Tag Archives: hiring

How Do You Interview for Teamwork?

“There is just something about this candidate that I can’t put my finger on,” Wendy was skeptical. “Everything checks out. This person has the technical skills, the necessary experience, seems enthusiastic, but there is something. On paper, this person should be hired, but my gut is telling me otherwise.”

“You have covered the bases on my list,” I replied. “But I would trust your intuition. Which is it?

  • Capability
  • Skill
  • Interest, Passion (value for the work)
  • Reasonable Behavior

“Which is it?”

“What do you mean, reasonable behavior?” Wendy wanted to know.

“It’s important what a person knows, technical knowledge. It’s important how a person feels toward the work, interest or passion. But to complete the tasks in the role, the person has to do something. It’s about behavior. Are there habits that people have that contribute to their effectiveness? Like always showing up early for work?”

“Yes, habits are important,” Wendy agreed.

“And do we have cultural norms for our behavior in the work that we do around here?”

Wendy nodded. “I think you got it. That’s it. We have a very strong team culture. Every company says teamwork is important, but around here, it is critical. Some of the work we do is dangerous. Every person here depends on their team members to work safely. Their lives depend on it.”

“So, if culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior in the work that we do together, what does your intuition tell you about this candidate?” I asked.

“Everything story the candidate told was about himself. I mean, the interview was obviously about the candidate, but every accomplishment seems like it was single-handedly performed. I never heard the word ‘we’ during the whole interview.”

“So, your intuition is telling you something, related to reasonable behavior. What additional questions do you want to ask?”

“Working together as a team is a critical role requirement,” Wendy explained. “I need to know how this candidate works with other people. It is as important as any of the technical skills.”

“What questions will you ask?”

“Thinking out loud, here is my list,” Wendy replied.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project where teamwork was important?
  • What was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • How many people were on your team?
  • What was your role on the team?
  • What were the factors that made teamwork important?
  • What were the factors that put pressure on the team to work together?”
  • When the team worked well together, what were they doing?
  • When the team began to crack, when they didn’t work well together, what were they doing?
  • What was the outcome of the project?”
  • Tell me about another project, where teamwork was important?

“That ought to be a good start.” she smiled.
I need some help from iPad users. How many of you are buying books out of the iBookstore as opposed to the Kindle app for iPad? Hiring Talent is available on Kindle, but I am thinking about publishing through the iBookstore.

Why People Are Not Our Most Important Asset

I had a couple of minutes in the lobby, so I was looking at all the teamwork posters on the wall.

Our people are our most important asset!!

I had seen this poster a hundred times, but for the first time, it struck me as odd. I was working with the management team to find a new Senior Project Manager. The last one didn’t work out so well and by the time they figured it out, they almost lost their biggest customer. I was having difficulty getting them to spend the right amount of time on the job description, defining the management skills necessary for this position. The last guy had the technical skills, but none of the management skills.

As I entered the conference room, I asked the management team if they agreed with the poster in the lobby. Being politically correct, they were quite enthusiastic in their support.

I reminded them of Collins book Good to Great and asked them again, “Are our people our greatest asset?”

This team has been around me for a while, so they know when I ask a question a second time, their first response may need some rethinking. As I looked around the table, I could see the wheels churning. Finally, someone took a stab at it.

“Our people may not be our greatest asset. The right people are our greatest asset. The wrong person may be our biggest liability.”

“Good,” I replied. “Sometimes it takes a bad hire for us to realize how important this up-front work is. So, let’s get to work. What is the capability required for the level of work? What are the skills, knowledge and behaviors necessary for success in this position?”

Who to Promote, Who to Let Go?

“Yes,” Roger nodded. “Grading my sales team into these six bands of effectiveness helps me see what to do next.”

“How so?” I prompted.

Personal Effectiveness

Personal Effectiveness

“The temptation is to keep all the people in the top half of the banding and terminate the people in the bottom half. But now I have more judgments to make, as a manager.”

“There’s more?” I pressed.

“Yes. I have one salesperson, in the top of the top half, that needs leadership training. In another year, I want to move that salesperson into a more complicated product line, with a longer sales cycle, working with a special sales team.”


“And,” Roger stopped. “And I need to terminate five out of the seventeen people I have on my team.”

“How did you reach that conclusion?” I asked.

“Again, it wasn’t difficult. I have been making excuses for them, sent them to training, tried to motivate them, offered a bonus. Funny, paying people more money doesn’t make them more competent. Once I did the analysis, it became very clear. I made some very poor hiring decisions.”
Barnes and Noble picked up Hiring Talent. Matching Amazon’s promotion pricing.

When Can You Start?

I don’t do a lot of book reviews, but this book caught my eye. First, the details

When Can You Start?
by Paul Freiberger
Career Upshift Productions, 2013.

Most often, I sit on the employer side of the table, talking with hiring managers and HR specialists about the hiring process. When Can You Start? is written for the job seeker, so it was interesting to see things from the other side.

Most of the book is predictable advice –

  • Show up on time for the interview
  • Practice answering questions to common interview questions
  • Never throw the first number in salary negotiations

But there were some insights I had never considered. “The fact that interviews have not been shown to have much predictive power in relation to subsequent job performance has not made the interview less important or less popular among employers.” I had to close my eyes and do some soul-searching on that one. Freiberger cites a 1994 paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Does throwing darts at a resume board yield better candidates than a job interview process? Now, that is an interesting question.

My first instinct is to discount the observation, but admittedly, after watching the interview process in a few hundred companies, I am thinking about some dartboard practice.

Freiberger’s book is to prepare the unwitting candidate to endure an interview process that is largely broken, in most cases, dysfunctional. He admits the interview is full of traps and in some cases advises the “smart candidate to play the game by answering the question without actually answering the question.”

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. Most managers are unprepared. They ask the wrong questions and allow stereotypes to get in the way. They end up making a decision within the first three minutes of the interview, based on misinterpretations and incomplete data.

So, When Can You Start? is a decent primer for both the first time job seeker and the veteran job seeker who forgot what it was like sitting across the interview table.

Five Biggest Mistakes in Hiring

I started this series last week, the five biggest mistakes in hiring.

1. The manager underestimates the time span capability required for success in the role. To effectively make the hiring selection, the manager has to identify the level of work related to problem solving and decision making.

2. The manager uses the resume as the central document during the course of the interview. Using the resume allows the candidate to tell brilliant prepared stories that may or may not relate to the critical role requirements. The central document during the interview should be a list of specific written questions directly related to the work in the role.

3. The manager fails to write a complete specific role description organized into Key Result Areas. Most managers shortcut this step by substituting a job posting, using a generic job description or using a job description that was prepared years ago and stuck in a three ring binder. Organizing the role description is one of the most critical steps in the hiring process.

4. The manager fails to prepare a written list of questions specifically related to the role description, organized into Key Result Areas. Most managers think they know enough about the job, to wing their way through the interview, off the top of their head.

5. Without a list of intentional questions based on the role description, the managers asks a series of unproductive questions that fail to capture real data related to critical role requirements. This includes questions about favorite animals, hypothetical questions and future based questions.

At some point of frustration, I created a course and wrote a book to help managers navigate the interview process in building the right team. You can find out more information by following this link – Hiring Talent.

Biggest Mistake in Hiring

“The thing I am trying to figure out with this candidate,” Anita wondered aloud, “is whether they are over-qualified or under-qualified for the position we have?”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Well, if they are over-qualified, they will get bored with the decisions that go with this job. And the problems they face will seem small and insignificant. The work will not be interesting to them.”

“And if they are under-qualified?” I pressed.

“If they are under-qualified, they will be overwhelmed. There will be twenty things to get done in the short space of an hour, problems and decisions. They will get behind, hung up in a detail that derails everything. They will micro-manage a small segment of the job, because that is their comfort level, while there is a forest fire raging outside the door.”

“So, what exactly are you looking for?”

“I feel like Goldilocks,” Anita replied. “This porridge is too hot, this porridge is too cold, this porridge is just right. I am looking for just right. I will know it when I see it.”

“You have accurately described what happens when there is a mismatch in the role. You understand what you are looking for, but you don’t know how to look.”

Anita’s eyes grew wide and a small grin crossed her face. “It’s easier to see someone who is over-qualified for the role. My biggest mistake is hiring someone who is under-qualified. They work for a couple of months, and then it becomes glaring. They underperform, get defensive, throw other people under the bus. As a manager, I try to coach, but in the end, I made a mistake. The person couldn’t handle the level of work in the role. I just wish I could figure out the person in the interview.”

“What if you are starting in the wrong place?” I suggested.

“What do you mean?” Anita asked.

“Instead of trying to figure out the candidate, let’s start by figuring out the level of work in the role. What are the decisions made in the role? What are the problems solved in the role? What is the level of work in the role? The biggest mistake most managers make is underestimating the level of work in the role? That is why, so often, we place candidates in the position and watch them flounder before our eyes. Our first mistake was failing to identify the level of work required.”

“How do you do that?” Anita wanted to know.

The Likelihood of Success

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

So, how do you interview for someone with the capability to think into the future?

Capability is like attitude. I cannot interview for attitude and I cannot interview for capability. I can only interview for behaviors connected to attitude and capability.

First, is the capability to think into the future, a requirement for the role? Most supervisory and managerial roles require this capability, so this is a fair area for exploration.

My bias is to ask ONLY questions about the past. I do not want the candidate to speculate or make stuff up. No hypotheticals or theories. I have enough trouble deciphering real facts from the past.

  • Tell me about a time when (my favorite opening question), you worked on a project that took some time to complete, one that required several steps with a number of moving parts?
  • How long did the project take?
  • What was the purpose of the project? The goal for the project?
  • How many people were involved?
  • Step me through the planning process?
  • Was the plan written or just in your head?
  • How was the plan shared with the project team?
  • What was your role in preparing the plan?
  • As the plan was executed, what factors pushed the plan off course?
  • Tell me how the plan accounted for factors that pushed the plan off course?
  • How did the project team respond to changes in the plan?
  • How were decisions made in response to changes in the plan?
  • How did those changes impact the budget for the plan?
  • How did those changes impact the schedule for the plan?
  • How did those changes impact the overall results of the plan?

The responses to these questions will give the interviewer insight into behaviors connected with capability to think into the future, not just think, but make decisions, solve problems, execute into the future? These responses are fact-based and do not require interpretation, yet provide evidence, which can be verified in a cooperative reference check.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. All I have to do, as an interviewer, is to find out how the candidate behaved in the past. There is great likelihood the candidate will behave the same way when they come to work for you.

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?”

Who Creates the Talent Pool?

“In the midst of everything I have to do, with all of my management issues and motivation issues, you expect me to read resumes,” Byron was putting his foot down. “I am a Vice-President in this company. I have other people that read resumes for me.”

I did not respond, just raised an eyebrow. I could see the exasperation on Byron’s face.

“So, just exactly what do I do?” asked Byron. “I mean, I know what to do when I need to hire a manager on my team, but to hire a supervisor on one of my manager’s teams?”

“You won’t make the final selection, but I do hold you accountable for driving this process. Logistically, here is what it looks like. Your division has an opening two strata below you. As the manager-once-removed, it is your accountability to create the talent pool from which the hiring manager will select. Creating the talent pool means that you drive this process. Every morning, when you are fresh, I expect you to come in and spend a half hour to forty five minutes reviewing resumes. That’s every day, whether you have an opening in your division, or not. I expect that each day, you will find two or three resumes that you will find interesting. I expect you to make two or three screening phone calls every day. Once or twice a week, I expect you will actually run across a candidate. If you find only one per week, that is fifty people per year that you might bring in to interview for a supervisor level position.”

“But we have never had fifty people that qualified,” Byron continued to push back.

“Is that the truth, or is that something you believe to be true?”
Hiring Talent, the print version, will be available from Amazon within the week, so we have a new cover. This link is for the Kindle version, available now.
Hiring Talent

Unqualified Candidates on the Short List

Orientation for our next Hiring Talent online program starts next Monday. For more information or pre-registration, follow this link Hiring Talent – 2013.

“I guess I have my receptionist and a lower level supervisor sorting the resumes up front,” Byron replied. “They do the initial screening to toss out the candidates who aren’t qualified or who are overqualified. Look, I don’t want to waste the time of my hiring manager.”

“Let me get this straight. The open position is for a high level supervisor with a level of work around nine months time-span? You are right, I don’t want to waste the time of your hiring manager. Your hiring manager will have difficulty making this decision anyway.”

“What do you mean? Ron is the hiring manager,” Byron replied, backpedaling. “This hire will be on his team.”

“Yes, but Ron gave you these three resumes, right?” I looked at Byron sideways. “How would you rate capability for these three candidates?”

“Well, they are clearly not qualified for the position. They are barely supervisor material, the level of work in their prior experience is nowhere near the level of work for the role we have.”

“So, why did Ron pick these people over other candidates?”

“Well, he said these candidates were the only ones in our budget.” Byron’s face betrayed puzzlement. He suddenly no longer believed Ron’s reason. “But, the pay bands for this position are clearly above the salary requirements of these three candidates.”

“Byron, you are the manager-once-removed in this hire. You clearly see the situation. You are in the best position to see the sweet spot in the candidate pool, yet your screening process depends on the judgment of others that puts unqualified candidates on your short list. In what way could you contribute, as the manager-once-removed, to make this process more effective?”
Just released on Kindle. The only book on hiring that blends the research on levels of work with the discipline of behavioral interviewing. The research on levels of work, pioneered by the late Elliott Jaques, is powerful science. The discipline of behavioral interviewing is the most effective method for its application. This is the only book that puts these two ideas together in a practical framework for managers faced with the hiring decision.
Hiring Talent