Category Archives: Hiring Talent

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.”

Misinterpretation

“I just wish I understood people better,” Roger complained.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Sometimes, when I interview a candidate, I wish I could better interpret what they say. You know, their underlying motivation.”

“So, sometimes, you misinterpret what a candidate says?”

Roger thought for a minute. “More than sometimes. A lot.”

“In the interview, why do you think you misinterpret a response to your question?” I pressed.

“I told you,” Roger replied, “I just don’t understand people.”

“I think the reason you misinterpret responses, is because you ask questions that require interpretation.”

How People Think

“What do you mean?” Roger replied. “How am I going to know how people think?”

“In the interview, why do you want to know how people think?” I asked.

“I thought that’s what the interview was for,” Roger protested.

“If you want to know how people think, watch what they do. Don’t ask people questions about how they think. Ask about what they did. Ask how they did it. The more you get wrapped up in their psychological motivation for this or that, the more likely you are to misinterpret. Don’t play amateur psychologist. Stop it.”

Don’t Listen to What People Say

“And, why would you trust the outcome of a project more than a response in a promotion interview?” I asked.

“You told me before,” Marissa explained. “Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.”

“And, the two big lies in every interview?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “The two big lies. Yes, I can. And, yes, I will.”

It’s a Test

“I don’t want to go through the same experience I had with John, promoting someone to a role only to find them flailing about,” Marissa said.

“So, what are you going to do differently?” I asked.

“There is a person in another department, I don’t know him, but his manager says he is ready for promotion,” Marissa thought out loud.

“So, what are you going to do differently?” I repeated.

“I am certainly not going to trust the situation when I don’t even know this guy. I will, at least, interview him.”

“In addition to the interview, because this is an internal candidate, what else do you have the opportunity to do? How will you test him before you get wrapped around the axle?”

Marissa nodded. She knew the answer. “Project work. Task assignments with the same elements in the new role. I had a failed promotion and a chocolate mess. A failed project is only a failed project, and I can manage the risk in a project.”

Relieved

“I spoke with John, he is going back to be a team leader,” Marissa explained. “He was relieved, said he never wanted the promotion to supervisor in the first place. He thought he was going to get fired in his new role.”

“And, what did you do about his compensation?” I asked.

“I took your advice. I am the one who made the mistake. He was already at the highest technician rate before his promotion, so there was only $1 an hour difference. I kept his pay at the supervisor rate. He shouldn’t have to pay for my mistake.”

“Most importantly, you are on the hook for finding a new supervisor, what are you going to do differently?”