Tag Archives: interview questions

How to Interview for Teamwork

“The new guy just doesn’t seem to fit,” Cynthia said. “Our company is built on a culture of teamwork. He doesn’t seem to be a team player.”

“You hired him. What questions did you ask about teamwork?” I wanted to know.

“Well, I asked him if he thought teamwork was important?” she replied.

“And?”

“And, he said yes. He said teamwork was very important at his last job.”

“What did you expect him to say?” I pressed.

“Well, I wanted him to say teamwork was important, because, to be successful at this company, we have to work as a team,” Cynthia insisted.

“So, the candidate gave you the response you wanted to hear?”

Cynthia was silent.

“Look, teamwork is a state of mind,” I nodded. “It’s like an attitude. You cannot interview for an attitude. You cannot interview for a state of mind. You can only interview for behaviors connected to that attitude. Ask yourself, how does a person, with an attitude of teamwork, behave? Once you identify connected behaviors, you can ask a better set of questions. So, what are some behaviors connected to teamwork?”

Cynthia thought for a moment. “Cooperation, support, listening, constructive feedback,” she replied.

“Okay, try these questions.”

  • Think of a time when you worked on a project where teamwork was critical for the success of the project?
  • What was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • What was your role on the team?
  • What was it, about the project, that required a high level of teamwork?
  • Describe how the team worked together?
  • What worked well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What did the team do to pull together?
  • What was your role in pulling the team together?
  • What was it, about the project, that pulled the team apart?
  • How did the team respond to that?
  • What was the outcome?
  • What did the team learn about working together from the experience on this project?

“Would these questions give you some insight to the candidate’s attitude toward teamwork?” -Tom

How to Interview for Project Management

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
All of our projects are different. We never know what our customers will want, in advance. It’s almost always a custom solution. So, when we are hiring a project manager, it’s difficult to determine what skills the candidate will need to be successful. That’s why, most of the time, we wing it, when it comes to interview questions. How can we do a better job in the interview, instead of just working off of the resume?

Response:
We may not know anything about the project, but we can still work on preparedness. So, think about behaviors connected to being prepared.

  • Diagnostic questions
  • Project planning
  • Short interval planning
  • Project adjustments
  • Discipline

The only way to work through an ill-defined or unknown project specification, is to define the project. You are accurate, that many customers don’t really know what they want. Sometimes your best contribution, in managing the project, is helping the customer to define the project. What are the problems to be solved and the decisions to be made as the project meanders its way to completion?

Determine questions related to diagnosis, planning and project adjustments.

  • Tell me about a project you worked on where the customer was not clear on what they wanted?
  • What was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • What was the purpose for the project?
  • How did the customer describe the project?
  • What was the real project?
  • How did you determine the real project specification?
  • What changed about the project when it was better defined?
  • What changed about the resources required when the project was better defined?
  • What changed about the budget when the project was better defined?
  • How did you explain the changes in resources and budget to the customer?
  • How many people on your project team?
  • How did you explain the changes to your project team?
  • What mid-course corrections were required?
  • How did you discover the mid-course correction?
  • How did you determine the overall project met the initial purpose of the project?

These questions will get you better data, than just winging it off the resume.

Not the Right Questions, Not Enough Questions

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You told us not to hope. You told us not to look in the eyes of the candidate. You told us not to make the decision in the first three minutes of the interview. All you told us was what NOT to look for. But, you didn’t tell us WHAT to look For!!

Response:
Look for something that sits in front of our eyes. And yet, we cannot see it.

It is easy to observe behavior AFTER the candidate shows up for work, we can see the evidence of the work product, and we are often disappointed. We made the hire based on hope, based on what we thought we saw in the eyes of the candidate, and made that decision in the first three minutes. We made our decision BEFORE we had any data.

The question is, how do we get that data, how do we get that evidence in the interview? It is, as easy to see in the interview, as it is to see in the work. No, we cannot directly observe, but we can certainly ask questions that allow us to observe through description.

The problem is that we don’t ask questions related to behaviors in the role. We rely on stupid stuff that we, as interviewers, interpret about the candidate. We use trick questions. We try to climb inside the head of the candidate. STOP. Don’t play amateur psychologist.

But, we are experts about the work. We can spot positive behavior on the plant floor or in the field. We can spot negative behavior, and it takes only a nanosecond for us to tell the difference. Why? Because we are competent managers.

Don’t play amateur psychologist, play to your strength as a manager. It’s all about the work. We don’t see the evidence in the interview because we don’t prepare to ask the right questions, because we don’t prepare to ask enough questions. So, we rely on faulty assumptions, like hope. And because we don’t have the right questions, or enough questions, we make the decision in the first three minutes.

What to look for in the interview is EVIDENCE. And most interviewers don’t ask enough questions to gather that evidence. -Tom

Hope Derails an Interview

“I had hoped that my new hire would have the potential to work at a higher level,” Marilyn explained.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, at his last job, perhaps there wasn’t the kind of opportunity we have here. During the interview, he was very interested in the work we do. I could see it in his eyes.”

“And?” I prompted.

“And, after the first three minutes, I just knew he was the right person,” she concluded.

“And, now?” I pressed.

“And, now, I think I made a mistake.”

“And, why do you think you made a mistake?”

“Now, that I am looking at the real work output, it is remarkably disappointing,” Marilyn shook her head.

“So, the real evidence of work product is a different picture than what you hoped, what you saw in his eyes and what you interpreted in the first three minutes of the interview?”

Marilyn stared. “I guess I was looking at the wrong things.”

“The real measure of performance, even in an interview, is not a gleam in the eye. The only measure of performance is performance.”

Play to Your Strengths as a Manager

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On Wednesday, we talked about the Spirit Animal interview question. Sparked a bit of response.

I do see the humor in this question, and on the surface, it does seem silly. However, there may be more to the question than you think. I had a manager tell me they ask silly questions like this, not to judge the surface response, but to evaluate how the candidate reacts to such a silly question. Do they roll their eyes disrespectfully? Does it take an exorbitant amount of time to come up with an answer? Are they creative with their answer? Do they panic and start sweating? Are they a quick wit and come up with a novel response?

Here’s the problem. And I will state this in the form of a question.

  • Why do interviewers misinterpret candidate responses?

To this question, I get the usual –

  • The interviewer doesn’t listen well.
  • The interviewer is listening for something she wants to hear.
  • The interviewer has already made up her mind.
  • The candidate exaggerates the content in his response.

But that’s not the real reason interviewers misinterpret responses. Here’s why.

Interviewers misinterpret candidate responses because they ask questions which require interpretation. The Spirit Animal question will get a response, like rolling eyes, a long pause, panic sweats, snappy answer. But what does that response mean related to the work in the role. We don’t know what it means and any attempt to interpret the response places us in the position of playing amateur psychologist.

Most managers don’t have a degree in psychology, certainly not a Masters or PhD in psychology. None are certified by their respective state to practice psychotherapy. Most managers stink at it.

But managers are expert at spotting positive work behaviors, expert at spotting negative work behaviors. Don’t play amateur psychologist, play to your strengths as a manager. Ask questions about the work. It’s all about the work. And never ask about a person’s Spirit Animal.

Mine is a python that starts with a wrapped embrace, then squeezes the life out of its unsuspecting prey. -Tom

The Question is Cute, but Idiotic

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Rifling through my archives –

I was shocked this morning to read an article posted on LinkIn. The Strange and Difficult Questions CEOs Ask in Job Interviews. At first, I thought it was going to be a spoof article, given the questions that were listed. But, as a I read on, I found that the author was serious about sharing these questions, with attribution to a stoic CEO.

What’s your superpower… or spirit animal?
“During her interview I asked my current executive assistant what was her favorite animal. She told me it was a duck, because ducks are calm on the surface and hustling like crazy getting things done under the surface. I think this was an amazing response and a perfect description for the role of an EA.” — Ryan Holmes, HootSuite CEO

This has to be one of the most idiotic interview questions invented. It’s cute but has nothing to do with the work. Perhaps Mr. Holmes believes he has some divine (psychological or psychopathic) ability to accurately interpret a candidate’s response to such an inane question.

My mother thinks I am amazing, but that doesn’t qualify me for the role.

All I can do is shake my head and chuckle.

No Tips, No Tricks, No Magic to Hiring

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“How come Roger always seems to hire good people,” Melinda asked. “What’s his trick?”

“You think there is a trick?” I asked.

“Well, I know Roger and he’s not that smart. Not any smarter than me. So, he must have some trick, some technique that he uses to pick the best person.”

“You and I both sat in with Roger on his interviews. It looks to me like he just asks questions. And when you interview, don’t you ask questions?” I prompted.

“Yes, and I have my favorite questions,” she replied. “I always ask about the way the candidate sees the future.”

“And, why do you think it is important for the candidate to be able to see the future?”

“It’s very important,” Melinda insisted. “It is important to anticipate things that might happen. It’s important to do planning. It is important to be prepared.”

“So, what is the question you ask?”

“I always ask where they see themselves in five years?”

“Do you think that gives you insight into their ability to anticipate, plan and prepare?”

Melinda stopped. “Not really, most of the time, I think the candidate just makes up something they think I want to hear.”

“So, if you had to ask a better question about a time when the candidate had to anticipate, plan and prepare, what would that question sound like?”

Will the Candidate Follow Work Instructions?

“So, how can I find out if a candidate will follow our standard operating procedures or if they will experiment using their own methods, wasting our time and resources to find out we were right in the first place?” Melinda asked. “What questions do you ask?”

“What are my two favorite questions?” I asked.

Melinda didn’t have to think on that one. “Tell me about a time when? And, step me through?”

“Okay, so using those two questions, create a series that helps me understand how the candidate will respond when they disagree with work instructions,” I prompted.

Melinda took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, thinking.

  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with the way you were supposed to complete a task assignment?
  • What was the project, or what was the task?
  • Step me through the specific method you were told to follow?
  • In that method, what did you disagree with?
  • What did you do?
  • Step me through your alternate method?
  • Why did you think it was better?
  • Who did you talk to about it?
  • What questions did you have?
  • What was the outcome?

“Good questions,” I nodded. “And in their responses, what would you be listening for?”

“First, I would want to find out if they had a real awareness of their work instructions,” Melinda started. “Did the candidate listen to the work instructions they were given? Next, I want to find out the line of thinking about the work instructions. I want to see how respectful they were of their manager or if they simply flew off the handle and did things their way. I want to see how they responded, if it was helpful or if it was counterproductive.”

How Many Interview Questions Should You Create?

“I don’t understand,” Ben defended. “For the entire time that I have been responsible for hiring people, I have always used the resume to ask my questions.”

“That’s because you didn’t have any other questions to ask,” I replied. “Here is the biggest problem in most interviews. Without an extensive bank of prepared questions, the judgment about the candidate defaults to how good the resume looks, first impressions and gut reactions.”

“Okay, okay. How many questions are we talking about?” Ben relented.

“You divided the tasks into different Key Result Areas (KRAs). How many KRAs do you have?”

“Let’s say six,” Ben bit his lip.

“Ten questions for each KRA, six KRAs, that means sixty written prepared questions.”

“Sixty questions, are you out of your mind. Who has that kind of time?” Ben said, pushing back.

“You can spend the time, creating questions on the front end, or you can spend the time managing behavior on the back end. The choice is up to you.”

Isn’t That Too Many Questions?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You suggest ten questions regarding each Key Result Area with 2 drill down questions. As an example, you suggest 150 questions would be reasonable.

How do you handle that practically. If you ask a candidate 150 questions and give two minutes per question for response, you are looking at 300 minutes for an interview (5 hours, not counting breaks).

Maybe for an executive position such a marathon interview process could be done but it seems difficult with several candidates to have interviews of such length. Is this practical or am I missing something?

Response:
You are not missing anything, you are just used to giving candidates two minutes to make up stuff, inflate their experience, exaggerate about skills and generally waste your time.

In preparation for the interview, I identify a number of Key Result Areas (KRAs).  In each KRA, I have identify tasks, activities, accountabilities and the level of work.  I need to know some very specific information about the candidate.

For example.

I am interviewing for a dispatcher role for a fleet based service company, with thirty trucks on the road.  Each afternoon, my dispatcher reviews all the leftover work and makes sure it gets on the following morning schedule.  In spite of the schedule, fifty percent of those service calls will get re-scheduled during the day.  During the day, an additional 90 service calls will get added to the mix.  Our target turnaround time for all service calls to be completed is 24 hours.

Here is a partial list of questions I might ask.

  • In your former position, as a dispatcher, how many service vehicles in your fleet?
  • What was the geographic range for your entire fleet?
  • What was the geographic range for a single vehicle?
  • How many service calls did each vehicle take per day?
  • What was the target turnaround time from the time of the customer call to the customer’s home?
  • What was the length of each service call?
  • How many service calls each day had to be re-scheduled?
  • What were the primary reasons for service calls to be rescheduled?
  • At the end of the day, how many service calls would be left over?
  • How were those left-over service calls scheduled for the following day?
  • What dispatch software did you use?
  • Step me through a customer call, how was it scheduled in the software?
  • How did you know when a call was completed?
  • Were customer satisfaction calls made after the service call?
  • Who made the customer satisfaction calls?
  • Step me through how the customer satisfaction data was recorded?
  • Step me through how the customer satisfaction data was used?
  • What changes were made to the dispatch system based on the customer satisfaction data?

Does it take two minutes to answer each question?  Do these questions give you insight into the exact experience level of the candidate?  Can you think of additional drill-down questions you might ask during the course of this small sample?

And I am only getting warmed up.