Tag Archives: hiring questions

How to Interview for Customer Care

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
How do you interview for a customer service position? We are not concerned about product knowledge, it’s the soft skills, attitude, customer care?

Response:
The structure for developing these questions is the same no matter what attitude, characteristic or soft skill you have in mind.

  1. Ask yourself, what behaviors are connected to the attitude or characteristic.
  2. Identify, in what situations you might see that behavior (connected to the attitude or characteristic).
  3. Develop questions about the behavior.

Your question above shows an interest in a value called “customer care.”

Step One. What are the behaviors I would see in a person who cares about customers?

  • Taking the time to listen, really listen, to a customer.
  • Taking responsibility for a misunderstanding with a customer.
  • Identifying something special about the customer and being responsive.

Step Two. In what situations would I see those behaviors?
Step Three. Develop questions about those behaviors.

Behavior – Taking the time to listen, really listen, to a customer.

  • Tell me about a time when you thought you knew what a customer wanted, but found out it was something completely different?
  • What was the project?
  • What did you think the project was about?
  • How was that different from what the customer really wanted?
  • How did you find out there was a difference (in purpose, objective) in what you understood and what the customer wanted?
  • What was the impact on the project when you found out the customer wanted something different?
  • How did the customer express the difference?
  • How clear was the customer in explaining what they wanted?
  • How was the problem resolved?

Behavior – Taking responsibility for a misunderstanding with a customer.

  • Tell me about a time when your customer made a mistake and you had to make it good?
  • What was the project?
  • What was the misunderstanding about?
  • What was the mistake made by the customer?
  • What was the impact of the mistake on the project?
  • How did you learn of the mistake?
  • How did you define the problem to your team?
  • How did you define the problem to your customer?
  • What corrective action was taken?
  • How was the problem ultimately resolved?
  • What was the impact on the customer relationship?

Behavior – Identifying something special about the customer and being responsive.

  • Tell me about a time when you were able to do something special (unexpected, above and beyond) for a customer?
  • What was the project?
  • What did the customer expect?
  • What did you do that was special for that customer?
  • How did you find out that the customer would be surprised?
  • How was this different than routine customer service?
  • What was the impact of this “something special” on the project?
  • What was the impact of this “something special” on the relationship with the customer?

Enough for today. Perhaps tomorrow we can tackle “Initiative.”

Fourth Biggest Mistake in Hiring

My conversation with Graham about their hiring protocol was getting serious. “So, you don’t have a role description to guide you, how do you know what to ask about during the interview?” I prodded.

“Well, I spend most of my time going through the resume, but I do have some questions prepared. It’s actually a list of questions I have been using since I worked at my old company,” Graham explained.

“How many questions?”

“Seven,” he replied.

“Let me see the list,” I insisted.

“Oh, I don’t have them written down, just have them in my head.”

“Okay, what are they?”

“Let’s see,” Graham started. “Where do you see yourself in five years? I always ask that question. And I usually make up a problem to see how they would solve it.”

“So, that is two questions, not seven,” I counted.

Graham shifted in his chair. “Well, maybe I don’t have seven questions ready to go at the beginning of the interview, but I am pretty good at making up questions as I go along.”

“Graham, what would be different if you had several written questions, for each of the Key Result Areas in the role description?”

“That would be great, if we could find the role description. HR said they would get me one by the end of the week.”
_______

Take the course, Hiring Talent. It’s online. Buy the book, Hiring Talent.

Quality in the Talent Pool or a Matter of Focus?

“Of course, we have a clue,” Ethan was getting defensive. “I know a good candidate, when I see one. I always get a good feeling in the first few minutes of the interview.”

“So, you make your decision about a candidate in the first few minutes of the interview?” I asked.

“Well, no, I don’t make my decision, but I can tell pretty quick.”

“What can you tell pretty quick, if you haven’t written the role description?” I pressed.

Ethan knew he was getting backed into a corner. “The ad we place, on Craig’s List, it’s pretty detailed. It’s really close to the job description. I really do have a good idea what I am looking for during the interview.”

“Okay, let’s say I buy your job posting as a role description, and where the posting is ambiguous, you plan to make that up in the interview. So, let me see your list of prepared questions, that you have going in to the interview?”

Ethan was getting edgy. “Look,” he started, “I don’t even have an interview scheduled, yet. I will make up some questions before I get in the room.”

“Ethan, we started this conversation when you said that it was hard to find good people these days. If you can’t find good people, it’s more about you, as a manager, than the quality of your talent pool. It’s a matter of focus.”

Stupid Interview Questions

This is the fifth in our series, Six Sins in the Hiring Interview.

  • Missing important (and obvious) clues during the interview
  • Head trash, the distraction of the stereotype in the back of your head
  • The fatal decision in the first three minutes of the interview
  • Losing control, losing your head, losing your wallet
  • Asking the wrong (stupid) interview questions
  • Getting beat in the paint

This series is a prelude to our Hiring Talent Summer Camp.

Asking the Wrong Questions
We ask the wrong questions in interviews because those are the questions we had to answer when we were a candidate. What goes around, comes around.

  • Where would you like to be in five years? (the all-time stupidest question)
  • What do you think about teamwork?
  • Do you work with a sense of urgency?
  • If you were an animal, what would you be?

There are hundreds more. But what’s wrong with these questions. They seem purposeful. Does this person have a vision for themselves (five years)? Would they make a good team member? Will they work quickly and efficiently? And if they were an animal, (well, that question is just plain stupid).

The problem isn’t the data you are trying to uncover. The problem is asking future-based, hypothetical or leading questions. Future based questions cannot be verified. Hypothetical questions are contrived and push the person to guess what you are thinking. Leading questions create a platform for the candidate to make up a meaningful stretch of the imagination. All of these questions encourage the candidate to make up stuff and lie to you.

There are specific questions you can ask that capture discrete pieces of real, verifiable, meaningful data. Let’s to back to vision, team and efficiency.

  • Tell me about a time when you had to create a plan for a project?
  • Tell me about a time when a project required a high level of teamwork?
  • Tell me about a project that had a tight time deadline?

These questions all have purpose, and will get you discrete pieces of real, verifiable, meaningful data.

Our Hiring Talent Summer Camp begins next Monday, June 18, 2012. It’s online, and full of great questions to ask in the interview.

Losing Control in the Interview

This is the fourth in our series, Six Sins in the Hiring Interview.

  • Missing important (and obvious) clues during the interview
  • Head trash, the distraction of the stereotype in the back of your head
  • The fatal decision in the first three minutes of the interview
  • Losing control, losing your head, losing your wallet
  • Asking the wrong (stupid) interview questions
  • Getting beat in the paint

This series is a prelude to our Hiring Talent Summer Camp.

Losing Control in the Interview
I realize I haven’t heard a word the candidate has said for the past four minutes. Then I realized the candidate has been talking non-stop for the past four minutes.

“Can you tell me more about the company?” the candidate asks.

“Great company,” I reply and recite a brief thumbnail about the enterprise.

“Are there benefits?”
“Who would be my manager?”
“Would I have my own cubicle?”
“What kind of computer do I get?”
“Do we have paid holidays?”
“How long before I can take vacation?”
“What’s the work like?”
“Is there a dress code?”

I suddenly realize 45 minutes has passed, I know nothing about this candidate and I have two more waiting in the lobby. I lost control of the interview.

Happens all the time, often with a full complimentary tour of the building. Why do we lose control of the interview?

Who controls the conversation?

  • the person answering the questions?
  • the person asking the questions?

On the surface, it appears the person doing most of the talking must be in control, when, in fact, it is the person asking the questions. Why does the interviewer lose control? Most interviewers walk in the room with a written list of 4-5 questions. The more time the candidate fills, the fewer questions required.

“I had five prepared questions, but I only had to ask the first two, the candidate was really responsive, a good communicator. I kind of liked him.” Who was in control of the interview?

Here is the good news. If you suddenly realize you have lost control, you can immediately regain it by asking your next question. You do have a next question, don’t you. From your list of 60 prepared questions. The person asking the questions controls the interview.

Our Hiring Talent Summer Camp begins next Monday, June 18, 2012. It’s online, and you will have several chances to make that first impression.

Fatal Decision in the First Three Minutes

This is the third in our series, Six Sins in the Hiring Interview.

  • Missing important (and obvious) clues during the interview
  • Head trash, the distraction of the stereotype in the back of your head
  • The fatal decision in the first three minutes of the interview
  • Losing control, losing your head, losing your wallet
  • Asking the wrong (stupid) interview questions
  • Getting beat in the paint

This series is a prelude to our Hiring Talent Summer Camp.

The Fatal Decision in the First Three Minutes
The iris of the eye opens and she knows she is in love. No matter that he is a drunk, a cheat and a thief. This chemical attraction is a non-verbal response that is as damaging to the resulting marriage as it is in the interview room.

  • “I liked that candidate as soon as I saw him. Reminded me of an old college roommate of mine. Smart guy. This candidate must be smart too.”
  • “I made up my mind in the first three minutes. Sometimes, you just know!”
  • “Normally, I would reject a candidate without experience, but there was something I noticed as soon as we sat down.”
  • “I don’t know why we have to interview the person for an hour. My mind was made up in the first three minutes.”

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Works both ways. How often do we make up our mind about someone in the first few moments of the interaction? What kind of damage could that do to the hiring process?

It’s actually okay to have a first impression, just not okay to make a hiring decision based on it. It’s all about the work. What’s the Level of Work? How is the work organized? What problems have to be solved? What decisions have to be made? These are the questions that balance your first impression.

Our Hiring Talent Summer Camp begins next Monday, June 18, 2012. It’s online, and you will have several chances to make that first impression.

Head Trash in the Interview

This is the second in our series, Six Sins in the Hiring Interview.

  • Missing important (and obvious) clues during the interview
  • Head trash, the distraction of the stereotype in the back of your head
  • The fatal decision in the first three minutes of the interview
  • Losing control, losing your head, losing your wallet
  • Asking the wrong (stupid) interview questions
  • Getting beat in the paint

This series is a prelude to our Hiring Talent Summer Camp.

Head Trash, the Distraction of Stereotypes
In my day, it was long hair, today, it’s more likely the tattoo. There it is, creeping out of the shirt collar. As the interviewer, you have an immediate and visceral reaction.

You are not supposed to allow yourself to be influenced by stereotypes, but there it is. And it doesn’t have to be a tattoo. It could be short, chubby, slick, smirky, tall, thin, fat, slouch, prim or a hundred other non-verbal details that trigger something in the mind of the interviewer. And there is no magic pill to make that head trash go away. It’s still there, rattling around in the back of your head.

I could hypnotize you so you don’t pay attention to it. But that only works in Vegas stage shows.

We can’t help ourselves. We are wired to use these triggers. In cave man days, it was very useful for survival, to be able to look at someone and, in an instant, make a decision about danger or attraction. But this is an interview. How do you make a hiring decision in the midst of this head trash?

You cannot stop these triggers, but you can collect another 180 data points about the candidate. It’s not about the tattoo, it’s about the work. What’s the Level of Work? How is the work organized? What problems have to be solved? What decisions have to be made? If you have sixty written questions and you ask two drill-down question for every written question, you will come away with 180 pieces of data, about the candidate related to the work. And that’s how you balance the stereotypes in your head.

Our Hiring Talent Summer Camp begins next Monday, June 18, 2012. It’s online, so, if you have a secret tattoo, we will never know.

Six Sins in the Hiring Interview

Over the next few days, we will cover the following Six Sins in the Hiring Interview.

  • Missing important (and obvious) clues during the interview
  • Head trash, the distraction of the stereotype in the back of your head
  • The fatal decision in the first three minutes of the interview
  • Losing control, losing your head, losing your wallet
  • Asking the wrong (stupid) interview questions
  • Getting beat in the paint

This series is a prelude to our Hiring Talent Summer Camp.

Missing Important and Obvious Clues
If we could follow a candidate around for a week, we would learn all kinds of things. We would learn about their habits, interests, routines, the way they solve problems and make decisions. Unfortunately, we can’t play Undercover Boss, we only have one tool in our arsenal, the Hiring Interview.

When the candidate sits down across the interview table, they are prepared. They scrub under their fingernails, iron their shirt and wear matching socks. They are ready. Ready to cover mis-steps and blemishes, ready with explanations of their highest achievements. And, as the interviewer, we miss important details. We miss obvious clues. All we have to do is ask.

So, why don’t we ask? Why do we miss fundamental pieces of data that are laying there for the asking?

It’s simple. The candidate is prepared, but we’re not. The reason we miss important details is that we don’t know what details we are looking for. We never sat down and figured out precisely what qualities we are looking for in the candidate. We have a lame job description (usually a derivative version of the classified ad) and a handful of questions that we hope (HOPE) will unlock the key to the candidates psyche.

And we wonder why we make so many hiring mistakes?

Hiring is not rocket science, but there is a method to the madness. And there are no magic tests.

It starts with the work. It’s all about the work. What’s the Level of Work? How is the work organized? What problems have to be solved? What decisions have to be made? What sixty prepared (written) questions should we ask?

If we are prepared, as interviewers, we will know what we are looking for and we will ask the right questions to capture the data. We won’t miss important (and obvious) clues.

Our Hiring Talent Summer Camp begins next Monday, June 18. It’s online, so, no, we don’t serve snacks and we don’t have a swimming pool.

It’s a Cakewalk

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:

I just read your latest newsletter regarding team interviewing. I am a lousy interviewer but trying to get better. I am intrigued by the 50-60 interview questions that need to be prepared as I have a tendency to just wing it.

Do you have a source or listing of that many questions? I’m having a hard time envisioning what a comprehensive list might look like.

Response:
When I first introduce this concept of 50-60 written prepared questions, most interviewers freak out. Looks like a lot of work. No idea where to start? Can I short-cut the work and find the questions online?

The answer is, there is no short-cut. I do NOT have a list you can copy. But, here is the source of the questions.

The template I use to create a Role Description is organized around Key Result Areas (KRAs). When you look at any role, there are tasks that go together, typically related to a single goal or objective. In any role, there are typically 5-8 major goals or objectives, with related tasks in each goal area.

Looks like this –

Role Description
KRA #1
Tasks/Activities
_____________________
_____________________
_____________________
Accountability
_____________________
KRA #2
Tasks/Activities
_____________________
_____________________
_____________________
Accountability
_____________________
KRA #3
Tasks/Activities
_____________________
_____________________
_____________________
Accountability
_____________________
and so on…

Use the Role Description to craft ten questions in each KRA. If you have six KRAs, you will have 60 written prepared questions. It’s a cakewalk.

If you have more questions, register for our Hiring Talent program, next Orientation is Apr 23, 2012. For more information, follow this link.