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John has written several blogs over the past 12 months regarding the importance of candidates being authentic in their interviews.  Today’s post discusses an approach employers can use to test candidate authenticity and leading to a feeling of trust that they are hiring the right qualified person.

For employers trust is a key factor in making the right decision regarding which candidate to hire.  To get to that point of trust, you must first measure a candidate’s authenticity.

truth-telling questionsCan we trust that the person we are interviewing will act the same way when they show up for work?  Can we trust that they will respect our mission and values as well as our employees, or will they become some variation of the ego-driven its-all-about-me tyrant once they get settled (read: comfortable) in their new role?

So how do employers sort through all the carefully constructed answers and spin to find that stream of authenticity that leads to a sense of trust?  You will not get there with softball or vague, open-ended questions that act more as enablers of spin than focused inquiries to unearth the substance of what the candidate is really like.  I use what Brad Smart, PhD, author of Topgrading, calls “truth-telling” questions.  These are questions which force candidates to be brutally honest, or signals that we will verify what they are saying.

In our lengthy face-to-face interviews, I begin by asking candidates if they have read my bio on our website.  A surprising number have not, but that is OK since the interview is not about me. But I always mention in my brief career summary that my first career was as a crime writer and investigative journalist for a major daily newspaper in Texas.  It is sort of my way of giving them a heads up to minimize the spin without being rude or a jerk when I move to those important truth-telling questions.

I am constantly on the look out for great interview questions — I have hundreds on file but there is always someone with a better way to determine whether a candidate is being authentic or just a spin artist.  In Adam Bryant’s Corner Office interview with Sue Desmond-Hellman, MD, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in yesterday’s New York Times business section, I found a couple of good ones.  They were not questions to the candidate, but her thoughts about a candidate when she first meets them.  They are similar to actual questions that I have used in the past, but much more succinct:

  • What am I going to like about you?
  • How are you going to disappoint my client?

Sometimes I will immediately follow up with, “When I talk to your current boss, how will they describe your relationship with physicians and employees?  Do you talk with them or to them?” “Did your employees respect you, or just comply because you were their boss?  What evidence can you provide on that issue?”  Or, “What is the one thing your former bosses will say has been   their biggest concern, their biggest disappointment, your biggest mistake, or your biggest failure?”

When I ask the “your biggest weakness” question, I now work in to the question that this issue is one area we include on our reference questionnaire.

There is always the chance you will get some pushback.  One CEO candidate eerily reminded me of one of the announced Republican candidates for President when he began to tell me not to ask negative questions and then told me what issues I should be focusing on.  There is pushback, and then there is that.

In this new era of healthcare reform which will eventually radically transform our business model, hiring a new CEO or executive just because they went to a good graduate school, previously worked for a highly regarded hospital or health system, or has a good reputation, is a major mistake.  Yes, you need someone who has great skills, a deep understanding of operational, clinical and financial issues as well as a cutting-edge view of what the future of healthcare delivery will be like, but trusting the conventional wisdom that someone’s past performance is a great indication of future success is a recipe for potential disaster.  It happens all the time.  As the saying goes, conventional wisdom is seldom right.

You must trust but you also must verify, and then ask this important question:  Is this great candidate going to be the right great leader for your organization?