10 Awesome Interview Questions to Really Get to Know Job Candidates

Question MarksThe last few weeks I’ve been focused on hiring a new team member. Although time-consuming and laborious, it’s one of the most important things I do and is one responsibility a leader can’t delegate.

I have two main goals when conducting an interview: 1) Assess the candidate’s skills and abilities to do the job, and 2) gauge the candidate’s personality, attitude, values, and beliefs to determine if she will be a culture fit. (And not necessarily in that priority order. I would rather hire someone who is a good culture fit that has the aptitude to learn the job, than hire someone with great technical skills who is a bad culture fit. The culture will chew them up and spit them out every time, meanwhile, your life will be miserable managing the person and the fallout created.)

I try to accomplish the first goal through behavioral interviewing. Over the years, my leadership team and I have honed in on a list of behavioral interview statements/questions that align with the key competencies of the position for which we’re hiring. We look for specific accomplishments from the candidate that demonstrate she has the relevant transferable skills that will likely make her a success on our team.

For the second goal—to determine if the candidate will be a culture fit—I ask questions designed to get below the surface. I want to move beyond the standard, interview response clichés, and get to know the candidate on a more personal level. I want to learn about her motivators, demotivators, personality, and instinctive responses to the highs and lows of the job. In order to do that, we’ve come up with some slightly off-beat questions. Granted, you can only learn so much about a person in an interview, but we’ve found these questions to be pretty insightful. Feel free to use them at your own risk!

  1. Tell me your story. This is probably the most generic of the questions we ask, but it’s helpful to get to know the candidate on a personal level. Asking the question in this way leaves the candidate wide latitude in what she shares, which I find telling in regards to her level of vulnerability. Does she talk about her family or just herself? Does she include any personal information or does she keep it focused on her career?
  2. Let’s play a word association game! This is actually multiple questions wrapped up in one. We have chosen several key words that relate to different aspects of our culture, organization, and the job itself. We ask the candidate to share her first response upon hearing the key word, and then we ask her to expand on her answer. The rapid fire nature of this question and answer exchange helps us assess the candidate’s instinctive response and thoughts to the word/situation at hand.
  3. What is the biggest misconception people have about you? This question is designed to probe the candidate’s level of self-awareness and her willingness to be honest and vulnerable. The first impression we have of someone can often be a misconception, and I’m interested in knowing if the candidate has enough self-awareness to understand and manage the way she is perceived by others.
  4. What do you not want to be doing in five years? Rather than asking the standard “What are your goals over the next five years?” question, we flip it around and ask what the candidate doesn’t want to be doing. It gives insight into the type of work or environment that will be demotivating to the individual.
  5. What are three words your coworkers would use to describe you? Whether we realize it or not, each of us has a brand image at work. I’m interested in knowing if the candidate is aware of her brand image, as perceived by others, and if it’s a positive one.
  6. What are your biggest pet peeves at work? It’s amazing how revealing people will be when you ask this question. Their eyes will light up and they’ll rattle off several things that get under their skin. If those irritants are common in your workplace, you’ve just received a heads-up that this particular candidate may experience extreme frustration in the job.
  7. Who are your biggest role models in life? This question gives me insight into the candidate’s upbringing and values system. Does the candidate have positive role models? Does she credit other people with helping her along the way or is she self-focused? This question can open many doors of conversation in the interview that allow you to learn more about the candidate.
  8. Why should we not hire you? I want to see if the candidate has a realistic view of their skills and abilities in relation to the job requirements. Seldom is there a perfect job candidate and I want to see if she is authentic enough to admit she still has some areas of growth.
  9. What would your biggest critic say about you? We’ve all received negative feedback from time to time. This question probes the candidate’s level of self-awareness to see if she is vulnerable and authentic enough to admit it and to help me understand how she has dealt with it.
  10. What is your biggest regret? If you couldn’t tell already, I’m really interested in getting to know the candidate deeper than surface level niceties. A genuine, heartfelt response to this question often tells me more about the candidate’s character and maturity than any other question we ask.

There you go, ten awesome interview questions to help you really get to know your job candidates. Feel free to leave a comment and share your own awesome interview questions.

Posted in Authenticity, EQ, Interviewing, Leadership, Performance Management, Personality | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

4 Reasons Leaders Should Stop the Foolish Pursuit of Happiness at Work

HappyTo borrow from Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy:” It might seem crazy what I’m about to say

But I really don’t care if you’re happy at work. In fact, I think all the hype about happiness at work is a bit misguided. Now, before you blow up my Twitter feed with negative feedback or blast me in the comments section of this article, let me explain.

I’m all in favor of being happy. Personally, I much prefer happiness over sadness. If I have a choice, I’ll take happy every day of the week and twice on Sunday. When it comes to work, I’ll take happy there, too. I’d much rather work with happy people than mean people, and I know I’m more productive, creative, and a better teammate at work when I’m happy.

But here’s the deal…On the surface, all the talk about happiness sounds great. But If you aren’t careful and discerning about what you hear in the media and popular culture, you’d think that happiness of employees should be the primary goal of every leader and organization. I don’t buy it and here’s why:

1. Happiness is a fleeting emotion largely dependent on external circumstances – Defining happiness can easily lead to a battle of semantics, but a common, basic definition of “happy” is: delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing (e.g., to be happy to see a person). I’m happy when I come home from work and my kids have straightened up the house or loaded the dishes into the dishwasher. When it doesn’t happen (which is often), I’m not happy. Does that mean I love my kids any less? No. Is my life less fulfilled because I’m not happy? No. Happiness comes and goes, so it’s not something I want to build my life around. Happiness is too dependent on circumstances beyond my control for me to make it my goal. However, I can control how I respond to the circumstances of my life and I can choose to have a positive attitude. There are many times when work and life deal us a crummy hand. We have to work overtime, business travel takes us away from important family events, or we make a mistake and get reamed out by the boss; none of those things make us happy. But if we have the right attitude and perspective on work and life, we can put those situations in their proper place and learn and grow from the experience.

2. Happiness should be a pleasant outcome of good leadership and organizational culture, not the goal – My job as a leader is not to make you happy. If that was the case, then I’d serve ice cream every afternoon and cater to your every need. No, my job is to help you develop to your fullest potential while accomplishing the goals of our team and organization. If I’m smart, I will lead in a way that builds your commitment to the organization and fosters engagement in your work. I’ll also strive to create a culture that supports your health and well-being and makes your work enjoyable. Oh, and by the way, if you’re happy as a result, then great! Your happiness is not my goal, but you’re free to make it your own.

It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness. ~ Viktor Frankl

3. Happiness is negatively correlated with meaning – It didn’t take scientific research studies for Viktor Frankl to understand a fundamental truth: pursuing happiness as your primary goal is like a dog chasing its tail. Studies have shown that people who place more importance on being happy end up becoming more depressed and unhappy. Rather than happiness, we need to pursue meaning and purpose. Sadly, according to one study by the Centers for Disease Control, 40% of Americans either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose.The same study also reported that nearly 25% of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Having purpose and meaning in life and at work increases overall well-being and satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency and self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. As a leader, your efforts at helping employees understand and connect to the purpose and meaning of their work will reap more benefit than striving to make them happy.

4. Happiness is self-focused; true fulfillment in life (and work) comes from being others-focused – At its core, happiness is a pretty selfish motive when you think about it. Psychologists explain it as drive reduction. We have a need or drive, like hunger, and we seek to satisfy it. When we get what we want to meet the need, we’re happy. However, lasting success and fulfillment in life comes from what you give, not what you get. The greatest example of this is Jesus and his demonstration of servant leadership. This ancient truth is echoed in contemporary research by Adam Grant, the youngest tenured and highest rated professor at The Wharton School. In his book Give and Take, Grant identifies three ways people tend to operate in their relationships: as givers, takers, or matchers. Not surprisingly, although givers may get burned occasionally, they experience higher levels of fulfillment, well-being, and success in life compared to takers or matchers. I’ve experienced it in my own life and seen it in the lives of others. Those who chase happiness as their primary goal tend to be the most selfish and unhappy people I know. Those who give to others tend to be the most fulfilled, joyful, and happy people I’ve seen.

Happiness is a great thing. As I said, I much prefer it to the alternatives. But when happiness at work becomes such a primary focus that organizations start having CHO’s – Chief Happiness Officers – you know happiness has jumped the shark. Happiness at work is a byproduct of doing a good job in all the other fundamental areas of leadership, but it’s misguided to make it our ultimate aim.

Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts, opinions, or questions.

P.S. I originally published this article last week at LeaderChat.org under a different title. I thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

Posted in Culture, Engagement, Happiness, Leadership, Morale, Talent Management | Tagged , , , , | 29 Comments

3 Key Areas for Leaders to Check Their Egos

EgotisticalDon’t kid yourself…you’ve got an ego and sometimes it gets out of control. You may not act like a pompous jerk in public, but you have undoubtedly experienced moments where self-righteous, egotistical thoughts run through your mind and you act in ways inconsistent with your normal behavior. Maybe your ego raged out of control when you felt the need to impress someone or maybe to protect yourself in response to a perceived slight. Regardless of the cause, if you’re not careful to keep your ego in check, it will erode trust in your relationships and be the downfall of your leadership.

One of the four key elements of establishing trust in a relationship is being “believable,” which means acting with integrity. In polls and surveys I’ve conducted with hundreds of people, this one element is often cited as the most important element in building trust. It’s also the element of trust that takes the biggest hit if your ego is left unchecked. An out of control ego signals to other people that you believe you’re more important than them, place your interests ahead of theirs, and that others can’t be vulnerable with you without fear of being taken advantage of.

There are three key areas leaders can focus on to keep their ego in check, increase their “believability” with others, and build trust.

  • Honesty — The basics apply here: don’t lie, cheat, or steal. But being honest also means not stretching the truth, telling half-truths, omitting facts out of convenience, or failing to speak the truth when needed.
  • Values — Do you know what your core values are? What motivates you as a leader? When faced with a difficult choice, what are the values you use to filter your decision? Developing and articulating your values, and asking others to hold you accountable to living out those behaviors, will help keep your ego in check and allow others to gain confidence in the consistency of your behavior.
  • Fair Process — Do you treat people fairly? Egotistical leaders love to play favorites. Trustworthy leaders treat people ethically and equitably. Being fair doesn’t mean treating people the same across the board, no matter the circumstances. It means treating people fairly according to their specific situation and upholding consistent principles and ideals with your entire staff.

A believable leader is someone who acts with integrity and is a role model for the company’s values. We commonly describe believable leaders as credible, honest, and ethical. When someone is believable, he or she tells the truth, holds confidences, is honest about his or her skills, and gives credit when credit is due. Notice that egotistical doesn’t appear anywhere in that description. Egotistical leaders “bust” trust, whereas as believable leaders “boost” trust, and by focusing on developing honesty, values alignment, and acting fairly, leaders can keep their ego in check and build trust in the process.

Posted in Ego, Leadership, Trust | 7 Comments

The One Responsibility a Leader Can’t Delegate

Help Wanted SignSixty resumes submitted and counting. A half-dozen interviews scheduled and more in the pipeline. Key team members prepared to have hour upon hour devoured in interviews, presentations, and meetings. The thought of having several weeks consumed by the process of hiring a new team member causes many leaders to delegate the responsibility to someone else…anyone else…just so long as their lives aren’t sucked into the black hole of endless interviews.

Hiring new team members is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader and is one that cannot be delegated. You can’t leave it to the personnel manager, HR, or a head hunter. They can help in the process, but it’s up to the leader to be intimately involved in the recruitment, interviews, and selection process.

I believe there are at least three key reasons why leaders shouldn’t delegate this responsibility:

1. People are your number 1 strategic advantage – The one thing that differentiates you from your competition is your people. The success of your organization rises and falls with the talent of your people, and as the leader, you need to call the shots about who is and isn’t on your team. There is a reason why the coaches of professional sports teams are increasingly wanting control over personnel decisions. If they are going to be held accountable for the performance of their team on the field or court, they want control over selecting the players. You should feel the same way.

2. Team chemistry can make or break your success – You know better than anyone else the mix of skills and personalities you need on the team. . Your job is to always raise the capabilities and performance of your team, and in order to do that, you need to be intimately involved in the hiring process. I view the hiring process as similar to the recruitment efforts of a college sports team. You want to stockpile as much talent as possible to not only replace the outgoing players, but to create a level of healthy internal competition that requires everyone to raise the level of their game. You can’t do that by outsourcing the hiring process or decision.

3. The amount of risk and investment demands it – With no disrespect to Human Resources, Personnel, or anyone else involved in the recruitment process, you will be the one stuck with a bad hiring decision, not them. The cost to replace a bad hire can range from 1.5 to 3 times the salary of the position and that is a level of responsibility that requires the leader make the decision. Should a new hire not work out, the termination process can be a lengthy and arduous process that’s even more grueling and taxing than the hiring process. The risk-reward ratio is too high for the leader to delegate the hiring responsibility to someone else.

Bringing new people on your team is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader. You will win or lose with the talent on your team and selecting new team members is not a responsibility you can, or should, delegate to someone else.

What do you think? Should a leader ever delegate the hiring decision to someone else? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Posted in Delegation, Leadership, Talent Management | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

3 Leadership Lessons from LeBron James’ Return to Cleveland

LeBron James

Over the last few weeks, fans of the NBA, and sports fans in general, have been eagerly awaiting the news of where LeBron James will be playing basketball next season. He chose to opt-out of his contract with the Miami Heat at the conclusion of this past season, and speculation has run rampant about whether he would stay in Miami or return to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he began his career 11 years ago, drafted #1 into the NBA as a 19 year-old kid just out of high school. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, you know the decision: LeBron is going home to Cleveland.

James’ decision to return to Cleveland, presumably where he will finish his career, presents some interesting leadership lessons:

1. Move from success to significance – LeBron James left Cleveland 4 years ago in pursuit of success and he found it in Miami, winning 2 NBA titles and 2 league MVP’s. Despite that success, something was missing: significance. In his book, Halftime: Moving From Success to Significance, Bob Buford says at some point in life (often around middle age) you will have to transition from the struggle for success to the quest for significance. We spend the first half of our life striving to earn more money, get a better title, or gain more possessions. Despite our success, we begin to question the lasting value of our accomplishments and our desires turn toward wanting to leave a lasting legacy. James recognizes this is his opportunity for significance. It’s his chance to influence other players, the city, and the state. James said, “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.” The transition from success to significance also involves the identification of what brings you true joy and happiness. James said it simply about why he is returning to Cleveland: “This is what makes me happy.”

2. Serve others and something greater than yourself – Part of moving from leadership success to significance is realizing leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you influence. LeBron James has grown to realize this truth. He said, “I know that I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.” Leadership is more than a job; it’s a calling. It’s a sacred opportunity to help other people grow into their full potential and achieve more than they could on their own. James said, “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.”

3. Leadership wisdom involves learning the lessons of past experiences – When LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland four years ago, he made the announcement in an over-hyped ESPN television special called “The Decision.” He announced that he was “taking his talents” to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat. People in Cleveland burned his jersey in effigy, called him a traitor (and much worse), and the owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, wrote a scathing letter to the public where he described James as “narcissistic” and his decision to leave a “cowardly betrayal.” James has learned from his experiences and grown as a person and a leader. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently,” he said. “These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. Without the experiences I had there (Miami), I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.” LeBron has also learned that leadership wisdom involves recognizing the mistakes you make and working to repair them. Regarding his relationship with Gilbert he said, “I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”

LeBron James entered the NBA with ridiculously high expectations, as evidenced by the moniker assigned him: The Chosen One. Being born in Akron, OH, he was Cleveland’s native son, the savior of the franchise, and heir-apparent to Michael Jordan as the world’s greatest basketball player. In spite of the unreal expectations placed on him and the inevitable bumps in the road he’s experienced, James has seemed to grow into a more self-assured leader who has gained clarity on his purpose on and off the court. That’s a worthy goal for leaders everywhere.

Posted in Leadership, Sports, Success | Tagged , , | 3 Comments