Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Interview Tips

Over the past 30+ years as a recruiter, I can confirm that at least two-thirds of my hiring manager clients weren’t very good at interviewing. Yet, over 90% thought they were. To overcome this situation, it was critical that I became a better interviewer than them, to prove with evidence that the candidate was competent and motivated to do the work required. This led me on a quest for the single best interview question that would allow me to overcome any incorrect assessment with actual evidence.
It took about 10 years of trial and error. Then I finally hit upon one question that did it all.
Here’s it is:
What single project or task would you consider the most significant accomplishment in your career so far?
To see why this simple question is so powerful, imagine you’re the candidate and I’ve just asked you this question. What accomplishment would you select? Then imagine over the course of the next 15-20 minutes I dug deeper and asked you about the following. How would you respond?
·         Can you give me a detailed overview of the accomplishment?
·         Tell me about the company, your title, your position, your role, and the team involved.
·         What were the actual results achieved?
·         When did it take place and how long did the project take.
·         Why you were chosen?
·         What were the 3-4 biggest challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?
·         Where did you go the extra mile or take the initiative?
·         Walk me through the plan, how you managed to it, and if it was successful.
·         Describe the environment and resources.
·         Describe your manager’s style and whether you liked it or not.
·         Describe the technical skills needed to accomplish the objective and how they were used.
·         Some of the biggest mistakes you made.
·         Aspects of the project you truly enjoyed.
·         Aspects you didn’t especially care about and how you handled them.
·         How you managed and influenced others, with lots of examples.
·         How you were managed, coached, and influenced by others, with lots of examples.
·         How you changed and grew as a person.
·         What you would do differently if you could do it again.
·         What type of formal recognition did you receive?
If the accomplishment was comparable to a real job requirement, and if the answer was detailed enough to take 15-20 minutes to complete, consider how much an interviewer would know about your ability to handle the job. The insight gained from this type of question would be remarkable. But the real issue is not the question, this is just a setup. The details underlying the accomplishment are what's most important. This is what real interviewing is about – getting into the details and comparing what the candidate has accomplished in comparison to what needs to be accomplished. Don’t waste time asking a lot of clever questions during the interview, or box checking their skills and experiences: spend time learning to get the answer to just this one question.
As you’ll discover you’ll then have all of the information to prove to other interviewers that their assessments were biased, superficial, emotional, too technical, intuitive or based on whether they liked the candidate or not. Getting the answer to this one question is all it takes.
Warning: do not read this if you plan to apply for a job at the Taproot Foundation.
It is hard to get a good read on a candidate’s degree of self-awareness and to get them to share their honest take on their weaknesses. It took me years to figure out how to get professionals to open up on this topic in a way that didn’t generate canned answers. These are the three questions that finally did the trick (at least most of the time).
1) Did “ACME” (insert most recent employer name) do performance reviews?
That’s great. Not enough employers do them anymore and they are so important to helping staff realize their potential. What did your most recent performance review say were your greatest areas for growth?
That’s too bad. It is hard to grow when you don’t have good coaching on how to develop. If you had done a review, what do you guess would be the 2-3 areas of investment your manager would have called out as important for your growth?
2) Let’s assume we both decide to move forward and you have been on the job for three months. After 90 days one or both of us decide it isn’t going to work. What is the most likely reason this happened?
3) You don’t need to tell me the name, but think of one person you worked with in the last year that always gave you energy. Tell me about them and what is about them that worked so well for you? (answer) Now, on the flip side, who was someone you respected and was good at their job but that you found draining and tried to avoid at work. What was it about them that didn’t work for you?
Try these out in your next set of interviews and let me know how they work for you. Did they get candid responses? Did you walk away with a sense for their level of self-awareness?
Have any better questions you use?

What single project or task would you consider the most significant accomplishment in your career, so far?
So far over 300,000 people attempted to answer the question following the set of follow-up questions provided. It takes about 15 minutes to fully understand the accomplishment. When you try it out, you'll be amazed at how much you've revealed about yourself and your abilities. You'll also discover the answers can't be faked, unless you take a shortcut.
From a practical strandpoint, without knowing what job is being filled, there's really no correct answer to this MIQ. To get part of the correct answer, you need to ask the hiring manager this first: What's the most important project or task this person needs to handle in order to be considered successful?
You need specific details to fully understand the scope of the job, but at least now you can compare the person's biggest accomplishment to this benchmark to determine if the person is too heavy, too light, or a possible fit. Now we're getting close to the correct answer. You can then dig deeper with those who are possible hires by asking the candidate the same MIQ question for 3-4 different accomplishments spaced out over the past 3-10 years. This reveals the person's long term trend line of growth and performance.
Repeating the MIQ is why it's the MIQ of all time.
A full assessment is made by comparing the scope and consistency of these accomplishments to the complete set of performance objectives for the job. As part of this consideration must be given to the hiring manager’s leadership style, the company culture, the local environment, and any unusual job circumstances, like lack of resources, a tight schedule, or some critical technical need.
The objective I had when I started this whole process was to find a practical way to counter hiring managers who made incorrect assessments based on a narrow set of technical requirements, overvaling first impressions, lack of insight regarding real job needs, or those who put too much trust in their gut. It turned out that the tangible evidence gained from the MIQ and the trend line was all that was needed. From this I discovered that "out-facting" a hiring manager was far more effective than bullheadedness.
As many readers commented, the form of the MIQ is a bit different for entry-level and less-experienced candidates. In this case I ask where they went the extra mile or have them describe smaller projects or tasks that they were excited about, received formal recognition for, or about work that made them proud. Talented youngsters have a bunch of things to brag about, so this is a good way to pull this out. As examples, we helped the YMCA hire a 100,000 15-16 year old camp counselors one summer using this question, and worked with a well-known hamburger chain using a similar process. The big benefit: the kids were hired because of their work-ethic and sense of responsibilty, not on their appearance or affability. The same technique works for non-kids, too.
Bottom line: there's more to determining if a candidate is a good fit for a job than the MIQ, but this is a critical part of it. The bigger part is first defining real job requirements in the form of 5-6 critical performance objectives. Collectively, this will help minimize the most common of all hiring mistakes – hiring a great person for the wrong job, or not hiring the right one.
About 95% of the 325,000 people who read “The Most Important Interview Question of All Time” (MIQ) agreed. Here’s why I believe it:
1) As an outside recruiter, I never vote on who should be hired. However, by presenting concrete evidence versus fact-less claims, i.e. "not technically strong enough," or “the person just wouldn’t fit,” I’m in a better position to ensure my candidates are assessed objectively.
2) Asking a series of MIQ-like questions to determine the candidate’s trend of performance over time demonstrates consistency of performance in a variety of situations. This is far superior than asking a bunch of random behavioral interview questions.
3) The candidate’s answers to these MIQs need to be compared to a performance-based job description to accurately assess competency, motivation and fit with the actual job requirements. Without some type of performance benchmark like this, most interviewers default to their built-in biases: technical, intuitive or emotional.
4) Top candidates aren’t interested in lateral transfers and don’t want to work for managers who seem like weak leaders. The MIQ demonstrates that the company has high selection standards and that the hiring manager knows exactly how to hire and develop strong people.
As more interviewers use this style of performance-based interviewing, it’s important that job-seekers become fully prepared. Here’s how:
·         Read the Most Important Interview Question of All Time and answer every follow-up question completely for your most significant career accomplishment. Write these down. Although it will take some time to do this properly, you’ll be more confident during the actual interview.
·         For each of your past jobs summarize your other big accomplishments. Pick 3-4 and describe these in two or three sentences each, include dates, facts, and specific performance details. Use the list of follow-up questions in the MIQ for ideas of what’s important.
·         Based on these accomplishments pull out your big strengths (4-5) and a few weaknesses. Tie each one to a specific accomplishment writing down a few extra details. Use a specific example from one of the accomplishmentrs to demonstrate each strength. For each weakness, describe how you overcame it, and how you’re dealing with it today. Describing weaknesses this way demonstrates that you're a person who can be coached and wants to ibecome better.
·         For practice, have someone ask you to describe each of the major accomplishments. Spend 1-2 minutes providing a good summary of each one. It’s critical that you talk at least one minute, and no longer than three. Short answers are too vague, and long answers are too boring.
·         Practice describing each strength with the example. These should each be about one minute each. The examples are what interviewers remember, not general statements.
·         Don’t try to fake this stuff. Everything must tie together. Writing everything down and practicing it is essential. Don’t take any shortcuts.
·         If the interviewer doesn’t ask you the right questions, ask the person to describe some of the critical challenges involved in the job. Ask for details like those in the sub-questions to the MIQ. Then give your best comparable accomplishment.
For more on how to prepare properly, check out my post on how to Use Solution Selling to Ace the Interview. Caution: doing this as described will not help you get a job you don’t deserve, but it will help you get one you do. Good Luck!

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