September 24, 2011

Become a Mystic Interviewer

Learning to hire great people is a little like learning to become a mystical fortune teller.

Why?  Because, like a fortune teller, you have to see into the future based only on a few short meetings.

Will this candidate be dedicated?  Passionate?  Have ideas?  Be a source of energy for the team?  Will she delight customers?   You need to predict all this and more.

Sometimes I wish I had mystic powers that would tell me how a candidate will work out on our team.  Unfortunately, I don’t.

But I *do* have a few tricks that allow me to peer into the future just like a mystic.

If you’re like me, you’re looking for people who are ambitious, who want to climb higher, who have positive energy and want to grow and learn and achieve.

One of the best ways to probe into a candidate’s mind for these qualities is to ask the question “What is the primary reason are you are looking for a new job?”  Asked properly, with good follow-up, this question will tell you everything you need to know about the candidate’s motivation and ambition.

I’ll give you an example of a bad answer first: “I want a job that is closer to my house.”

What does this answer tell you?  It tells me that the candidate is primarily focused on comfort and convenience.

She may be smart.  She may have great experience.  She may have stellar references.  But I’ve learned the hard way that none of those positive qualities matter if she’s more focused on comfort than she is on her career.  An ambitious person might want a shorter commute, sure, but all things considered she would prioritize advancement or learning or salary over commute time.

Other bad answers that signal a desire for comfort over achievement are “I want to work fewer hours” or “I want more flexibility in work time.”  These are deal breakers for me.  When I hear them the interview is over.

Another type of bad answer is that which shows the person is negative.  “I don’t get along with my boss” or “The company is unfair to me.”  While this may be true, answering in this way shows that the person is focused on getting AWAY from somewhere as opposed to getting TO somewhere.  Believe me, you want people who are moving TO something and not AWAY from something.  Negative people tend to remain negative regardless of their environment.

Great answers include things like “I’m ready to grow and do more” or “I’ve heard about the training people get at your company and I’m excited to learn” or even “I want to make more money.”  If you hear any of these answers it’s a great sign that this person is positive, ambitious and motivated.  Dig and ask follow-up questions to get a clearer picture and check if they’re speaking from the heart or just spouting a line.

Practice your “Mystic Interviewing” skills by asking this question the next time you interview someone.  Probe deeper and ask follow-up questions.   You will be amazed at how well your new powers enable you to peer into the future.