Leading with Trust

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.

“Situational Crying” – An Effective Way to Build Trust?

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, made news recently when she admitted to crying at work during a speech at Harvard Business School. Sandberg said,

I’ve cried at work.  I’ve told people I’ve cried at work. And it’s been reported in the press that ‘Sheryl Sandberg cried on Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulder’, which is not exactly what happened. I talk about my hopes and fears and ask people about theirs.  I try to be myself – honest about my strengths and weaknesses – and I encourage others to do the same. It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.

My colleague, Maria Capelli, sent me and several other colleagues a link to this article which prompted an interesting email discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of showing emotion in the workplace, especially from a leadership perspective.

Maria said that “Being vulnerable, not only as a leader but as a fellow co-worker, can help build trust.  Being real/authentic can help build credibility.  I am not saying we should all start crying at work – it’s situational. As long as it’s not disruptive or frequent, I think it’s perfectly healthy.  And besides, suppression of our emotions for long periods of time cannot be healthy for the mind, body and soul.”

Our colleague, Susan Fowler, co-author of our Situational Self Leadership training program and our soon-to-be-released program, Optimal Motivation, mentioned that the real “F” word in corporate America is “feelings,” and the interesting paradox leaders are faced with when regulating their emotions: Is not crying when you want to a form of self-regulation, or is crying and owning your emotion a form of self-regulated courage to be honest in the workplace?

I agree that a critical part of building trust is being vulnerable and authentic, and sometimes that involves showing emotion in the workplace, within reason of course. I think Susan brings up an interesting connection between self-regulation, managing emotions, and being emotionally intelligent. My experience is that people who are emotionally intelligent and good at self-regulation have the ability to express the appropriate emotions at the appropriate time. Those who are challenged in those areas seem to be the ones that go overboard which leads to being known as emotionally unstable and unpredictable. Being reliably consistent and predictable in your behavior is a key component of developing trust with others.

Emotional intelligence is a critical success factor for succeeding in today’s business world. A recent survey by CareerBuilder showed that hiring managers are increasingly looking for candidates with high EQ’s because they are more likely to stay calm under pressure, handle stress better, and approach workplace relationships and conflict with greater maturity and sense of perspective.

There’s no doubt that showing the proper amount of emotion, in the right place at the right time, can be a key to building trust. The key is for leaders to develop the emotional intelligence and maturity to properly discern when the timing is right and when it’s wrong. As my colleague Maria said, “it’s situational.”

Leadership Zombie Apocalypse! Four Signs You May Be Infected

Organizations around the world are reporting their leaders are turning into zombies at an alarming rate. Formerly healthy, productive, and capable leaders are falling victim to the Zombie Plague, the deadly disease that has spread uncontrollably during the global economic recession the past three years.

Leadership development experts recommend that leaders be on alert for the symptoms listed below. If any of these are present in your current leadership practices, please consult a professional immediately.

1. You’re running on autopilot – Zombie’s are empty vessels with no willpower or mind of their own. They wander about aimlessly with no clear purpose other than to satisfy their basic needs for survival (mainly terrorizing and eating humans!). Zombie leaders have become complacent and stopped investing in their own growth and learning. They do the minimum amount of work required to keep the ship afloat and they’ve stopped pushing the boundaries to innovate and adapt to new realities in the marketplace. If you’re content with doing the same ‘ol, same ‘ol, you might be infected. Get it checked out.

2. You’re a doomsdayist – Healthy leaders are purveyors of hope and positive energy. They cast a compelling vision of the future that inspires their followers to commit to the goal, team, or organization. Zombie leaders tend to have a sense of doom and failure. They waste their energy focusing on all the reasons why something can’t be done rather than working to find new solutions. They’re often heard saying “Why change? That’s the way we’ve always done things around here.”

3. Your relationships are strained and difficult – Zombie leaders tend to have a low EQ (emotional quotient) that makes them ill-prepared to develop strong interpersonal relationships. They fail to build rapport with their followers, don’t collaborate well with colleagues, and have a low self-awareness about how they “show up” with other people. In fact, zombie leaders reading this right now probably fail to identify with any of these qualities and instead are muttering to themselves “I wish my boss was reading this article.”

4. You’re in a “trust-deficit” – Leaders infected with the zombie virus are notorious for breaking trust with their followers. Failing to follow through on commitments, taking credit for other people’s work, not “walking the talk,” and withholding recognition and praise from others are all ways that zombies erode trust. The low-trust relationships that zombie leaders have with their followers results in reduced productivity, gossiping, questioning of decisions, and low levels of employee morale and engagement.

Various remedies are available to prevent leaders from contracting the Zombie Plague or to treat those already infected. The therapy plan extends over the course of a leader’s lifetime and requires constant diligence to ensure the disease stays in remission. Treatments include ongoing learning and self-improvement, building trust in relationships, and adopting a servant-leader philosophy.

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