Tag Archives: interviewing

Find the Needle in the Haystack

“What went wrong?” I asked.

Tyler recounted the steps they used to qualify candidates. First, they killed a couple of trees printing resumes. Because there were so many, the stack was moved to the reception area. The large stack was divided in two, those from out of town were discarded, those in town were delivered to an area supervisor. The area supervisor was familiar with the job tasks, so that’s where the first real cuts were made.

The final forty resumes were delivered to the hiring manager. The hiring manager was very busy and a little put off by having to deal with forty resumes. He made quick work of the process, however, quickly finding some defect in thirty-five candidates. In the final five, two wanted too much money, two were working somewhere else, so that left one candidate who could easily start within 48 hours. Too good to be true.

“So, where do you think you went wrong?” I repeated.

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.

Hiring Talent – Registration Open

We are gathering the next group for our online program Hiring Talent, which kicks off January 25, 2013. As this economy (slowly) recovers, your next hires are critical. This is not a time to be casual about the hiring process. Mistakes are too expensive and margins are too thin.

This is the only program that combines an understanding of Levels of Work with Behavioral Interviewing. The research on Levels of Work is powerful science. The discipline of behavioral interviewing is the methodology for its application. This is the only program that puts these two ideas together in a practical framework for managers faced with Hiring Talent.

Purpose of this program – to train managers and HR specialists in the discipline of conducting more effective interviews in the context of a managed recruiting process.

Candidate Interview

How long is the program? We have streamlined the program so that it can be completed in six weeks. We have also added a self-paced feature so participants can work through the program even faster.

How do people participate in the program? This is an online program conducted by Tom Foster. Participants will be responsible for online assignments and participate in online facilitated discussion groups with other participants. This online platform is highly interactive. Participants will interact with Tom Foster and other participants as they work through the program.

Who should participate? This program is designed for Stratum III and Stratum IV managers and HR managers who play active roles in the recruiting process for their organizations.

What is the cost? The program investment is $499 per participant.

When is the program scheduled? Pre-registration is now open. The program is scheduled to kick-off February 1, 2013.

How much time is required to participate in this program? Participants should reserve approximately 2 hours per week. This program is designed so participants can complete their assignments on their own schedule anytime during each week’s assignment period.

Pre-register now. No payment due at this time.

January 25, 2013

  • Registration Opens

February 1, 2013

  • Orientation

Week One – Role Descriptions – It’s All About the Work

  • What we are up against
  • Specific challenges in the process
  • Problems in the process
  • Defining the overall process
  • Introduction to the Role Description
  • Organizing the Role Description
  • Defining Tasks
  • Defining Goals
  • Identifying the Level of Work

Week Two

  • Publish and discuss Role Descriptions

Week Three – Interviewing for Future Behavior

  • Creating effective interview questions
  • General characteristics of effective questions
  • How to develop effective questions
  • How to interview for attitudes and non-behavioral elements
  • How to interview for Time Span
  • Assignment – Create a bank of interview questions for the specific role description

Week Four

  • Publish and discuss bank of interview questions

Week Five – Conducting the Interview

  • Organizing the interview process
  • Taking Notes during the process
  • Telephone Screening
  • Conducting the telephone interview
  • Conducting the face-to-face interview
  • Working with an interview team
  • Compiling the interview data into a Decision Matrix
  • Background Checks, Reference Checks
  • Behavioral Assessments
  • Drug Testing
  • Assignment – Conduct a face-to-face interview

Week Six

  • Publish and discuss results of interview process

Pre-registration is now open for this program. No payment is due at this time.

Potential is There, If You Know How to Look For It

From the Ask Tom mailbag –


Really enjoyed your last post on Discovering Potential in an Interview – I find this quote particularly interesting: “Potential does not live in the land of hypothetical. Potential lives in the land of discretion”. Might you be able to elaborate? My take on is that in order to assess that someone has potential you a) need fairly concrete evidence of some kind rather than “what if’s” and b) you need to locate subtleties in their interview to demonstrate evidence of this – this could be completely wrong though?! I work with a number of project managers and assessing and approximating someone’s potential is fascinating to me.


Looking for potential, you are quite right. I don’t hope on a wing and a prayer, I look for concrete evidence of potential. And I don’t think it’s subtle. If it was a snake, it would bite you.

Ask this simple question. “How does a person with potential, behave?” Now, interview for that behavior. And listen.

Potential lives in the land of discretion. It’s all about decisions. How does a person, with potential beyond their current role, make decisions?

A person with potential beyond their current role, when faced with a decision, –

  • Will ask questions about the context of the decision, assembling surrounding factors
  • Will generate alternate paths to the goals, contingency plans in case something unexpected happens
  • Will take responsibility for the decision, NOT give the decision to someone else, or ask the decision be made for them
  • Will be able to talk about (articulate) their internal process for making one decision over another
  • Will create visual representations of their decision making process, either checklists or flow charts identifying elements of the decision

In the interview, ask questions about specific projects where decisions were made and interview for these behaviors.

Tell me about a project where things did NOT go as planned, where you had to make a decision that changed the direction of the project?

  • What was the project?
  • What was the length of the project?
  • What was the purpose of the project?
  • What happened, that required you to make a decision?
  • How did you identify that things were going wrong?
  • What decision was made?
  • When was the decision made?
  • Who made the decision?
  • Who was accountable, if the decision turned out to be wrong?
  • What factors did you consider when making the decision?
  • How did you communicate the decision to others involved in the project?
  • What was the impact of the decision?
  • What was the result of the decision?

You will either get answers from the candidate or you will get blank stares. Ask about more than one project. Every project has decision points. There is concrete evidence of potential, one way or the other, if you, as the interviewer, will look for it.

We kick off Hiring Talent – 2013 in January. Watch for details.

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.”

You Can’t Interview for Attitude

“I get it,” Sara smiled. “I know, for someone to be a high performer, they have to value the work in the role. If they don’t place a high value on the work, it isn’t likely they will do a good job.”

“Not in the long run,” I confirmed. “In the short term, you can always bribe people with pizza, but once the pizza’s gone, you’re done.” (This is known as a diagnostic assessment.)

“I’m with you,” Sara nodded. “But how do you interview for values. I am afraid if I ask the question, straight up, I am going to get a textbook answer. The candidate is just going to agree with me.”

“Sara, when you are observing your team, watching them work, can you see their values?”

Sara stopped. “I think so, I mean, I can see enthusiasm. I can tell when someone is happy.”

“How can you tell?”

“I can just watch them,” she replied. “I can see it in their behavior.”

“Exactly. You cannot see a person’s values, you can only see their behavior. And that is what you interview for, their behavior. As a manager, just ask this question – How does a person with (this value) behave?”

Sara’s eyes narrowed. I continued.

“Let’s say that you have an accounting position and that accuracy, specifically with numbers is an important value.”

“You can’t ask them if they think accuracy is important. Of course, they will say – yes.”

I nodded. “As a manager, ask yourself this question. How does a person behave if they value accuracy in their work.”

“I know that one,” Sara jumped in. “I once asked our bookkeeper how she always balanced to the penny. She told me she always added things twice. People who value accuracy in their work always add things twice.”

“So, what question would you ask?” I pressed.

“Tell me about a time when accuracy was very important. How did you make sure you balanced to the penny?”
The next group in our Hiring Talent program starts next Monday. To join the group, follow this link to pre-register.