Finding Fit: Ask Better Questions

It can be challenging to winnow dozens of resumes to just a few strong candidates, but many hiring managers tell me the biggest challenge for them lies in the interview.
They say that sometimes a candidate feels right, but they sometimes regret the choice they make when basing the hiring decision on that feeling. So can you trust your gut or not?

 

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Yes, of course you can trust your gut. If you ask the right questions.

You probably already know, whether you’ve ever hired someone or not, that looking at accomplishments and skills alone don’t give a thorough enough picture to choose amongst several good candidates. Everyone has worked with someone whose resume seemed great but who just didn’t fit with everyone else.

So what options do you have? Ask about strengths and weaknesses, ask about hobbies, ask about successes and failures? Sure. But you can certainly do more to accurately evaluate job applicants.
Some useful ideas come via Mitch Rothschild, who, in an interview with the New York Times, talks about his favorite interview questions. One blunt question I love has him asking candidates what character quirks will make him hate the new candidate after the initial honeymoon phase ends. He also wants to know what will irritate the new hire after they’ve settled in.

When I’m coaching hiring managers on how to find the right fit with job candidates, I often talk about the near-to-middle-term aspect of hiring: how do you want things to look in six months? Most departments know what they need from an employee in the first few months. But what is your vision for them after they’ve settled in and made the job their own? And what styles, types, and tics will make the team work smoothly, and what will drive you absolutely mad?

Fit isn’t about envisioning the perfect candidate. Why? Nobody is perfect. Fit is about knowing what qualities you absolutely have to have, and what the team absolutely can’t abide. Some hiring managers never care how the work gets done as long as the output is superior. They can’t tolerate low quality but will accept those who don’t make strict schedules a priority. But some hiring managers care very much about employees being precisely on time every single day and in every meeting before it begins. In that case, they need to hire for punctuality and fastidious work habits, knowing that compromise in other areas is sometimes okay. Neither approach is wrong, but you need to know what you want and what you don’t want before you interview, because almost everyone’s answers about strengths and weaknesses sound pretty good in an interview. But can you work with this candidate when they’re tired and in a foul mood? Maybe. How will you know? Ask them what they’re like when tired and in a foul mood.

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Compatible grouchy-and-tired styles can do impressive work in the hours before a deadline. Incompatible types can make work feel like hell. So you’re trying to get them to drop their “how I work when I’m at my best” facade and to tell you about how they work at their worst.

So ask them about how they work at their worst by being specific about what the worst moments of your business are.

Think about what challenges your team or department faces in any given month. If you have a lot of deadline-focused work, ask about how the interviewee handles time pressures and when they feel deadlines are excessive. If you have a lot of media-buy pressure, ask what the candidate hates about media buying. If you have a wide spectrum of clients, ask which industries your candidate would never want to work for.

Get at their dark side and see what you think. They might fit in just right, or they might have values and expectations that will never work with your company.

But you’ll never know until you ask.

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