Tag Archives: hiring talent

What Do You Look for in a Candidate?

“We are hiring for a new supervisor. And this time, there is no one on the inside that we can promote. We have a good crew of technicians, but none is going to be able to do what we need them to do. We have to go outside,” Roger explained. “What do we need to look for in the person we want to hire?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, what kind of person should we look for? You know, someone who is self-motivated, dependable. Someone who can project confidence to the team. That’s important, you know. We need someone who is flexible, who can adapt to change. Someone who is a team player, you know, someone who is good with people.”

“That’s all interesting, but what is the work?”

“It’s a supervisor. Supervisory work,” Roger floated.

“So, what is the work of a supervisor, in your company, what is the work?”

Roger looked at me blankly.

“Look,” I said, interrupting his stare. “You seem to be focused on trying to climb inside the head of the candidate without any real definition of the work that has to be done. In this role, what are the decisions that have to be made? What are the problems that have to be solved? I am more interested in whether the candidate has made those kinds of decisions and solved those kinds of problems.” -Tom

How to Interview for Interest and Passion

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was in your Time Span workshop where you spoke about the 4 Absolutes required for success.

  1. Capability (time span)
  2. Skill (technical knowledge, practiced behavior)
  3. Interest, passion (value for the work)
  4. Required behaviors (contracted, habits, culture)

I think I have always known about #3, interest, passion (value) for the work. It speaks to a candidates attitude about the work. In some cases, that is more important than skill (which, over time, I can teach anyway). But, here is my struggle. How do you interview for interest or passion for the work.

Response:
This is a dilemma faced by most hiring managers. Intuitively, you know how important this is, but you struggle on how to collect data related to interest and passion. The reason is – you can’t.

Interest and passion lives inside a person’s head and you know my warning – Don’t play amateur psychologist. Stay out of people’s heads.

But, as a manager, you are an expert at observing behavior. Translate the attitude into behavior with this magic question – How does a person with interest or passion for this work behave? Then interview for those behaviors. I also look for related attitudes like pride, importance and challenge?

  • Tell me about a project you are most proud of?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • Who was on your project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • What were the characteristics of the project that made you proud of your accomplishment?
  • Tell me about a project that was important to your professional growth?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • Who was on your project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • What were the characteristics of the project that made this important to your professional growth?
  • Tell me about a project that you found professionally challenging?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • Who was on your project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • What were the characteristics of the project that made it professionally challenging?

All of these responses will give you behavioral clues to interest and passion for the work. -Tom

The magic question is courtesy of Barry Shamis, my hero in the behavioral interview.

Contracted Behaviors

There are some behaviors you simply contract for.

Each of you has an appointed time that most people show up for work. It is part of the contract you have with each team member. Even flex-time is a contract. A contract is an agreement by two parties related to future behavior.

Can you contract for other things besides the time we show up for work together? Can you contract for respect? More specifically, can you contract for behaviors related to respect?

“Around here, we treat each other with respect. You don’t have to be friends with your teammates. You don’t even have to like your teammates, but when you interact, you will treat each other with respect. It is a matter of contract.”

Required behavior is one of the four absolutes necessary for success in any role.

  • Capability
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced performance)
  • Interest, passion, value for the work/li>
  • Required behavior (contracted behavior, habits, culture)

Yes, there are some behaviors you simply contract for. -Tom

Open Ended Questions in the Interview

“But the biggest mistake in the interview, was the gift you served up to the candidate,” I said.

“What gift was that?” Marianna asked.

“Open-ended questions,” I replied.

“But, I was taught to ask open-ended questions. I even read a book that said to ask open-ended questions,” she pushed back.

“Marianna, as the interviewer, you have a job to do. Your job is to gather specific data about the candidate related to the critical role requirements. When you ask an open-ended question, that question loses its purpose. When you ask an open-ended question, you are on a fishing expedition without a goal. The candidate is searching your face and fabricating a response that you want to hear. Open-ended questions give the candidate latitude to follow their own agenda, to create a narrative that may have little to do with the critical role requirements.”

Marianna sat quietly.

I continued. “Have you ever read a resume that was a bit enhanced? Have you ever read a resume that contained a little fluff? Have you ever read a resume that contained outright lies?” I stopped. “Open-ended questions give the candidate latitude to enhance their response, add a bit of fluff or create an outright lie. And you invited them to do it.” -Tom

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 –

Question:
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?

Response:
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