It’s time to get People Wise!

Posted by: Eric L. Herzog, Ph.D.,

How HR professionals ferret out clues to the “clueless”

Good interviewing is not an accident. It is a well-planned process that uncovers the skills and characteristics needed to fit in and help make your organization run smoothly and successfully.

Even if you have just 100 employees, here is evidence of how reviewing and refining your interviewing practices can be critical to your growth … and bottom line.

For example: With 100 employees, if you have 20% employee turnover, and you consider 10 candidates per position, you will have 200 applicants to consider in a year. And if just 3 people interview each applicant, that’s 600 interview/contacts. 600 chances to make a wrong decision. And 600 opportunities to weed out the clueless and hire the stars of tomorrow.

And thousands of dollars just in staff time spent on the task.

Then, if you take into account the costs of training, salary and benefits for each new hire, and repeating the process if they are not the right person for the position, you can easily see it’s well worth an investment in planning and standardizing your interviewing and hiring process.

Here are a few insights into how to get the most out of the time spent interviewing. And how to get the best individual for each position you must fill.

Use Behavior-Based Interviewing to Hire Right the First Time

The key to successful job interviewing is to be “strategic,” which means:

  • Plan ahead.
  • Ask the right questions.

Stay focused on the critical competencies required for the job in order to assess whether there is a good “organizational fit.”

Successful job interviewers plan ahead and develop specific questions to find out how an applicant handled work situations in the past. Past job behaviors are a good predictor of how an applicant will handle future job responsibilities. Behavior-Based questions are at the core of effective interviews.

Ask Behavior-Based Questions

Behavior-Based questions are:

  • Open-ended – encourage the applicant to provide meaningful information rather than a simple one or two-word answer.
  • Specific – focus on the applicant’s prior job experiences as they relate to the essential competencies required for the job.

In addition to having the required competencies, a seasoned interviewer looks for personal strengths such as enthusiasm, creativity, and being a team player. If the answers to your questions are insightful, thorough, animated, and innovative … you have a possible star.

“The best questions,” according to Jane Herzog of Quest Consulting & Training Corporation, “are those which require one or more sentences, not just a few words to answer. What steps would you take to….’ or give me an example of…’ are ideal lead-ins for getting your applicant talking about a subject in which they should be well versed in and, hopefully, enthusiastic.”

She also advises: “don’t hesitate to leave some silence after you ask a question. Let the interviewee have time to think about the answer. And make it clear you’d prefer an in-depth answer over brevity.”

If the answer is inadequate, probe further. Saying “tell me more about …” is a good way to bring out the candidate’s background and find evidence the applicant is right for the job. If the person cannot fill in more detail, it may be an indicator that he or she probably does not have the experience or expertise you want in that area.

Look for Results and Accountability

Asking individuals to assess their own performance can give you great insights into their skills and abilities. Past results can indicate what to expect in the future. Here are examples:

  • What business accomplishment is your greatest source of pride?
  • How do you measure the success of your work?
  • Describe a situation in which you have exceeded expectations or standards for your work.
  • Describe a time when you have had to make a quick decision. What was the result?
  • Tell me about a situation where you made a poor decision. How did you respond?

Each of these is what some call a “leading question.” There is not necessarily a “right” answer. There is a wealth of evidence you can derive from these answers. And pick up more clues about how this individual will fit into this position, in your organization.

Look for Characteristics to Match the Position

In many cases, you can teach a new hire the specifics of how your company does business. However, certain characteristic must already be there for the individual to be right for the job. For instance, the ideal candidate for a Customer Service position will need to be “people oriented.” The interview must be designed to uncover this information.

While most managers who deal directly with customers can recognize an applicant with “people skills,” it is more difficult to find employees who can apply their abilities to the tough situations. How do they handle times when the customer doesn’t react according to any plan or training course? The real test of any customer service employee is when confronted with a customer who is dissatisfied … irritated … needing additional attention. And skill.

Here are some situations where those open-ended questions we like to ask candidates will aid you in discovering what skills they can apply to building customer confidence and loyalty.

First, says Jane Herzog, you ask what they’ve learned about keeping customers satisfied. “It’s always revealing to ask them to describe a situation when they had to listen carefully to a complaint, then ask questions and respond. Then, ask what was the result.”

A favorite, according to Jane, is to challenge: “tell me about a busy time when you were juggling several priorities and received an urgent complaint from a customer. How did you handle it?” Most applicants experienced and skilled in customer service will have one or more incidents to relate and will have enjoyed the satisfaction of working out the problem.

Again, you can see how open-ended questions will give you valuable insights and lead you to better decisions about job applicants.

In future issues we will discuss the legal issues in which every person who interviews any applicant must be well versed.

Meanwhile, remember to:

  • Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with only a few words.
  • Look for innovation, accountability, ownership and results.
  • Only hire people-loving people for customer-coddling jobs.
  • Rely on behavior-based probing … and listening … to find the right person for the right job.

You can call on us as a resource for standardizing your interviewing practices, teaching interviewing skills, finding high-performance employees, strategic interviewing, legal issues when hiring, leadership development and more.

Eric L. Herzog, Ph.D.
Eric L. Herzog, Ph.D.,

Dr. Herzog has 20+ years experience as a consultant and educator in structural and operational change, strategic planning, team building, productivity and executive development.