I am fascinated with the art and the process of the job interview.
Good leaders know that their time with the candidate is more than just a meeting with someone who is looking for work and so they prepare. They know what they want to hear so they create an environment and a question, or set of questions, to discover who the applicant is and whether they will fit into the company.
I look to executives of other companies, large and small, to learn how they hire — what is important to them, and what questions they ask. I is part of my continuing education and process improvement. A great source for this type of research is Adam Bryant’s weekly Corner Office interview column in the Sunday New York Times. Here is a sampling of what I found:
Vivian Lee, CEO of University of Utah Health Care, Salt Lake City
“I put a lot of weight on references and track record. In the interview I am looking for the differentiator between good and excellent. That is difficult to really judge in an interview but I try.” She zeroes in on the candidate’s internal drive. She is looking for executives who not have only a track record of excellence, but one of exceeding expectations. “I tend to ask about their greatest challenge, and the project or success that made them most proud.
“I also ask what their great disappointment or failure has been. I really like to see the ability to learn from mistakes, and humility to recognize their own mistakes rather than blaming other people.”
Mike Tuchen, Chief Executive Officer of Talend, Redwood City, CA.
Talent is a big data integration software company in Redwood City, CA Tuchen says that his first questions to the candidate are always going to be about management and leadership style. “I’ll ask a couple of open-ended questions about what’s important to get right as a leader. Some people will talk about the people on the team and the best way to motivate them. The answers that kind of scare me are from the candidates who talk about people as if they are something on a spreadsheet. Leadership and management are all about people.”
Resiliency is important to Tuchen as well “because things don’t always go the way you want them to so I will ask questions about the hardest problem you have ever solved? Why was it hard? What did you do uniquely well that someone else would not have been able to do?”
Tobi Luke Chief Executive Officer of Shopify, Ottawa, Canada
Shopify is a fast-growing e-commerce company and getting it right in hiring is critical to the company’s success. Shopify focuses on the story — that candidate’s life story.
“We look for moments when the (candidate) had to make important decisions, and then we go deep into those. I find the strongest predictors of people who will do well at Shopify is whether they see opportunity as something to compete for, or do they see opportunity as essentially everywhere and unlimited? It is a rough proxy for pessimism and optimism.”
Luke explains that they get this from the candidate’s life story without specifically asking the question. “People know how they are supposed to answer so this makes it all the more powerful.”
Anthony Fox, Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation, Washington DC
Mr. Fox also values resiliency in candidates. “What I am trying to understand is whether the person, if things get really tough, is going to stay in there or fall apart. I would rather hire somebody who’s maybe not a genius, but they will dig in on any assignment.
“I would rather have resilience than almost any other quality.”
Aaron Bell, CEO of Adroll, San Francisco
Online advertising placement firm Adroll urges its interview teams to zero in on those things about the candidate that worry them since there is no one silver bullet for making the right hire.
“When you leave an interview, what are you going to be thinking about or wondering about?” says CEO Bell. “…I tell them to spend all their time drilling into the one area. Keep asking questions. It is OK to prod during interviews.
“I also look at transitions between jobs because that’s a time when someone kind of popped their head up and said, ‘This isn’t working for me.’ Either they got fired or it was mutually not working or there is some other explanation, but I will try (to) get to real the story of what happened.”
Bell, whose company is in a growth stage, says it is also important to find people who are interested in building something great, rather than people who are interested in joining something great. “So, having people who care is a big thing.”
Joshua Reeves, Chief Executive and co-founder of Gusto, San Francisco
“My interview with a candidate is not about the skill or work experience. It is about thought processes someone went through at meaningful points in their life, like the choice to go to a specific school or to leave or join a company. If you keep asking why you will get to the meat of it…”