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A telling way to interview job candidates

Anybody walks into a job interview with best foot forward and a slew of prepared answers. It’s the manager’s job to sift through what’s often a rehearsed performance and find out what the office will actually get if that person is hired.

Here management consultant Manola Robison, CMC, of Robison Management Consulting in Atlanta gives a novel – and very telling – way to do just that. It’s a matter of passing over all the standard questions and focusing instead on “now tell me what you did in that situation.

First, a questionnaire to fill out

The interview process starts before anybody ever walks through the door, Robison says.

Go through the resumes and pick out the applicants who have the required skills, education, and experience and send them a questionnaire to fill out and mail back in.

Cover just three points. Together, they give a good initial picture of that person.

• Describe a time you were under stress at work. What caused the situation? And what did you do to resolve it?

Take a hard look at how the applicant defines stress. For some people, stress is everything. Suppose someone says a change in office procedures was stressful. Procedure changes happen all the time. That person won’t do well in a busy office.

Also important here is whether the person handled the situation professionally as opposed to “I had a lot of calls at one time so I just put everybody on hold.”

Make sure too that the applicant didn’t just pass the buck. It’s okay to say “I went to my manager,” but before doing that, the person should have taken steps to solve the problem.

• Tell about a time when you went beyond the call of duty.

Again, see how that person defines going beyond the call of duty. If somebody cites an example that shows nothing more than doing a job well, don’t expect stellar performance.

• Tell about a time you had to deal with a difficult patient or customer and how you handled the situation.

Here too look for what that person considers difficult. A patient who complained about the staff every time he came in was indeed difficult. But a patient who became upset over a single incident could scarcely be considered such. Dealing with isolated patient complaints is just part of the job.

And again, see if the situation was handled professionally such as “I explained our procedures to the patient and helped him set an appointment that suited his schedule” as opposed to “I just told him to take a hike.”

Now for the interview

Choose the interview people from the questionnaires. And for interviewing, Robison cites a number of rules to follow plus a number of topics to talk about – and how to talk about them.

Five rules for good interviewing

Rule #1: Throughout each interview, be on the lookout for three major items.

First is the skills, experience, and education necessary to do the job.

Second is the behavioral requirements for the job. Does the candidate illustrate the type of behavior necessary to handle patients or deal with a heavy workload or do whatever the job requires? Behavior traits are important, Robison says, because when a boss isn’t pleased about an employee, “it usually turns out to be a behavioral issue.”

And third is the cultural fit. She cites the example of one distinguished law firm that was hiring an attorney and an applicant “showed up with a ring stuck through his nose.”

Rule #2: Ask for more details about the written pre-interview questionnaire. An applicant who can’t give a lot of details probably had another person write the answers.

Rule #3: Focus on how the candidate has behaved in certain situations, and to do that, replace the usual questions with tell-me-what-you-did directives.

Instead of “what do you think is good customer service?” say “give me an example of a time you were able to provide good service.” Or “give me an example of a time when a patient was rude. How did you handle that?”

People come into interviews with canned answers, “but nobody has a canned answer for that.”

Rule #4: Keep saying “tell me more about that” and “give me more details here.” If the original answer was fabricated, the candidate will be stumbling around for something to say.

Rule #5: Talk about the office at the end of the interview, not at the start.

“Most people are very proud of their company and start their interviews bragging about it,” she says.

Hold off. All that does is tell the candidate how to answer the questions. If there’s a preliminary remark of “we are a team-oriented environment,” the candidate will tailor the answers to look like a great team player.

Give the details about the office and the position at the very end of the interview.

And five areas to delve into

Here Robison lists the behavioral traits to look for and how to get the candidate to reveal success or failure in each one.

How does this person cope with adversity?

Give me an example of a time you had a great idea and were told no. What did you do?

The telling points here, she says, are how the applicant “reacts to adversity” and whether there’s an effort to get agreement from other people.

To see if the candidate listened to the other side, ask what the other person’s reason was for saying no.

An answer of “oh, I don’t know – she just didn’t like the idea” shows no listening or consideration for the other opinion.

Look for perseverance and whether the candidate considered middle-ground possibilities. A good response is along the lines of “My boss said that instead of my idea she wanted to do X, Y, and Z. So I worked on it and came back a few days later and said I thought we could incorporate those items in my original plan.”

But somebody who says “my boss was an idiot” or “I went over my boss’s head and got my idea put into action” is not somebody who will ever accept no for an answer.

Can this person work with difficult people?

Have you ever had a boss or co-worker act out of character? What did you do about it?

“What somebody describes as out of character says a lot,” Robison explains. A boss who got upset because a phone call wasn’t returned isn’t acting out of character. The applicant’s tolerance and understanding of other people are low.

What also says a lot is how the situation got handled. A tolerant, professional person will have handled it kindly and built rapport with the other person.

Is this somebody I can manage?

Tell me about a disagreement you had with a boss. What did you do about it?

The information to watch for is what the disagreement was about. If it was an argument over a standard expectation such as meeting deadlines or having to send in reports every week, that candidate will not be easy for any manager to handle. There’s going to be argument at every turn.

Look closely too at the way the disagreement was resolved. If the candidate gloats about winning the argument, the manager may be looking at a nightmare employee.

  • Do we have a team player here?

Tell me how you have set goals for a team of people.

The person who describes getting people to participate in setting the goals and helping them agree on them is a team maker, she says.

But not so for somebody who says “I drew up the goals and everybody had to follow them.”

  • Is this person organized and logical?

When you are assigned a project, how do you go about starting and finishing it? When did a project not work out the way you planned? How did you prevent that from happening again?

There needs to be a logical approach to taking on an assignment such as “first I research the background information, then I do X, and then I do Y.”

Some people will say “I just jump into it,” and those are not organized people.

Also, when a project doesn’t work out, a logical person will find out what the problem is and figure out how to prevent a repeat.

Now talk about the office

Now is the time to tell the applicant about the office and the job, Robison says.

And after that’s done, it’s time for some closing questions.

  • Do you have any questions about the firm or the job?

Whatever gets asked about will be what the applicant is most interested in. Questions about responsibilities, for example, illustrate an interest in performing well, whereas questions about the work hours and break times indicate a clock watcher.

  • Do you have any problems meeting the responsibilities of this position? Do you have any problems with the work schedule?

Pay attention to what the person says, but also watch for a change in demeanor. For example, if the applicant winces about having to be in the office by 8:00 a.m., tardiness could become an issue.

  • What salary are you looking for?

Here Robison recommends making a significant break with interview tradition.

Don’t tell what the salary is right at the start. Ask instead what salary the candidate wants. Even if someone asks what the amount is, respond only with “what do you think is fair compensation for this job?”

By holding off on the salary information, the manager can find out if the candidate’s expectations are in line with what the office is willing to pay.

Office and candidate need to be in the same ball park on the money.

If the applicant wants far more than what the position pays, there’s no need to offer the job. That person either won’t accept or will quickly get dissatisfied and leave.

Conversely, somebody who was previously making $80,000 and is now out of work could be willing to accept a $30,000 job, all the while planning to leave as soon as a better offer comes up.

Ask what the money expectation is, and the ask how the applicant arrived at that amount. Anybody who is truly interested in the job and wants to stay with the office will have researched the market and will know the salary range. “That’s somebody who’s done the homework.”

  • Are you still interested in the job?

Ask this question right after telling the salary amount. It’s a way of implying that the job has been won, and thinking that, people tend to relax and drop their guard and talk more freely. Take advantage of that. Lead the candidate on with these questions.

  • We’re about to wrap up here, so let me ask again if you have any questions.

Now confident the job is in hand, the applicant will likely mention things that would never have come out earlier, even something such as “Well, I’m getting married in two months. Will I be able to get three weeks off for my honeymoon trip to Europe?”

What interests you most about this job?

There needs to be passion in the answer. Someone who will do well in the job will be thrilled about some aspect of it. Some people get so excited “they jump out of the chair,” she says. That’s “a real passion thermometer.”

  • What interests you least about this job?

This is a check to make sure the least appealing part of the job isn’t an essential element of it.

  •If someone asked me why I hired you, what should I say?

Ask what someone’s greatest strengths are, and expect a canned answer, Robison says. But phrase it this way, and the truth comes out.

Whatever good characteristics the candidate cites here are the absolute best the office will ever see out of that person.

Name three characteristics about yourself that I should remember when I’m deciding whether you are the person for this job.

The good characteristics have already been covered, she says. What to look for now is consistency, or whether the candidate cites the same things cited earlier.

If there’s a disparity, probably what was mentioned before was either fluff or a prepared answer.

  •If I offer you this job, how long will you need to make a decision?

There should be enthusiasm.

For somebody who is currently unemployed, the answer should be “I’d take it right now!”

On the other hand, somebody who says, “I’ll need a week or so to consider it” probably has other irons in the fire, and the office isn’t the first choice.

Also at this time, listen for indications that the candidate respects the current employer and says “I’ll have to give two weeks’ notice.” Anybody who is ready to jump ship immediately “will do the same to the office someday.”

Close by telling the applicant what to expect, such as “We’ve had several applications. We’re going to review all the interviews and call the top three people within the week. If you don’t hear from us by then, let me thank you right now for coming in. We will keep your resume on file for the next six months.”

Before the curtain closes

Once the final three applicants are chosen, take each one to lunch, and have other staff go as well, Robison says. Tell those staffers “you do all the talking. I’ll just be there to listen.”

Afterwards, ask them how well they think each person will get along with the rest of the office and succeed in the job.









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