Give Good Interview: Shotgun Tips (re-post)

Interviewing someone for a job is a curious skill. It’s like cleaning a loaded gun.  You want to be meticulous about each part or you might accidentally blow your head off.

OK, it’s not actually lethal.

But it is a multifaceted skill. It’s intuitive in some ways but it’s also about preparation.  It’s about listening and simultaneously about evaluating what you’re hearing.  First, some useful axioms that I learned early on.

Axiom #1: An interview is a conversation with a purpose. So relax. Thinking of interviewing this way will go a long way towards making you feel and appear more comfortable and take a bit of pressure off the candidate . Be open to giving your impressions, respond to or reflect on what you’re hearing, and repeat things to be sure you understand.  You know, the kinds of things you might do in an actual conversation with someone.

Axiom #2: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. While I’m biased to reject this notion (who says a person can’t flower?), over time it has proven to be pretty accurate.  Try to put what you’re hearing in this context.  What about a candidate’s behavior, the way he makes decisions or treats other people or comes up with solutions, can you glean from a particular answer?  Look for passions and initiative around those passions (whether in a professional context or not). These are clues for leadership and self-motivation.

To give a successful interview, do these things

Prepare. This may be stating the obvious but be sure you know what you’re looking for. Do a lot of work in advance defining your ideal candidate and the scope of responsibilities and the rest will go smoothly.

Have the position profile in mind but don’t be anal about it. You don’t learn much about a person if you’re just checking off skill boxes.  And you know that ideal candidate you envisioned?  He doesn’t actually exist. So leave breathing room.

Think about the business goals and strategy. Why are you hiring this person the first place?  What gap will the successful candidate fill?  What is the big picture business reasoning for the hire?  Does this person jibe with that?

Think about culture and fit. Always consider a person in the context of your workplace and staff. By the way, this does not mean you should hire someone just like you or your co-workers, but a complementary fit goes a long way towards success.

Your goal is to accomplish two things at once:

  1. Find out what the person has accomplished, how they describe themselves and who they are as people.
  2. Make some judgment about all that. Does it ring true? Are there inconsistencies in what they say and what you observe?  Is the person really aware of who they are, how they impact others, what they have learned?

Frame questions in an open-ended manner. Avoid yes/no questions at all costs.

If you’re interviewing over lunch or dinner, definitely give the dude a chance to eat. It’s polite.

Use “critical incident interviewing.” This is jargon for taking specific things a person has done and gradually peeling back the layers to get to a person’s true contributions by asking subsequent questions.  The aim is to learn how the candidate approaches or manages a situation, problem or challenge, and how he thinks about developing solutions for himself and those around him.

Ask at least one question about a specific incident in which a person used his or her influence to accomplish something. Most organizations work in teams these days and lines of authority often change. The ability to influence is important.

Spend time on values. What matters to the candidate?  What has he accomplished that holds particular meaning for him?

Get a sense of emotional intelligence. How does a candidate manage himself in a given context?  How does he manage others?  What skill does he have in understanding the viewpoint and perspective of others and conveying that effectively in action?

Ask for a brief review of work history with particular emphasis on the transitions from position to position. It’s very interesting to see where someone starts with this question and what details they choose to illuminate about why they made a move.  Ask how your position contributes to the trajectory of their career.

Focus on qualities of leadership. Look for independent thinking, vision, the ability to articulate it so others can understand, emotional maturity, courage and commitment, resilience, integrity, intellect.  Leadership is about stewardship: a sense of responsibility about others and the organization.  It’s about supporting the growth of others.

In the end, interviewing is a pretty harrowing experience.  You’re spending a relatively short time with someone to then hand over the keys to the kingdom.  “Here, watch my kid.”  If the basic skills are evident, spend most of your time on issues of integrity and propensity for leadership, the things you can’t easily teach.

CC licensed drawing via DailyPic’s flickr page.

Hiring for Creativity: The 5 Best Hiring Articles on the Web

I read a lot. I like good writing and I like to bookmark. Every day I see a new article on the latest hiring trend. But there are certain pieces of writing on the process and philosophy of hiring for your company that stand out in a big way. They’re heavy with the whiff of experience. They’re rational and useful. I’m constantly referring them to clients and friends.

This list is heavy on the tech end of the industry spectrum. That isn’t intentional. If your business is not tech related, it doesn’t really matter. You’ll find fantastic hard-won advice and logical thinking on hiring creative people in any fast moving industry.

Here are excerpts from and links to my five favorite hiring articles on the web:

1. How to Find and Hire Great People, Part 1, 2, 34 (from Adam Smith’s Blog)

This four-parter has probably been read by everyone in the Y Combinator orbit, or every tech start-up that’s hired anyone since 2009 for that matter. That’s because it’s to-the-point, practical and preventative in ways that many hiring articles are not. This piece is definitely written through a highly specific lens, but it’s in-focus and the high level tips–utilize your network, give homework, set the bar high but not too high–are spot on.

Building a network and using it to find the best people is a long term play.  CEOs who knew lots of people at Yahoo got a windfall when Yahoo started faltering, for example.  These events are rare and hard to predict.

You also can’t predict when you’ll get a phone call from a friend of a friend who isn’t happy at his current gig.

The best you can do is try to encourage these random events.  Meet lots of people, spread the word about what you’re doing, and be so awesome and excited that people remember you and your enterprise.

This is a great strategy overall, and will result in more frequent coincidences that result in positive results.

2. Wanted (from Rands in Repose)

There are two good reasons that I’m a fan of Michael Lopp aka Rands. He writes about business stuff that other people ignore and he’s a stellar writer. Reading his musings on management, software, and general geekery is doubly enriching. This article has a corporate-y spin, centered around the “req” process, but does well to highlight one essential element of hiring right: a clear, persistent, vocalized desire.

If you’re hiring well, you’re hiring people not just for this job, but for your career. These are the people who, for better or worse, will explain to others what it is like to work with you. They’ll explain your quirks, your weaknesses, and your strengths. When they eventually leave the group, they’re taking your reputation with them. You may never talk to them again, but they’ll continue to talk and my question is: what stories are they going to tell?

3. The Top 5 Qualities of Productive Creatives (and How to Identify Them) (99%)

This piece was written by Jocelyn Glei who edits my own posts for 99%. I’m a huge admirer of Jocelyn’s writing (and editing) and this is the piece that finally pushed me to inquire if I could write for her. Hiring any employee means making a reasonable guess of what a person will do at some point in the future. Therefore your tactics should center around teasing out the do. That means personal qualities and a well-communicated track record of events.

We tend to judge people based on their experience. This is, of course,  the whole basis of the resumé. Yet, while on-the-job experience is valuable, we must dig deeper. A better indicator of productive creativity is one’s willingness to act, to take the initiative to put an idea in motion.

4. Never Read Another Resume (Jason Fried for Inc. Magazine)

37 Signals honcho Jason Fried is known for his often contradictory and against-the-grain view of business building and process. I love his advice about doing every job yourself before hiring, and if you find that you really need someone, hire away  (though I don’t know how practical it is for every situation.) Jason’s advice boils down to this: you don’t have to do what everyone else does. Find your way.

I’ve run into a lot of companies that invent positions for great people just so they don’t get away. But hiring people when you don’t have real work for them is insulting to them and hurtful to you. Great people want to work on things that matter. Inevitably, a great person working on imaginary work will turn into an unsatisfied person. Then he’ll leave.

5. Cult Creation (Blog Newcomb)

Cult Creation is about building a team that acts like a cult: “a group of super high quality people who trust each other and have similar ways of thinking, learning, reacting, problem-solving and working together. ” Sign me up! Newcomb argues that the way to build a cult is through the hiring process. He clearly came to this conclusion by living it, and this comprehensive and informative review of his process is riveting, which is probably why it’s been read 39,000 times.

Never, ever make it easy to join your team.  In fact, make it very hard to join your team.  More talented people will respect this and be excited that it’s hard to join your company.  It is very important to A-level people that they work with other A-level people.  Publicly letting the world know that you have a very difficult hiring process will generally attract more A-level people and will scare off B-level people and below – making your job that much easier.

The reading you do before hiring is preparation. Hearing about other people’s stories may prevent you from making mistakes… or may not. In the end, finding a hiring process that works for your organization is something that comes with the framework of a well-built process and lots and lots of practice.

What are your favorite hiring articles?