Category Archives: Hiring Talent

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.

What Question Should We Have Asked?

Trevor was puzzled. On Monday, his new programmer, Dennis, arrived at work. Trevor waited for HR to fill this position for three long weeks. The backlog in programming the CNC machine was building and Project Managers were getting testy with the delays.

But Dennis had been working all morning on a program that should have been completed in twenty minutes. It became clear that something was wrong.

“Hey, mate. How’s it going?” Trevor asked.

Dennis looked sideways to see if anyone besides Trevor was around. “I have to tell you,” Dennis started, “I know it’s my first day, but, I’m struggling. When I finish this line of code and write one more, I will have two lines of code.”

“I thought you were a CNC programmer?” Trevor was kind, but, direct.

“Yes, I programmed CNC machines, but the code was always written for me. I mean, I can copy existing code, but writing it is a little beyond me.”

“But, didn’t HR ask you about coding in the interview?” Trevor wanted to know.

“Of course. They even asked me to bring in sample printouts of code from my previous job. So, I brought the code we used. I showed them several setups.”


“But, they never asked me who wrote the code,” Dennis looked sideways. “I just assumed they knew.”

Trevor grimaced. “What one question could we have asked in the interview so you could more clearly describe your background?”

Is It Money?

“These young people! Argh!” Benjamin exclaimed, exasperated. “I just had another quit on me.”

“How many? Total?” I asked.

“Three, since the new year. For all different reasons, one says it’s money, another says he wants to live, relocate somewhere else, the last one says he doesn’t like me. That one was the worst.”

“Tough enough to hire the people you need, now you have to hire three more. This hiring problem looks to be more of a retention problem,” I said. “What do you think people want out of their job?”

“First is money and to bring their dog to work. Actually, they want to work from home, so the dog can stay.”

“Ben, why do you work here? I personally know you could earn just a little bit more from another company, so it’s not the money.”

“I’ve been here for eleven years, this is my home, these are my friends. I feel like I make a contribution to what we are all here for, and the team values my contribution. I make a difference here.”

“Do you think it is possible that your team members, who just quit, are looking for the same thing?”

Mailing It In

“I’m stumped,” Susana announced. “I talk to my team, give them their assignments, so they know what to do, but then, it just seems they mail it in.”

“Meaning?” I asked. “Mail it in?”

“I can’t put my finger on it,” she said. “The team shows up for work. They show up on time. They do the work, but it doesn’t seem they care. I tried to talk to a couple of them about it, but they just shrugged it off.”

“I know what a shrug looks like, but what did they say?”

“They said the work was okay, that if they wanted something more out of their job, they would just go find it somewhere else. I was a little shocked. I mean, when I was growing up, jobs were scarce, and I felt lucky to just have a job. Finding another job wasn’t easy.”

“And, how did you feel about that job?” I wanted to know.

Susana stopped. “You know, I guess it was just okay.”

“Kind of like your current team?”

Susana nodded.

“So, what is different between your experience and your current team’s experience?” I asked.

“I used to think it was all about the unemployment rate. You know, supply and demand. Right now, there are lots of available jobs, so I guess it follows that mobility, free agency is pretty high.”

“And, what is the cost of that free agency, to you as a manager?”

“Turnover is a killer. I thought when we came out of COVID, when people’s government money ran out, there would be a glut of applicants looking for work. But the labor market is tight. Finding people, finding the right people, getting them trained up, letting them make a few mistakes is expensive.” Susana shrugged. “Then, if they are the wrong fit, I have to start all over again.”

“Is this just happening to you, or is it happening to other companies, too?”

“You can read about it in the press. It’s all over,” she replied.

“I know you pay competitive wages, so it’s not all about the money. Your work is no more, no less interesting than your competitor’s, so what is it, that would give your company, your team, a leg up in team member engagement?”

Interest, Passion, Required Behaviors

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

We recently had a new hire not work out, so we decided to terminate. The mistake on our end, I think, was in the Required Behaviors element, but I’m not sure. The position we hired for was an administrative support position. We decided it was Hi-S-I, Lo-S-II based on timespan, using checklists, and expertise. Tasks were getting done, but there seemed to be a missing behavior around awareness, interest in helping others, and assertiveness. Am I assessing correctly that this falls into Required Behaviors/Passion-Interests in the 4 Absolutes?

First a quick review of the Four Absolutes required for any position, no matter the discipline –

  • Capability (measured in Timespan)
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced performance)
  • Interest, Passion (high value for the behavior)
  • Required Behaviors (contracted behaviors, habits, culture)

You describe that task assignments were completed, I will assume on time and at quality standard. Your disappointment was in –

  • Awareness
  • Interest in helping others
  • Assertiveness

The question is, how could this have been detected in the interview? Let’s take the easy one first. Interest in helping others. I cannot see interest, I can only see behavior connected to interest. So, how does a person behave, who has an interest in helping others?

  • Tell me about a time when you worked with a team that required a great deal of interaction and support among the team members?
  • What was the team? What was the purpose for the team?
  • How many members on the team?
  • What created the need for interaction and support?
  • What did you need from the other team members?
  • What did the other team members need from you?
  • How did the other team members let you know they needed your support?
  • What did your support (what they needed from you) look like?
  • How quickly did they need that support?
  • Step me through an example where a team member needed your specific support?
  • How did you become aware they needed your support?
  • Step me through your response?

You can already see through these questions, that the interviewer will learn about your other two disappointments, awareness and assertiveness (speed of response). A person who is aware, will be able to respond easily to these questions. A person who is assertive will respond quickly with specific behavior appropriate to the situation.

These questions are behavioral, I am not interested personality, only behavior. Restrict your questions to real examples from the past. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Under pressure, people will retreat to what they have done in the past, even if it didn’t work.

Role Assessment

You talk about creating a system for recruiting that would rival our equipment procurement system. Where do we start?

Think about that machine your company just purchased. If the price was north of $50,000, a bunch of people spent a lot of time looking at this machine in many different ways. Here is where it all started.

One, two or three people sat down and did a needs assessment. In that needs assessment, they asked some very fundamental questions.

  • What do we need this machine to do for us?
  • Is there another way, or another machine that would do a better job?
  • At the end of the week, how much production do we need from this machine?
  • What are the quality standards that we need from this machine?
  • How will this machine interface with our current work flow?
  • What kind of support will this machine require to sustain the productivity we need from it?
  • What other customers like us are currently using this machine?
  • How is this machine performing for them?
  • If we grow, what capacity will this machine need, in reserve, to accommodate our growth?

Think about these questions. Replace the word “machine” with the word “person.” Think about the role description you are writing. This is where you start.