Tag Archives: candidate

Isn’t That Too Many Questions?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

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?

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.

How to Evaluate Capability in a Candidate

From the Ask Tom mailbag –


How can I test to see if a person has Stratum II or Stratum III capability?


If you are looking for a paper and pencil test, there is none.  There is no test with a set of answers that you shove into a computer that divines a person’s capability.  Elliott chuckled when this question was posed.  Most psychometric instruments, he observed, have, at best, a .66 correlation with reality.  Most are based on personality, or behavior, or behavior connected to temperament.  While those tests, or profiles have statistical significance for repeatability and in most cases, a stunningly accurate description of a person’s tendencies or behaviors, their evidence of predictability, a specific profile for a specific role has significance barely above flipping a coin (.5 correlation).

Elliott conjectured, if there were a paper and pencil test for capability, its likelihood to stand the same test would likely yield no more than the same .66 correlation with reality.

But your question is still valid and there is a method to satisfy the high curiosity we have about a person’s capability related to the level of work.  There is no trick, no special technique, no psychological requirement that we climb inside the head of our candidate and play amateur psychologist.

Moreover, the validity of this method reveals between .89 and .97 inter-rater reliability.

It’s all about the work.  Focus on the work.  As you define the role, its task and activities, goals and objectives, what is the level of work?  Does the role contain Stratum II level of work or Stratum III level of work?  Examine the decisions that have to be made and the problems that have to be solved.  Examine the time-span of the goals and objectives in the role.  What is the longest time-span task in the role?

The biggest mistake most companies make is underestimating the level of work required in the role.  A defect in the definition of the level of work in the role will most assuredly result in hiring the wrong person.

Examine your role description.  What are the tasks and activities?  What are the decisions that have to be made?  What are the problems that have to be solved?  What is the time-span of the longest task assignment in the role?

Based on that definition of the role, does the candidate provide evidence of effective task completion?  It’s all about the work.

When we spend the time to accurately define the work, and accurately calibrate the level of work in the role, the questions become very simple.  Does this person work as effectively as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half of the role?  And, in that half, does this person operate as effectively as someone in the top, middle or bottom.

When you ask the team member to do a self-assessment, ask the manager and ask the manager-once-removed (MOR) about effectiveness, the inter-rater agreement approaches .97 (.89-.97).  With this practical evaluation system, why would you want to resort to other methods that might only have a .66 correlation with reality?

It’s all about the work.

How to Miss Something Important in a Candidate Interview

Kirklin was shaking his head.  “I don’t know how we missed it,” he muttered.

“Missed what?” I asked.

“We hired this guy about a month ago, to be a supervisor in one of our technical areas.  Six guys on his team.  How hard could it be?”

“I don’t know, how hard could it be?” I probed.

“Apparently, pretty hard.  His team’s production is behind and his team members are coming up to me privately and complaining.”

“What are they complaining about?”

Kirklin thought for a moment.  “Just general stuff, doesn’t really matter.  Bottom line, this new supervisor has never supervised a team before.”

“Then, why did you pick him for the job?” I wanted to know.

“Well, he was a supervisor at his old job.  I mean, he had a supervisor title.  Today, I asked him how many people he had on his team.  Turns out, he didn’t have a team.  He supervised a machine.”

“How did you miss that in the interview?”

“I guess I never really asked THAT question,” Kirklin replied.

How to Hire for Attitude

“To heck with the technical skills,” Jena proclaimed. “I am just going to hire for attitude.”

“The skills required are easy enough to teach, and you have a good training program,” I agreed. “But how will you interview for attitude? Specifically, what attitude will you interview for?”

“Oh, that’s easy. I want someone with a sense of urgency. I am tired of hiring people who feel like they can take all day to produce a single unit when I need 15 units produced. I am tired of people who feel like we push them too hard. We work hard here. I want someone who likes to work hard.”

“I think I understand,” I nodded. “Just exactly what questions will you ask to find that out?”

Jena looked stumped and then smiled. “I have no idea.”

“Well, that’s a start. If you did have an idea, what question would you ask?”

Jena shook her head and chuckled. “I guess, I could ask them if they like to work hard?”

“And how do you think the candidate would respond?”

“Unless they are an idiot, I guess they would answer – yes. And if they were truly an idiot, they would not have made it to the interview. That means every candidate will answer – yes.”

“Then, is that a helpful question?” I probed. “Can you think of a better question? A more specific question? A question about something real? A question about a behavior that you can observe?”

“But, I am trying to hire for attitude. You can’t see attitude,” Jena protested.

“I know you cannot see attitude, but ask yourself this question. How does someone, who likes to work hard, behave? How does someone, with a sense of urgency, behave? Then interview for that behavior.”

“Someone who likes to work hard, shows up early,” Jena started. “And they work at a pace that gets the work done. They are aware of pace. They don’t stop every half hour for a smoke break. They keep working until the job is done. They don’t quit, they don’t leave a project half finished thinking someone will come along behind and complete their work.”

“Now we are getting somewhere. You cannot see attitude, but if you can connect attitude to specific behaviors, you can certainly ask questions about those specific behaviors. So, let’s hear some questions. First establish the project.”

Jena gathered her thoughts. “Tell me about a time when you worked on a project where the deadline was very important. What was the project? What was the purpose of the project? What was your role on the project team? What made the deadline so important? How did your team respond to make sure you met the deadline? Step me through the pace of the project? How did you know you were ahead of schedule or behind schedule? When you were behind schedule, what did you do? When you were ahead of schedule, what did you do? As you got to the end of the project, what planning did you do to button up the last stages of the project? Step me through that plan? How did you know you had completed all the final details on the project? How was the project reviewed, by your manager, or the client? Step me through the review process?”

Jena stopped. “Okay, I like those questions,” she said.
Amazon has inched up the price of Hiring Talent, but it is still on promotion. Get it now, before it goes back to list price.

This Encourages the Candidate to Lie

“So, how did you miss this critical piece of information during the interview?” I asked. Ted was beside himself for a recent hire.

“That’s the thing. I gave him some theoretical examples to find out what he would do in a couple of specific situations. He answered the questions pretty well,” Ted replied.

“Then, what’s the problem?”

“He answered the questions pretty well, theoretically speaking, but he had never actually performed the work himself. It is almost like he read a bunch of articles in a trade journal. He knew the buzz words and conceptually how things worked, just no real experience.”

“So, what do theoretical questions do for you, as a manager conducting an interview?”

“Quite frankly,” continued Ted, “it just encourages the candidate to make stuff up and lie to me.”


Candidates Don’t Make Up Stuff, Do They?

“What do you mean, evidence?” Stella asked. “It’s an interview. If someone says they are up to the task, that they are interested in the challenge, that they really want the responsibility, what more can you get? I mean, I asked those hard questions.”

“Exactly what were the questions you asked,” I wanted to know. “Let’s list out those hard questions.”

“Okay,” Stella started. “I asked if he really thought he was up to the task? I explained just how difficult the job would be and asked him if he would really be interested in the challenge? I asked him why he wanted that level of responsibility?”

“So, you asked him the perfect questions, so he could lie to you?”

Don’t Interpret

“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.”

Spot the Pattern

Raymond still looked puzzled. I think I had him talked out of playing amateur psychologist when interviewing candidates, but asking him to play to his strength as a manager was still fuzzy.

“Look, Raymond. As a manager, you can spot positive behavior and negative behavior on the shop floor. As a manager, you are an expert in positive and negative behavior. That’s the key. All you have to do is ask questions about situations in their prior work experience.

  • What was the task?
  • What was the action they took (their behavior)?
  • What was the result?

The actions they took will tell you how they will behave when they come to work for you.”

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. All you have to do is find out what it was.

Divining the Number

I would like to welcome our new subscribers from the workshop in Denver, yesterday.

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

How does a manager determine a candidate’s Time Span capability?

Don’t over complicate this. Some managers think if they could just divine the number (Stratum I-II-III-IV) life would be good. What decisions would that impact?

  • Which candidate should I hire?
  • Which team member should I delegate this task to?
  • Which person should I promote?

All legitimate decisions.

So here is your answer. Your candidate has Stratum III capability. Just kidding 🙂 But let’s say I’m not kidding 😐 Your candidate has Stratum III capability. Where does that get you in the decision? My guess, nowhere.

Assessing a candidate’s capability can be a futile exercise. It’s like a sucker punch, attracting the manager in the wrong direction. The only thing I care about is the candidate’s capability related to the work. The sucker punch leads me to make a judgment about the candidate (their innate capability), that I am not qualified to make (I am not a forensic psychologist).

Yet, I am an expert about the work. Focus on the work. Focus on the Level of Work. What are the problems to be solved? What are the decisions to be made? Now, I can answer this central question –

Has the candidate demonstrated evidence of effectiveness in this Level of Work, in these tasks and activities, solving these problems and making these decisions?

Most managers make defective hiring decisions because they have not clearly defined the Level of Work in the role. Without this definition, the interviewer asks the wrong questions and bases the hiring decision on some mistaken understanding of experience and skill.

Focus first on the Level of Work, then on the evidence of the candidate’s effectiveness in that work.

Don’t Get Beat in the Paint

This is the sixth in our series, Six Sins in the Hiring Interview.

This series is a prelude to our Hiring Talent Summer Camp.

Getting Beat in the Paint
Hiring Managers don’t interview candidates often enough, to get good at it, are seldom trained to conduct effective interviews and rely on faulty assumptions throughout the entire process. As Managers, we are totally unprepared. We ask the wrong questions and allow our stereotypes to get in the way. We end up making a decision within the first three minutes of the interview, based on misinterpretations and incomplete data.

The candidates we face have been coached by headhunters, trained through role play, and are intent on beating the interviewer in a game of cat and mouse. They stayed up late practicing their answers, polished their shoes and showed up early. Their preparation is thorough. Though they have scant qualifications for your open position, they are ready to beat you in the paint.

Our Hiring Talent Summer Camp begins Monday, June 18, 2012. It’s online. Don’t get beat in the paint.