The other day, a friend of mine was asking me for advice on hiring people for his small, but fast-growing business. While I’m no recruiting machine, I have hired a number of people in my day.
What have I learned?
- Astute (but ultimately poor) candidates can put on a good show in an interview.
- Professional/educational experience tells no more than 50 percent of the candidate's story.
- Even lackluster candidates can produce positive recommendations.
So how do you cut through the noise? Here are four helpful techniques that will help reinforce or debunk the feelings you have towards a candidate.
1. Request an audition.
Hiring a sales rep? Get them to sell something to you. Hiring a software developer? Have them solve a logic problem. Hiring a creative designer? Get them to go through a consultation with you. The key is, go beyond their r?sum? and have them put their experience into practice for you to see firsthand.
One great technique I use to hire sales reps is to have them deliver a 15-minute presentation to me and a few others from my team. I give them the topic in advance, which includes a high-level case study that sets the context. I make sure the topic is relevant to our business and their potential role. I also make sure all the content needed to build their case can be readily found online.
Seeing how the candidates prepare for the task, how poised and confident they are during the exercise, and how they handle themselves after being asked tough questions from the audience speaks volumes about their potential and how quickly they would ramp up in our business.
I am constantly surprised (yet thankful) to see candidates who had been otherwise stellar until this point completely blow the audition step (which saved me much grief down the road).
2. Coach them through your corporate pitch.
When I interview candidates, coachability is one of the most important attributes I look for. Coachability speaks to the candidate’s ability to listen (super-important for sales reps), adapt, and externalize knowledge quickly!
To test for this attribute, I use a simple technique. I ask the candidate to imagine that they just got out of the interview with me and a friend calls and says, “Hey, I heard you just had an interview with [company name]...what do they do?” I then ask how they would respond. The candidate will usually try to stumble through your corporate pitch, with some doing a better job than others.
After they’re finished, I thank them and casually say, “That wasn’t bad...let me tell you how I give the pitch." I then proceed to deliver a well-practiced 30-second pitch and ask the candidate if my narrative made sense. After the innevitable smiling, nodding, and agreement, I ask the candidate to try again; “OK, so imagine the same friend calls and asks you what [company name] does...what would you say now?”
Mark my words: you will be able to immediately tell whether or not the candidate was listening and how skilled they are at being coached and synthesizing newly acquired knowledge!
3. Get stuck at the airport.
One of the most important aspects to consider when hiring a candidate is cultural fit. Can you see this person being “one of you”? The reality is, most of us spend more time with the people we work with than we do with our actual families, making the prospect of a working relationship with this candidate kind of like a short-term marriage. That means that in addition to a candidate being able to deliver the professional goods, you need to generally "like" being around them. Can you see yourself working with this person? What about the other people on your team?
In addition to having multiple team members meet the candidate, a great litmus test is asking yourself this question: How would you feel if you were stuck for 10 hours with this person at Chicago O'Hare, in the middle of a snowstorm?
If most of the interviewers are cool with this prospect, you may have a good cultural fit.
4. "Put a gun to your head."
After spending time with a candidate and having your colleagues do the same, you'll likely circle back as a group to discuss your thoughts. This is where the typical interview process can sometimes break down and make it difficult for the hiring manager to make a decision.
"Well, I don't know...they have a lot of experience in [A,B, &C ] and I like the fact that they did [X, Y, & Z] really well, but one thing that still bothers me is....yada yada yada..."
Want to know how to decide? Get everyone who interviewed the candidate together and first ask them this:
"Gun to your head...no explanations! I only want to hear 'yes' or 'no.' Would you hire this person?"
If they're a salesperson, would you trust your top prospect to them? Yes or no.
If they're a developer, would you trust your biggest project to them? Yes or no.
You'd be amazed at the ease with which you can reconcile complex thoughts when you have a virtual gun pointed at your head and you are forced to give a binary answer! Explanations can then follow but by then everyone's gut (and most likely correct) reaction has been surfaced.
Professional and educational experience is important when considering a candidate, but they don't always give you the complete picture. Follow these three techniques and I guarantee by the end of the interview process you'll be much more confident in the decision you make!