Tag Archives: interview questions

But, the Candidate Was Likeable

Marianna was puzzled. “How long does it take to know if a new hire will make it?” she thought out loud. “My last hire, I had to terminate after six weeks. Funny, I had high hopes. We did a personality profile and his graphs lined up with our best candidate profile. I introduced him around and everyone who interviewed him, liked him. Since planning is one of the critical role requirements, I asked him how he would plan a project. He nailed it, showed me a seven step planning process almost identical to some of our project schedules. In response to some of my open ended questions, he had great stories to tell about how he would be valuable on our team.”

“So, what happened?” I asked.

“He was likable. He was friendly. He got along well with everyone. That is why it was so difficult to terminate.”

“So, what was the problem?” I pressed.

“He never actually did any of the things we talked about. During his exit interview, I asked him about his planning process, the one he elegantly described in his initial interview. He said he got it off our website. No wonder I was impressed. But, he never actually put a plan together.”

“Sounds like your questions in the exit interview were more real than the questions in the initial interview?” -Tom

Process Important, but Not Sufficient

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“When you hired George, your interview focused on the process of project management?” I pressed.

“Yes, and understanding the process is important, but not sufficient for the Operations Manager role,” Anne replied.

“What else should you have included in the interview?”

“To manage two or three projects requires knowledge and adherence to our process. That’s a project manager role. To manage ALL of our 36 projects requires building a team of competent project managers. That’s what I should have included in the interview. I never found out if George ever built a team.”

“If you had to do it over again, what questions would you ask?”

Anne paused. Then carefully generated a series of questions related to building a team.

  • Tell me about a time when you built a team of project managers?
  • How many people were on the team?
  • How many projects did the team have to collectively handle?
  • How many individual projects did a PM have to manage?
  • How long were the individual projects? Shortest? Longest?
  • What qualities did you look for in each team member?
  • How did you assign the individual projects to each project manager?
  • How often did you check in on project status with each PM?
  • Step me through one of your check in meetings?
  • Step me through how your PMs mobilized the start of the project?
  • Tell me about a project where there were unseen problems?
  • Step me through the diagnosis of those problems?
  • Step me through the coaching process with the PM in charge of that project?
  • How did the PM respond to the problems on that project?
  • What changes did the PM make?
  • What was the outcome of that project?
  • Tell me about another time when you built a team of project managers?

How to Manage 36 Simultaneous Projects

“I don’t think I missed anything,” Anne replied. “I don’t think I knew what I was looking for when I hired George. He was a good senior project manager, but I think I underestimated the level of work of an Operations Manager.”

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

“Our senior project managers can handle two to three large projects at the same time. But we expect our Operations Manager to manage all 36 projects.”

“It’s just more projects,” I chuckled. “Seriously, can’t the Ops Manager run 36 projects the same way as three projects?”

Anne shook her head slowly side to side. “Actually, the Operations Manager doesn’t directly manage any single project, the role has to manage ALL the projects. The level of work is different.”

“How so?” I probed.

“The only way to manage ALL the projects is to create a competent team of project managers who manage the individual projects. If the Ops Manager builds a good team, then the role is a cakewalk. If the Ops Manager has weakness in the project manager team, then life will be miserable.”

“So, what’s the key difference in the level of work?” I pressed.

“A project manager (S-II) manages a process. It’s a coordinating role. The Operations Manager (S-III) has to create a system for managing ALL the projects. That’s where I went wrong when I hired George.”

Send Interview Questions in Advance?

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
When interviewing for a specific role, is there any benefit to sending at least some of the core interview questions to the candidates prior to the interview so they can be better prepared to provide the specific work examples we are interviewing for?

Response:
What’s the purpose? Every element of the interview protocol must have a purpose. No purpose, don’t do it.

My primary purpose in an interview is to gather truthful data points surrounding the critical role requirements identified in the role description. I connect the dots with data points (step me through the process). I connect to the truth through details and repetitive patterns of response (give me another example).

I hesitate to send interview questions in advance because I am not interested in a story, I am interested in details. Sending the questions, in advance, allows time to create a story with fabricated details. I am not interested in the enhanced resume or exaggerated detail.

I would send the role description. What’s the purpose? The job posting and the role description (two different documents) exist to attract qualified candidates. I need candidates. The job posting creates my candidate pool. The role description self-disqualifies people in the candidate pool.

I want the candidate to look at the role description and say one of two things –

  • I did that.
  • I have no idea how to do that.

I will find out the details in the interview. I will see the patterns in the interview. -Tom

Interview Questions Do Not Come From the Resume

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From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You said, in your workshop, that the resume wasn’t that important. I use the resume for all my notes and to help guide me through the interview.

Response:
I use the resume as a reference. It’s in the room with me, but it is not the piece of paper I hold in my hand. I only use it to nail down the name of an employer, the name of a project or a specific date range. I rarely read the resume for content, because the content has been carefully fluffed.

My questions do NOT come from the resume and I do not make my notes on the resume. I do not ask questions to increase my understanding of the resume. I do not need to correlate candidate responses to the narrative on the resume.

My questions come from the role description. I make my notes on a sheet, left column for my written questions, right side for my notes. I ask questions to increase my understanding of the candidate’s experience related to the role. I correlate candidate responses to the critical role requirements of the position.

When I evaluate each candidate to the same criteria in the role description, I can more easily distinguish between candidates’ capability and skill related to the role. The crucible that helps me form my judgment is not the candidate’s resume, it is the role description that defines what is necessary for success in the position.

How to Interview for Passion at S-IV Level of Work

Before we can interview for interest and passion, we have to define the work. It’s always about the work.

Most S-IV roles are integration roles, integrating systems and sub-systems for total organizational throughput. The tools at S-IV are system metrics. The role is typically an executive manager, VP or C-suite. Longest time span goals and objectives would be 2-3-4-5 years. Learning would be long-term (longitudinal) analytic. Highest level problem solving would include systems analysis (Senge-Fifth Discipline). Value-add to the organization is multi-system efficiency and total throughput. It is the role at S-IV to optimize multi-system output so that no one system overwhelms or drags on other systems, and to improve handoffs of work output from one system to the next system. One of the most important functions at S-IV is as the manager of S-III and the manager-once-removed (MOR) at S-II.

Managerial roles at S-IV are accountable for the output of the team at S-III.

Interview questions –

  • The purpose of these next questions is to look at some of the systems in your prior company and examine the way those systems worked together?
  • In your last role, list the functional systems that existed?
  • What was your role title?
  • Which single function were you most focused on?
  • Looking at that system, what impact did other systems have on its output?
  • Describe the balance or imbalance of your focus system and its surrounding system?
  • When one system in your organization was out of balance, in your role, how did you discover the imbalance?
  • When one system in your organization was out of balance, in your role, how did you influence or take direct action to correct the imbalance?
  • How did you communicate the corrective steps necessary to re-balance the systems?
  • How long did it take to re-balance the systems?
  • How did you know, what metrics indicated the systems were back in balance?
  • Step me through the work flow, start to finish as work moved from one function to another in your organization?
  • As work moved from one function to the next, how was that work transferred, communicated, handed-off?
  • Looking at the work transitions between functions, in your role, how did you detect problems?
  • Looking at the work transitions between functions, in your role, how did you influence or take direct action to improve the hand-off transitions?
  • How did you communicate the necessary steps to improve the hand-off transitions?
  • How did you document the hand-off transition steps?
  • How did you know when the hand-off transitions improved?
  • Tell me about another example?

Each of these questions asks for a specific piece of data about the candidate. And though we are trying to find out about an attitude or feeling, the questions are still laser focused on the work.

How to Interview for Passion at S-I Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-II Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-III Level of Work

How to Interview for Passion for Work at S-III

Before we can interview for interest and passion, we have to define the work. It’s always about the work.

Most S-III roles are system roles, building systems that don’t solve problems, but prevent them. The tools at S-III are work flow diagrams, time and motion studies, schematics, sequencing and planning. The role is typically the manager of a functional team (marketing, sales, business development, estimating, operations, QA/QC, warranty, research and development, HR, legal). Longest time span goals and objectives would be 12 months – 16 months – 20 months – 24 months. Learning would include analytic. Highest level problem solving would include root cause and comparative analysis. Value-add to the organization is consistency and predictability. It is the role at S-III to create the system, monitor the system, constantly improve the system. One of the most important systems at S-III is the people system inside the function.

Managerial roles at S-III are accountable for the output of the team at S-II.

Given a large customer problem, the central question for the S-III manager is, why didn’t our system prevent that problem, or at least, mitigate the damage from that problem.

Interview questions –

  • The purpose of these next questions is to look at some of the systems you built and how you built them. Tell me about a project you were accountable for, containing several steps, that was similar to other projects you completed in the past?
  • What was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • Using this project as an example, tell me about a system you created to solve its problems and make its decisions?
  • What were the circumstances in the project that lead you to create a system?
  • Step me through the system that you created?
  • How did you communicate the steps in the system to the team?
  • How did you test the steps in the system to make sure they were in the best sequence?
  • During the project, did any of the steps in the system change?
  • When steps in the system changed, how did you track the changes and modify the system?
  • When the project was totally complete, what parts of the system could be applied to other projects?
  • Think about the next project where that system was useful?
  • What was the project, why was that project a candidate to use the same system?
  • What modifications did you have to make to the system, so it had a positive impact of this next project?
  • How did you document the modification to the system?
  • How was this system important to the effectiveness of your functional team?
  • Tell me about another system you created related to a project in your company?

Each of these questions asks for a specific piece of data about the candidate. And though we are trying to find out about an attitude or feeling, the questions are still laser focused on the work.

How to Interview for Passion at S-I Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-II Level of Work

How to Interview for Teamwork

“The new guy just doesn’t seem to fit,” Cynthia said. “Our company is built on a culture of teamwork. He doesn’t seem to be a team player.”

“You hired him. What questions did you ask about teamwork?” I wanted to know.

“Well, I asked him if he thought teamwork was important?” she replied.

“And?”

“And, he said yes. He said teamwork was very important at his last job.”

“What did you expect him to say?” I pressed.

“Well, I wanted him to say teamwork was important, because, to be successful at this company, we have to work as a team,” Cynthia insisted.

“So, the candidate gave you the response you wanted to hear?”

Cynthia was silent.

“Look, teamwork is a state of mind,” I nodded. “It’s like an attitude. You cannot interview for an attitude. You cannot interview for a state of mind. You can only interview for behaviors connected to that attitude. Ask yourself, how does a person, with an attitude of teamwork, behave? Once you identify connected behaviors, you can ask a better set of questions. So, what are some behaviors connected to teamwork?”

Cynthia thought for a moment. “Cooperation, support, listening, constructive feedback,” she replied.

“Okay, try these questions.”

  • Think of a time when you worked on a project where teamwork was critical for the success of the project?
  • What was the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • What was your role on the team?
  • What was it, about the project, that required a high level of teamwork?
  • Describe how the team worked together?
  • What worked well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What did the team do to pull together?
  • What was your role in pulling the team together?
  • What was it, about the project, that pulled the team apart?
  • How did the team respond to that?
  • What was the outcome?
  • What did the team learn about working together from the experience on this project?

“Would these questions give you some insight to the candidate’s attitude toward teamwork?” -Tom

How to Interview for Project Management

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
All of our projects are different. We never know what our customers will want, in advance. It’s almost always a custom solution. So, when we are hiring a project manager, it’s difficult to determine what skills the candidate will need to be successful. That’s why, most of the time, we wing it, when it comes to interview questions. How can we do a better job in the interview, instead of just working off of the resume?

Response:
We may not know anything about the project, but we can still work on preparedness. So, think about behaviors connected to being prepared.

  • Diagnostic questions
  • Project planning
  • Short interval planning
  • Project adjustments
  • Discipline

The only way to work through an ill-defined or unknown project specification, is to define the project. You are accurate, that many customers don’t really know what they want. Sometimes your best contribution, in managing the project, is helping the customer to define the project. What are the problems to be solved and the decisions to be made as the project meanders its way to completion?

Determine questions related to diagnosis, planning and project adjustments.

  • Tell me about a project you worked on where the customer was not clear on what they wanted?
  • What was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • What was the purpose for the project?
  • How did the customer describe the project?
  • What was the real project?
  • How did you determine the real project specification?
  • What changed about the project when it was better defined?
  • What changed about the resources required when the project was better defined?
  • What changed about the budget when the project was better defined?
  • How did you explain the changes in resources and budget to the customer?
  • How many people on your project team?
  • How did you explain the changes to your project team?
  • What mid-course corrections were required?
  • How did you discover the mid-course correction?
  • How did you determine the overall project met the initial purpose of the project?

These questions will get you better data, than just winging it off the resume.

Not the Right Questions, Not Enough Questions

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You told us not to hope. You told us not to look in the eyes of the candidate. You told us not to make the decision in the first three minutes of the interview. All you told us was what NOT to look for. But, you didn’t tell us WHAT to look For!!

Response:
Look for something that sits in front of our eyes. And yet, we cannot see it.

It is easy to observe behavior AFTER the candidate shows up for work, we can see the evidence of the work product, and we are often disappointed. We made the hire based on hope, based on what we thought we saw in the eyes of the candidate, and made that decision in the first three minutes. We made our decision BEFORE we had any data.

The question is, how do we get that data, how do we get that evidence in the interview? It is, as easy to see in the interview, as it is to see in the work. No, we cannot directly observe, but we can certainly ask questions that allow us to observe through description.

The problem is that we don’t ask questions related to behaviors in the role. We rely on stupid stuff that we, as interviewers, interpret about the candidate. We use trick questions. We try to climb inside the head of the candidate. STOP. Don’t play amateur psychologist.

But, we are experts about the work. We can spot positive behavior on the plant floor or in the field. We can spot negative behavior, and it takes only a nanosecond for us to tell the difference. Why? Because we are competent managers.

Don’t play amateur psychologist, play to your strength as a manager. It’s all about the work. We don’t see the evidence in the interview because we don’t prepare to ask the right questions, because we don’t prepare to ask enough questions. So, we rely on faulty assumptions, like hope. And because we don’t have the right questions, or enough questions, we make the decision in the first three minutes.

What to look for in the interview is EVIDENCE. And most interviewers don’t ask enough questions to gather that evidence. -Tom