Saturday, November 06, 2010

Roadmap to Interviewing A Candidate

With unemployment at over 10%, the candidate pool is rich. More than ever though, it's crucial to higher well and far too often managers fail to filter for awesome candidates. For my direct hires, I am looking for a great fit. I want to be surround with people who are better than myself in at least some capacities; it's almost always good thing; the converse is almost always true too. "A" players higher "A" players, B players higher the rest. Don't risk highering weak-links, it may kill it for you and your department.
I liken an interview to being in the pilot seat with the candidate as a co-pilot. I want to learn who they are, test them, learn their weaknesses, how well they know themselves; I'm hoping that they succeed with little effort on my part and in the end I'll determine if they're ready to command on their own. Interviews should be conducted with your own documented flight plan with notes along the way on how well it was fulfilled.

Here is my typical process:
Intro (me)

Tell them that it's an open dialog, they can ask questions at any time; followed by "start by tell me about yourself"

Let them provide any banter dialog; most interested in people who have something meaningful vs. just the typical rhetoric. If they ask what I want to hear, I re-assure them that they can take it in any direction they want.

Rapid Fire
Ask a few quick questions that should be 10-60 seconds per answer. I'll ask them to identify tools the use, places they've been to and websites visited, what ISP and type of internet connection they have. In any position I hire for these days, if someone can't name off at least 5 websites they travel to on a regular basis, I'm not interested in them.

Recent Details
Let them tout their most recent success. I don't want a track record story, but details on something specific. If one case isn't good enough for me, I'll ask them to go back to a prior experience. Hint: If I have to go all the way back, it's probably not a good thing.

Specific Questions
Ensure competency in their role. You should have a few of these prepared before starting. It is best if this covers a written test so that you can see their non-verbal abilities.

Impossible Question
No exact answer, looking to hear thinking. To engineers I've asked things like "how many planes are there in the sky on a normal day", "how far away is the sun", "how much carbon did you've produce into environment the last year". The point isn't to get the answer, but see if they can even consider a way to closely estimate it with their own abilities.

Identifying out-of-the-box creativity, things like:
  "How would you design a kitchen cabinets for the handicapped".
Most people tend to think of handicapped people in wheelchairs; bonus points if they think about multiple use-cases, like using braille labels for blind people.

  "What type of fruits grow on palm trees".

I especially like to push buttons to get them off of easy one-work answers like "coconuts" but telling them that a coconut isn't really a fruit, but a nut (which is actually false), just to see their reaction.

This is a good time to ask if they do anything interesting offline; or focus on meaningful extra-curricular activities on their resume, I'll ask about their habits/hobbies; boring people make for a company that doesn't mature.

At some point in the interview I contrast something they seemed certain about and see how easy they shake from their ground. Non-assertive people can allow bad decisions to become disasters.

This is the last check on gauging compatibility. Depending on the position and who else is interviewing I may need to ask other details; for example about compensation alignment. I also quickly go over their resume for anything interesting and personal interests. If I can't see myself being a friendly with the person, it's a problem.

Sell Company
Even if I already know someone isn't a fit, I let them know about our company, mission, history and culture. This can go well beyond the person through referrals and good will.

  • Scored Notes - Keep notes during the interview on how each of the plan topics was handled. Use a numeric score or Yes/No indicator so you have an objective way to remember it. I tend to grade on a curve; the more significant a position, the more shrewd my evaluation.
  • Decision - immediately after the interview I should make my decision; even if it's not a strong feeling. I'll keep to that initial vote when meeting with the other decision makers.
  • Friendly - If the candidate was referred, I almost never bring it up as it only tends to distract the process. If I am interested, I'll talk about it at the end of the interview so it doesn't bias me. The relationship was to get this interview, not the job and any thoughts about being a "shoe-in" are exactly the opposite in my book.
  • Distracted - if the person can't hold attention or look straight at me, I ask if they need something.
  • Resume - (a whole topic could be dedicated to this)
First off, a candidate must bring it. Even though I already have a copy of it, I ask the candidate just to see if they prepared me another copy. A digital copy or just a single copy provided to HR is not adequate; not having it in my hands upon demand is unprofessional and ill-prepared.
I tend to not focus on the resume but may use it for reference. I scan it for formatting errors and ask if they know about them. If you can't use a Word Processor you're probably not fit for most jobs I'm hiring for. The size and content of a resume isn't that important during the interview (though it got the candidate this far). I may ask look for a small detail to see if it has any substance; for example being in the Chess Club in high school is great; but if all you did was play a game or two; please don't waste the ink.
  • Huh? If at any point during the interview they lose my understanding by using insider lingo or acronyms, I ask them to start over and explain it in terms my aunt Vicky could understand.
  • Compensation - If the candidate brought it up great - I always turn the question back to the candidate by asking what they would expect or what is their current comp level; if pressed I give the low figure for the range to a double-digit percentage above that (this tests their math skills); but if they didn't bring compensation up (and if I need to), I'll ask "I want to ensure we have an alignment; what is your expect or history of compensation?"
  • Baggage - if there is any negativity during the interview, it's almost certainly a decision not to hire. Examples: "I've not been able to do XYZ because my {fill in the blank: car, ex-wife, child}", "my last company was really screwed up", "my boss was a monster", "the department didn't know what they we're doing". This is showing multiple problematic signals including their inability to help contribute to solutions and a desire to promote negative information. People tend to repeat behaviors and I don't want to help in creating the next chapter in that novel.

Good luck on surrounding yourself with the right people on the next leg of your journey.