umpire whistleIn the early years of my executive recruiting career, my hobby was to umpire high school baseball.  For me it was a passion and a labor of love for a game that combined athletic ability, strategy and elegance.

If it was Tuesday, Thursday or Friday during baseball season, there was a better than 90 percent chance I would be assigned a game to officiate, but as my search practice grew, I had less and less time to umpire.  In 1998, I finally retired following a regional championship game.  It was a wonderful way to finish that part of my life—working an important game as the first base umpire.

Today, my hobby, aside from my essay and blog writing, is a link to my early career as a crime writer and investigative reporter:  to write interview questions that will produce meaningful insight into a candidate’s leadership style.   My definition of a good question is one that challenges—sometimes surprises—candidates to show who they really are, and how they will react in critical situations of governance, customer relations, quality and leadership. 

The source—and inspiration—for good questions can be found in a variety of settings, from books like Topgrading© and The 250 Interview Questions You Are Likely to Be Asked, to unlikely sources like the Corner Office column in the Sunday New York Times.

This week’s Times Q&A interview with Bill Flemming, President of Skanska USA Building, Inc., produced this interesting question from him:

“I want you to tell me your most successful trait and your worst trait, and explain why they would help you here or impact your performance here.” 

Mr. Flemming’s tolerance of candidate’s canned responses to questions regarding their weaknesses—I work too hard, I am a perfectionist—is limited.  “You can sift through those pretty quickly.  I will say, ‘Those are a given. Now tell me what the real answer is here’.”  In other words, when you provide that kind of retort, know that you have entered a no BS zone, so you had better get serious.

One of my favorites is a question designed to interrupt a candidate’s rhythm—that point when they are beginning to anticipate the next question:

Tell me what routine in your daily schedule, from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night, would you eliminate to be a more effective and productive leader? 

I am in the process of rewriting the structured interview document for our in-depth face-to-face candidate interviews.  I would like to hear from you regarding the questions you use that produce great insight and lead to a successful hire.

© 2012 John Gregory Self