"Yes sir. I have a great deal of experience using Microsoft Excel. In fact, I created my resume using that program."
The interview was going well. She had the look, spoke well, and Pat thought she would get along with the other team members. He missed the red flag about Excel (who would use a spread sheet to create a resume?) and hired her anyway. Her resume showed even more experience in the industry than he really thought she needed. Six months later with hours of training, coaching that went on for days and a ream of documentation, he was letting her go.
Pat, like many managers, had years of interviewing experience, but after an all-day session of "back to backs," he had missed a few key points of this employee's interview. She had the background, had the way with words that so many do in an interview, but did she have the right attitude? She came up with an answer to all of his questions, but how would she perform and how could he possibly know?
Simple. Well, sort of. All interview candidates seem to go to interview school. They have the answers to, "What are your weaknesses?" and "Why did you leave your previous job?" down pat. You have to look deeper. The following techniques will help.
Hire for Attitude
Paul owned a public relations company and had been in the business for 20 years. He could teach almost anyone how to call a radio station. What he had also learned is that when hiring PR reps from other agencies, he had to spend hours un-training all their old habits. If you are hiring a salesperson, hire a go-getter with a love of people and high self-esteem, not necessarily someone who has sold for years. You can teach skills, you cannot teach someone to overcome rejection and surly customers nearly as easily. It is the attitude that will outlast problems and the attitude that will readily learn new skills.
Assign a Task in the Interview
Put your candidates on the spot. Avoid the same old questions and ask them to do the job, right then, right there. If your vacancy is for a customer service support person, roleplay a difficult end user calling with a seemingly impossible problem that must be fixed yesterday. See what they say. If you are hiring for sales, have them sell you your own product.
See how many questions they ask about it before just jumping into a six-step sales process.
Pay Attention to the Past . . . Differently
Your candidate has had 10 years working with your competitor. He has won every award for this type of position possible. But consider this: Will he question your direction when you ask him to do something differently from the way he has successfully done it before? Will he be loyal to the very company that has been the competition for years? Perhaps a candidate who has worked in a completely different industry but can demonstrate to you the right attitude toward hard work, learning and customers would actually take less training.
Try Story Time
Asking closed questions in an interview limits creativity and gives candidates a 50-50 chance of getting the right answer. Do you only want a 50-50 chance that they'll stay and be productive?
Try asking them to tell you a story. "Tell me about a time when you and co-workers completed a project and received recognition." Then listen to the story for hints on how they prefer praise, get along with others, share credit with co-workers or bad mouth their bosses. Also, pay attention to body language and creative story-telling. Much is revealed when a person tells you a story and almost always the story will be true, as most can't make up that kind of detail on the fly.
Ask for Passion
This can be tricky. After you have asked your standard questions and tested for skills that you need, find out what the prospective employee is passionate about. For example, Melissa was hiring a salesperson. She thought she had found someone. All the questions had been answered with ease. The candidate's background suggested she had the attitude and making of a great salesperson.
Yet, when Melissa casually said, "What is it that absolutely lights your fire? What is it that you absolutely love to do?" The candidate looked her straight in the eye and said, "I absolutely love to type. I love to see if I can beat my own typing speed record and enter more information than anyone else can." Now this candidate doesn't do sales with Melissa, but she is one of the best data clerks the company has ever had and both Melissa and the candidate are extremely happy. Many people don't know who they really are, but most do know what they like to do. Make sure it is what you are hiring for.
Hiring is complex and getting the right person in the right job can be a downright complicated gamble. We make matters worse by using the same old formula that even the candidates know and by looking at experience that may or may not matter. Try to keep in mind that finding the right person for the job is far more important than finding a person to fill the job. If you want more work, keep filling jobs with those who think they know it all and tell you what you want to hear. But if you want more productivity and a long-term team, spend more time learning about the applicants than reading their resumes.