Category Archives: Hiring Talent

Exactly as Designed

Tyler thought for a minute. “If we do something wrong, then we have been doing it wrong for some time,” he observed. “That’s the way we have always hired people from the outside.”

“And how is that working out for you?” I asked.

“Ten percent of the time, we get lucky, most of the time we get someone who is okay, and ten percent of the time, we get stung.”

“As you look at your process, who is the first person to touch the resumes on their way to the Hiring Manager?”

“That’s easy,” Tyler replied. “HR.”

“And, you, you’re the Manager Once Removed. When do you finally see the resumes?”

“Well, right before we extend the offer, I usually see the last three resumes. Often, I will bring back the strongest candidate for a final interview.”

“And, what would happen, if you turned your system upside down, so you were the first person to review the resumes?”

“Now, wait a minute,” Tyler stepped back. “I have enough to do without looking at dozens of resumes.”

“Tyler, what more important thing do you have to do than to focus on building the infrastructure of your team? In fact, the reason you are so busy, is because your hiring process is designed to produce exactly the people you end up with.”

Find the Needle in the Haystack

“What went wrong?” I asked.

Tyler recounted the steps they used to qualify candidates. First, they killed a couple of trees printing resumes. Because there were so many, the stack was moved to the reception area. The large stack was divided in two, those from out of town were discarded, those in town were delivered to an area supervisor. The area supervisor was familiar with the job tasks, so that’s where the first real cuts were made.

The final forty resumes were delivered to the hiring manager. The hiring manager was very busy and a little put off by having to deal with forty resumes. He made quick work of the process, however, quickly finding some defect in thirty-five candidates. In the final five, two wanted too much money, two were working somewhere else, so that left one candidate who could easily start within 48 hours. Too good to be true.

“So, where do you think you went wrong?” I repeated.

One Most Important Thing

“What’s the one most important thing you do?” I asked. “In a year’s time, looking back, what one thing have you done that has had the most impact on your company?”

Kristen was thinking. She had some stuff up on her walls, some recognition plaques, a framed letter from a customer. “I don’t know,” she started. “My highest contribution? I guess it’s just making sure my people are always busy and not wasting time. That’s what managers do.”

“No, on your team of 19, you have two supervisors, that’s what they do, keep people busy. What is the most important thing you do?”

“I guess I never really thought about it. No one ever asked me, or told me. In fact, when I got promoted last year, the only difference is that I go to management meetings once a week. I spend the rest of my time dealing with problems and issues. Who is arguing with whom? Who wants time off? Why someone is constantly running behind? Why things don’t come out right? Motivating my team? I stay pretty busy doing all that.”

“What would you have to do differently, so that you did none of those things?” I challenged.

“Well, there’s no way. The people I have on my team just wouldn’t be able to get along and stay productive without me in there.”

“So, what would you have to do differently?”

I’m Too Busy

“You are right,” Kristen relented. “I really am too busy. My priorities are focused on short term fires. I feel like all I do, all day long, gets consumed with management issues and keeping people motivated. I don’t have time to work on basic stuff like writing role descriptions. When I look at doing that, it is so far down my urgency scale, I almost think writing a role description is silly.”

“What would be the payoff?” I asked.

“The payoff? I can’t even think about the payoff. I could write a role description and then I would have a role description, but I would be further behind dealing with all the crap,” she explained.

“Kristen, you are not unlike most managers,” I nodded. “If you could truly focus on getting the right people, most of the crap you deal with would largely go away. Stop working on crap and start working on systems. Your life will only improve when you start working on systems. And the most important system is the people system.”

Looks Great

“I think we have a good candidate, here,” explained Kristen. “Profile looks great. I think it’s exactly what we are looking for. Let me show you.”

“The profile assessment, the one about dominance, influence, sociability and compliance behavior?” I replied.

“Yes, the profile looks great,” she repeated.

“Before I see the profile, can I look at the role description?”

Kristen stopped, a puzzled look on her face. “Yes, the role description. I know we have one, but, it must be in my office. Here, you can look at the profile while I go see if I can find it.”

“Tell you what? Why don’t you go see if you can find it, while I go get a cup of coffee.”

“You don’t want to see the profile? This looks like a really good candidate.” she urged.

“Not really, not yet.”

How Would They Behave

“Can we try another value? We had a problem with our last supervisor. He would never follow the guidelines on expenses for his work area. If he needed something, he would always buy the most expensive item available. Is that a value? I would like to interview for that.” Patricia sat down, satisfied that we would now work on her hiring issue.

“If I were a Boy Scout,” I said, “and I was, I would call that the value of thrift. So, here is how we create the interview question. How does a thrifty person behave?”

Patricia was back in the limelight. “A thrifty person would evaluate whether we truly needed something or not, then look at the alternatives, along with our budget and make a responsible decision within the guidelines.”

“So, frame a question from that,” I pushed.

Patricia thought. “Tell about a time when you had to buy a piece of equipment for your work area. Step me through, how you determined the need, and how you bought the equipment.”

Upside Down

Julia hesitated before she asked the obvious question. “So, you think I should become involved earlier in the hiring process?”

“Probably,” I replied. “Step me through your process?”

“It’s pretty straight-forward,” Julia replied. “I’m the division manager, so I am the last to see the candidates. It starts with a listing on the internet, resumes sent to the receptionist. The receptionist follows some basic criteria to sort the resumes into two piles, in and out. Two supervisors, then, pick through the in pile. They make a few phone calls and get some candidates to the office for interviews. If they like them, they kick the candidate upstairs for another round of interviews with the department managers. Those who pass muster finally get to me.”

Julia’s description was predictable, “But, I can’t believe these candidates make it this far in the process. They are awful, totally unqualified, but the managers say, that’s the best out there. It’s really difficult to find good people these days.”

“Julia, did you ever consider your process might be upside down. The front end is handled by the wrong people moving candidates up the food chain. Yes, I want you to get involved earlier in the process. The first decisions about candidates are being made by someone who answers the phone, who has only worked here for three weeks. Don’t you think you can spot the best resumes quicker? There is no higher calling for you than to recruit and build a strong team. If a manager did nothing else, that would be enough.”

Purpose for Each Interview Question

“But, I really want to know where they see themselves in five years,” Raymond continued.

“Why?” I asked. “What’s the purpose? Every interview question needs to have a purpose. What’s the purpose?”

“I want to see if they have plans. I want to know if they have initiative. I want to know if they have the drive to learn,” he replied.

“Those are all noble purposes, just a lousy question,” I smiled. “Let take each noble purpose and reorient the question so the candidate doesn’t make up a bunch of stuff they think you want to hear.”

Purpose – does the candidate engage in planning for the future?

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project that required planning?
  • What was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • Were you a member of a project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • Step me through the planning process?
  • Who led the process?
  • Was the plan formal or informal, verbal or written?
  • At the start, what was the vision of the project on completion?
  • What were the specific goals or milestones inside the project?
  • What guidelines or constraints existed on the project?
  • Step me through the project timeline?

Purpose – does the candidate have initiative to self start on a project?

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project that required you to step up, take initiative, that without you, the project might have failed?
  • What was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • Were you a member of a project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • Tell me about the circumstances around the project that left it up to you?
  • What did you do first to take charge of the project?
  • What did you do to get other team members engaged in the project?
  • What made the project difficult to get other team members engaged?
  • What was the outcome of the project?

Purpose – does the candidate have the drive to learn new skills?

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project that required you to learn a significant new skill or learn new technical knowledge around a process?
  • What was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • Were you a member of a project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • What did you have to learn?
  • How did you identify the specific skill or specific technical knowledge that had to be learned?
  • Step me through the learning process for you?
  • Were there any books, manuals, journal articles about the subject?
  • Was there any formal training available to learn this new skill?
  • Did you have access to other people to discuss what had to be learned?
  • Did you have a designated coach to assist you in the learning?
  • As you acquired the skill, what practice was required to become more competent?
  • What was your frequency of practice, depth of practice, duration of practice, accuracy in practice?
  • How long before you became proficient?

“These questions will give you real data about the candidates experience in those noble purposes. The responses will be real, based on things that actually happened, not some guess about five years in the future.”

The Famous Question

“I still think it is a valid question,” Raymond remained adamant. “I want to know where they think they will be in five years. I think I can interpret a lot from that.”

“Raymond, I don’t want you to interpret anything in the interview process. The likelihood that you will misinterpret the response is too high for that to be a valuable question. It will give you minimal insight and introduce confusion into the interview process. You will make a hiring decision based on something you are trying to interpret. Your interpretation is likely to be wrong and it will tend to color the rest of the interview.”

Raymond’s face betrayed his stomach. He remained defensive. He had hung so many interviews on that one famous question.

“Raymond, you end up relying on your gut feeling, because you have not established anything else in the interview process on which to base your decision. It is no wonder you are not satisfied with the candidates you have hired in the past.”


You will never ever get what you want!!! You will only get what you focus on.

At first I am disappointed, because I really want what I want. It makes me feel bad to understand that I will never get what I want.

If I really want it, I have to focus on it.

If you tell me – “It is really hard to find good people these days. We just never seem to hire the kind of people we really want.” My response – You will never get what you want! You will only get what you focus on.

It’s not that you can’t find good people out there. You just have not focused your concentration and energy to find good people. So, what does focus look like? Think about finding good people, talk about finding good people, have meetings about finding good people, plan a campaign to find good people. Roll out an action plan to find good people.

You will never get what you want. You will only get what you focus on.