Category Archives: Hiring Talent

Questions for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
This is a follow-up on Interviewing for Soft Skills. You said to interview for behaviors connected to soft skills.

  • Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave?
  • Values. How does a person with our values behave?
  • Attitude. How does a person with a positive attitude behave?

What do the questions sound like?

Response:
Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave? Answer that question first.
A person who fits our organization shows up for work early, always finishes tasks assignments and double-checks their work for accuracy.

Shows up for work early.
At your previous position, what was the start time in the morning?
What were the first things you did when you got to work, coffee, check e-mail, meetings?
Think about a time you worked on a time-sensitive important project?
Step me through your day when you worked on that project?

Always finishes a task completely, doesn’t leave things undone for someone else to finish.
Tell me about a time when you worked on a complex project that had phases with multiple steps inside.
What was the project?
How long was the project?
What was the purpose of the project?
Who was on the project team?
What was your role on the project team?
How were the phases and tasks on the project organized?
How did the team know when each task was completed?
How did the project leader know when each task was completed?
In this project, was there re-work or items missed?
How was re-work identified? How was re-work placed back on the project schedule?
In this project, how were missed items identified?
How were missed items placed back on the project schedule?

Double-checks their work for accuracy so someone else doesn’t have to look for mistakes.
Tell me about a project where accuracy and attention to detail was mission critical.
What was the project?
How long was the project?
What was the purpose of the project?
Who was on the project team?
What was your role on the project team?
What elements of the project made accuracy and detail mission critical?
How were those elements identified?
How were those elements tracked?
What was the quality standard?
How was the quality standard measured?
How often was the quality standard measured?
Was the quality standard sign-off formal or informal?
What happened when defects were discovered?

How to Interview for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag.

Question:
I think I know how to interview for technical knowledge, but how do I interview for soft skills, that are difficult to pin down. Specifically, how well will the candidate fit with our existing team? Does the candidate share our organizational values? Will the candidate bring the right attitude?

Response:
These ideas are actually good ideas, noble characteristics to find in a candidate. Here is the rub. How can the hiring manager, who is not a psychologist, evaluate the candidate on fit, values and attitude?

You have to get down to behaviors. You are not a psychologist, but you can spot positive behavior and negative behavior in the workplace. Observing and evaluating behavior is what managers do. Play to your strength. Interview for behaviors.

  • Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave?
  • Values. How does a person with our values behave?
  • Attitude. How does a person with a positive attitude behave?

Now, interview for those behaviors. Yes, fuzzy stuff can be important, a valuable part of the interview and the criteria for hiring.

Who Makes the Hiring Decision

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talk about the Manager Once Removed (MOR) in the hiring process. Our company followed that advice, but now our Hiring Managers are stuck. It seems the MOR is now making the final pick without input from the Hiring Manager. The Hiring Manager is now using that as an excuse to blame a new team member, saying, “Well, I didn’t hire that person.”

Response:
To recap, the Manager Once Removed is the Hiring Manager’s manager.

Manager Once Removed (MOR)
————————–
Hiring Manager (HM)
————————–
Open Team Role

Each, the MOR and the HM have specific purpose and specific accountability in the process.

MOR Accountability
The accountability of the MOR is to improve the quality of the decision made by the HM. The MOR is ultimately accountable for the decision made by the HM. This does not mean the MOR makes the decision, but coaches the best decision from the HM.

The process starts early, when the HM states that a new team member needs to be added. It is the accountability of the MOR to question the need and ask the HM to put together a (business) case for the new hire. This decision may go back to the annual workforce plan that contemplated an increase in production volume, or it may be an emergency because a team member quit to go to a competitor.

With agreement that a new team member needs to be recruited, it is the accountability of the MOR to ensure that a proper role description has been created. The HM, desperate for a new team member, may attempt to shortcut the process and use a substitute for the role description. The MOR must insist that a proper role description be written or an existing role description be updated. Note, the MOR is insisting, AND the HM is doing most of the legwork.

With a proper role description, it is the accountability of the MOR to ensure a proper set of interview questions be written, in both quantity and quality. A proper role description will contain several key result areas (KRAs) and sufficient questions in each key area should be documented. Again, the MOR is insisting, AND the HM is doing most of the legwork.

A large part of the role of the MOR is in screening for the candidate pool. Unqualified candidates should be screened out, qualified candidates should be screened in. The end result should be a pool of qualified candidates. If the candidates in the pool are qualified for the role, the possibility for a mistake goes down.

In the end, it is the HM that must pick, with minimum veto authority for the final selection. The last thing I want to hear is, “I didn’t hire that person.”

And, We’re Back

Some of you may have noticed a service interruption for Management Blog last month. There was a problem between our RSS feed (syndication) and our SSL (socket security) configuration. Fixed now. Well, if you are reading this, as an email, it’s fixed. We published throughout the duration, so if you missed some posts, they are all available at managementblog.org all the way back to Nov 2004.

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I want to grow my company, but a bit overwhelmed at what I need to focus on. I see so much opportunity in nearby markets within a six hour drive. I think I can go into those markets without a huge initial investment, and organically grow as the business matures. Of the thousand things I need to pay attention to, what’s the focus?

Response:
I am often asked, what are the biggest constraints to growth. There are lots of them, geography, capital, market characteristics, economic cycles. The biggest, I think, is people.

We can purchase lots of things, equipment, office space, advertising. But, you can’t purchase talent. You have to find it. You have to seek it out.

We often only hire people when we have an opening, when we need to always be recruiting. You can have the brightest office space, brilliant marketing, pristine equipment, but with the wrong (not-right) people, you will still fail. Yet, with the right people, you can still be successful with Class B office space, used but serviceable equipment in a struggling economy. The biggest constraint to growth, even in otherwise challenging times, is people.

Where to Start?

Jean was upset. After two weeks of interviewing, the committee finally made an offer to a candidate for an open position. “I called her up and she laughed, said she took another position last week. So, we went to our second candidate, same thing. Our third candidate was missing two essential qualifications, but the committee didn’t want to start the process over. I just made the offer, but I am skeptical. I just hope it works out.”

“Well, hope is a strategy,” I replied. “Why did it take so long to make a decision on your first two candidates? You interviewed them almost two weeks ago.”

“Whenever the committee got together, we would argue about what was important for the position. Our meetings were more confusing than helpful.”

“The job description, wasn’t that helpful?”

Jean nodded. “It’s funny, we didn’t actually write one until this past weekend. It was only when we did, that the committee was able to agree on the qualifications and make a decision. It was just too late.”

Jean stared at the table, shook his head and smiled. “That’s where we should have started.”

Interviewing for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I attended your presentation a couple of times. At the last event, you mentioned that you would share a list of interview questions which would help us to evaluate candidates for soft skills rather than just technical knowledge.

Response:
Interview questions about any soft skill uses the same model as any attitude or characteristic.

  1. Identify the behavior connected to the soft skill.
  2. Identify a circumstance where we might see that behavior.
  3. Develop questions about the behavior.

Behaviors related to listening –

  • In a coaching situation, where corrective action is required.
  • In a coaching situation related to misbehavior.
  • In a coaching situation, where a new skill is being learned.

Behavior – Listening in a coaching situation, where corrective action is required.

  • Tell me about a situation with a team member, where corrective action was required.
  • What was the project?
  • Who was on the project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • What did you observe that required corrective action?
  • Where did you have the conversation with the team member?
  • How long did the conversation last?
  • How did you approach the team member?
  • Step me through the conversation?
  • How did the team member respond in the conversation?
  • What was the result of the conversation?
  • What steps did you take to follow-up on the conversation?

Behaviors related to individual initiative –

  • Appropriately beginning a project without being told.
  • Continuing a project without being reminded.
  • Finishing a project (all the last steps) without being reminded.

Behavior – Appropriately beginning a project without being told.

  • Tell me about a project that needed to get started before your manager knew about it?
  • What was the project?
  • Who was on the project team?
  • What was your role on the project team?
  • How did you know what needed to be done without your manager telling you?
  • What were the first steps in the project?
  • How did you know those steps would be okay to complete without specific direction from your manager?
  • Did your manager ever review the initial work on the project?
  • What was the result of starting the project before your manager knew about it?

Behavior – Continuing a project without being reminded.

  • Tell me about a project you worked on, where the flow of the work was interrupted by other work, perhaps a long project that had stages to it?
  • How were the stages of the project planned?
  • How long was the project?
  • How did you know you were at a stopping point in the project and it was okay to complete other work?
  • How did you know it was time to pick the project up where you left off?
  • What flexibility did you have to decide where to stop and where to pick up with all of your other work?
  • How was your work scheduled?
  • Did you have your own schedule that you created?
  • How did you remind yourself that you still had uncompleted work on a project that you stopped?

Behavior – Finishing the work (all the steps) on a project, without being reminded.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project that never seemed to end, that when you thought the work was done, there were still more steps to complete?
  • At the end of the project, what kind of items popped up, still undone?
  • At the end of the project, how did you find out about those undone items?
  • At the end of the project, how did you keep track of those undone items?
  • Did you personally have to complete those undone items, or were there other people working on those items with you?
  • How did you track what you got done and what others got done?
  • At the end of the project, when ALL the items were finally completed, how did you know there were NO uncompleted items left?

You can interview for any attitude, characteristic or soft skill, as long as you can connect it to behaviors.

Too Busy

“But I am busy,” protested Byron. “How am I going to find time to read resumes?”

“Schedule it. You need to be thinking, each and every day about your team and what would happen if any of them needed to make a change. Your most important function as a manager is personnel and recruiting. In fact, if that is all you ever did, was to build a high performance team, and then walked away, I would describe you as one of our greatest managers. Because you left behind, a high performing team that could carry on.”

“It’s that important?” Byron tested.

“Top priority. In the past 120 days, your labor pool has gone from record low unemployment to record high unemployment. Now is the time to look.”

Who People Are

“But, I think understanding motivation is important for a manager,” Bailey protested.

“And so, when did you become a mind reader?” I asked.

“You know very well, I don’t pretend to be a mind reader,” Bailey continued to push back.

“Yet, there you go, looking for something inside a person that you cannot see.”

“Then, just exactly what are we supposed to do?”

“Don’t play amateur psychologist. Stay out of people’s heads. If you want to know who people are and what they are capable of, don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do. If you want to play the motivation game, you will find a ton of popular psychology, pop psychology, answers. There are books and assessments that propose to teach you the insights we should all have, as leaders, about those on our teams. But, if you want to be an effective manager, you have to think differently. And you cannot think differently if you continue your search in this invisible stuff. You will confuse yourself and those around you.

“If you want to know who people are and what they are capable of, watch what they do.”*
____
These were the watchwords of the late Charles Krauthammer observing the behavior of presidents and presidential candidates. “Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.”

Cause To Be Different

“But, don’t you think it’s important that a leader understands why people do what they do?” Bailey asked.

“The problem with understanding why people do what they do, is that we often look in the wrong place to find that answer,” I replied.

“What do you mean, where are we supposed to look?”

“Think about it. When you look to discover the why in someone’s behavior, what are your clues?”

“Well, first,” Bailey started, “I would look at their intentions, you know, their internal motivations.”

“And, why would that be important?”

“If I understood their motivations more clearly, perhaps I could genuinely influence their behavior toward the goals, expectations we set for the role.”

“So, you think you can cause the other person to be different?” I paused, waiting for the obligatory nod. “Bailey, I ask you to think about yourself, be honest, with yourself. How easy is it to cause yourself to be different? You think you can cause something in another person, that you find difficult to cause in yourself.”

It’s All About the Work

“Look,” I started. “You took a course in psychology in college, but you don’t have a degree in psychology. You are not certified by the state to practice psychotherapy. So, stop trying to judge a person by climbing inside their head.”

I could tell Roger was tensing up.

“But, tell me,” I continued, “can you spot positive behavior on the plant floor, in the field? Can you spot negative behavior? How long does it take you to tell the difference?”

Roger began to nod.

“Your best judgement of other people is not to understand their internal motivation, it’s whether or not they can do the work. It’s all about the work. Ask about the work.”