Tag 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.

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.”

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.”