg up.”

“So, what are the two things?” Kimberly prompted.

“First is to find out what the decision criteria will be based on, what knowledge, skills and abilities will be required for the job.”

“How will I find that out?”

“Ask questions, direct questions about the processes, how things work and what is expected.”

“Okay, I think I can do that,” Kimberly said confidently.

“The second thing is to draw the conversation back to specific examples of what you have done, in the past, related to those skills and abilities.”

“It sounds too simple,” she protested.

“Indeed, and it’s what the interviewer should be doing in the first place. Only by defining the specific skills and behaviors for success and then supporting those with real past experience, can the interviewer make an effective decision. And, as the candidate who helped that process along, you will have the upper hand.”

Pulled on to the Hiring Team

“The time you spent preparing for this interview has taught you more than most interviewers understand about the hiring process,” I said.

“Why is that?” Kimberly responded.

“Most managers are too busy with important adult stuff, so they don’t have time to think about hiring. Here is the way most managers get pulled into the interview process.

Hey, Joe, we have a hot candidate for that new supervisor’s position. A couple of people have talked to him and they are really impressed. Say, could spare fifteen minutes, go meet him down in the conference room, and see what you think?

“So, tell me, Kimberly, what chance does Joe have of conducting an effective interview that will give him the proper information to make a hiring decision?”

“Well, I suppose he could just see if he likes the guy.”

“Exactly, with no understanding of the job description, without sufficient thinking about the specific skills required, with no opportunity to think through effective questions, Joe will have no other choice but to make his decision on whether he likes the guy or not. One of the biggest hiring mistakes is making the decision based on gut feeling.”

“So, as a candidate, where does that leave me?” asked Kimberly.

“Armed with what you now know, you have more power than you think.”

What Does It Say About a Company?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Many companies are using recruiters or screeners or consultants for the pre-interview. How does that process differ mainly from how questions are asked and answered? I gave notice, am leaving my current company, and I found it easier to be less formal with the consultant. The consultant may get a better sense of the company they are representing and whether I would fit in the new culture or not.

Response:
What does it say about a company when an outsider can better identify, communicate and assess culture fit, than someone inside the company?

Every company has a culture and they have the culture they deserve.

This is a problem of introspection, documentation and rituals.

Most companies do not spend time thinking about behaviors connected to what they believe. This introspective process is mostly absent. Events occur, behaviors happen and we seldom look back. Every behavior and our response to that behavior sets a precedent.

Even if we think we understand behaviors we want (behaviors we tolerate), we seldom write them down. If we do not document behaviors we tolerate, we cannot continually make them visible to the company, to ourselves.

If we do not document behaviors we tolerate, we can never institutionalize them into customs and rituals. If we do not document safe behaviors (culture of safety), we cannot continually review those behaviors in a morning safety meeting (ritual).

So, yes, what does it say about a company when an outsider can better identify, communicate and assess culture fit, than someone inside the company?

I Can Talk the Game

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In your post on Wednesday [Hypothetical Questions are a Trap], you caught my attention. As an interviewer, I use hypothetical questions all the time. It lets me know if the candidate can think on their feet. I try to use real hypothetical questions for circumstances they will run into. What’s wrong with that?

Response:
Hypothetical questions are a trap for both sides of the interview table. Intellectually, hypothetical questions seem to make sense. In reality, they force the candidate to play a guessing game and require the interviewer to suspend judgement of reality.

When the interviewer asks a hypothetical question, the candidate must now search for the answer they believe the interviewer wants to hear. This is a guessing game. The candidate, if they are like me, will have done some reading up on your industry, will understand the basics of industry jargon and be able to create some believable response.

Two problems. Just because I can talk the game, does not mean I have ANY REAL experience in the circumstance. Second, if my response is in the ball park of believe-ability, the interviewer unwittingly suspends judgement and checks the box for a good response. The reality is that I have never been a project manager for any construction project larger than a bathroom remodel. And, frankly, I wasn’t very good at that.

The interviewer cannot fact-check a hypothetical response. It’s hypothetical.

Oh, I will dazzle you with schedules of value, resource planning, milestone review, budget to complete, over and under billings. But, if you had asked about my bathroom remodel (actual experience), you would have a totally different judgement of my skills and ability.

In the Interview, Hypothetical is a Trap

My eyes scanned the page, fell on a question that was particularly troubling. I was with Kimberly, a recent transplant to the city, looking for a job. A head hunter asked her to prepare responses to a list of anticipated questions.

Why would I want to hire you?

“Kimberly, the problem with that question is that it invites candidates to make stuff up or outright lie to the interviewer. Most responses will be trite cliches loaded with meaningless crap.”

“So, how should I respond?” insisted Kimberly. “The head hunter said this question will likely be asked.”

“And he’s right, so you need to be prepared. Remember, the interviewer has an expectation of what an acceptable response would be. The interviewer is playing a game, trying to get you to guess a right answer. Guess wrong and you lose.

“My philosophy is, always try to pull hypothetical questions back to your own real experience. It might sound like this:

Frankly, I can’t tell you why you would want to hire me without understanding the criteria you are using to make this hiring decision. But I can tell you why my last employer hired me, and it is related to something very specific to your job posting.

Like your company, my last company had just installed some computer software, but no one was using it. Everyone finished the training, but still no one was using the software. My first task was to design daily administrative routines to get people started immediately. I then designed reconciliation routines to make sure the data was accurate going in. Finally, I developed a schedule of reports so other managers could make decisions about their departments. Within 30 days, we had moved completely off of our manual systems. Which part of that transition would you like to hear more about?

“Remember, Kimberly, a hypothetical question is a trap. Always move the question back to your own real experience.”

Don’t Fix It, Prevent It

Most managers got where they are being good under pressure, reacting quickly without flinching in the face of adversity. Most managers get their juice operating in the red zone.

The best managers are most effective by sensing pressure before it builds, preventing blow-back that requires extraordinary effort (and overtime). They don’t flinch because they meet adversity early on when there are lots of options. The best managers stay out of the red zone through planning, anticipating, cross-training, delegating and building bench strength in the team.

It is not extraordinary effort that makes a great manager. It is ordinary effort looking forward. It is not heroically fixing a catastrophe, but creating a sensitive feedback loop that prevents the catastrophe in the first place.

The Limit of Minimum

Physical strength is built by pushing the limit to the maximum, breaking the micro-strands in muscle. The repair of the micro-strands builds the muscle, makes it stronger.

Mental strength is built by pushing the limit to the maximum. The experience of mental pushing is moving from comfort to discomfort. We learn the most when we leave the familiar to discover the unfamiliar, when we shift from the land of certainty to the land of uncertainty.

We still need time to repair. Mental repair is called integration. Mental repair is integrating the new experience from the land of uncertainty with things familiar that we know. Integration builds mental strength.

Pushing to the maximum requires risk and discipline. Sometimes the risk looms too large and discipline too hard. So, all we do is the minimum. And, if all we do is the minimum, pretty soon, our minimum becomes our maximum.

If We Lie Down with Dogs

If we lie down with dogs, the saying goes, we get up with fleas.

We become like those people we hang out with. We are programmed with mirror neurons to imitate those around us. Human learning is based on imitation. We connect with those around us because we imitate them, their mannerisms, their language, their behavior. One person yawns, contagious. Our mirror neurons cannot resist.

In paleolithic times, this was survival. Walking down the path, confronted with our friend, we can see the terror in his face. Our mirror neurons kick in and contort our face identical. That contortion stimulates hormones in our body so we feel the same fear, the same panic to turn around and run. We do not have to see the dinosaur to feel the fear, we only have to see our friend’s face. The good news is that we do not have to outrun the dinosaur, we only have to outrun our friend.

We are programmed to be like those around us. Beware who you hang out with. You will become like them.

Be intentional about who you hang out with. You will become like them.

Gap Analysis

A gap analysis is a fundamental model.

Where do we want to go? What is the goal? What does success look like?

Where are we now?

So goes the gap. Bordered by where we are now and where we want to be in the future is the gap. In that gap are all the problems that have to be solved and all the decisions that have to be made. All learning, from small lessons to large, is based on the gap.

Standing on the shore, looking over the ocean, far out, a shape leaps out of the water. On closer inspection, you discover, it is a porpoise.

You see, out of the gap, you may achieve your objective and find it empty. You may reach your goal and find it unworthy. Before you set your goal, you must look out to the ocean and find your porpoise.

Computers Do Not Make Decisions

Decisions are made on a continuum from fact-based to gut-response.

The advantage to fact-based is, the alternatives are well-considered, analytical, defensible. The disadvantage is the decision may be made too late.

The advantage to gut-response is speed, intuition, it feels right. The disadvantage is the decision may be wrong.

The best decisions are made in the middle. The more data you have, the more likely your intuition is to be accurate.

Decisions are always made with incomplete data. There is always uncertainty. If there were no uncertainty, it would not be a decision, it would be a calculation. Computers do not make decisions, they run algorithms, calculations. In the face of ambiguity, it is only people who can make decisions.

So, why all the fuss about artificial intelligence?

For some decisions, computers can gather enough data, quickly enough, to make a calculation, run an algorithm, to remove uncertainty, while a human is still gathering data, faced with ambiguity. That is why, in some circumstances, a computer can make a faster, more accurate diagnosis than a human.