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Tip Of The Month – Getting Candidates Off-script

by: Dan Gathof, Partner – Olympia Solutions

Things that make me smh…

When interviewers continue to use the same questions that generate little to no insight on a candidate’s skill or capability.

There are various approaches that interviewers use to assess a candidate’s skill set and potential; including written case studies, situational verbal cases, and behavioral interviews to name a few.  These approaches allow the interviewer to gauge a candidate’s thought process and capture data points from a candidate’s past work to determine if the skills and experiences align with the open opportunity.  

I continue to hear about executive interviews that are essentially get-to-know-you sessions.  These “punt interviews” really do not carry or generate a lot of meaning.  Even moderately prepared candidates will have scripted responses to punt interview questions. Some of these questions include:

  • What do you want to do in 5 years?
  • Describe your biggest strength, biggest weakness?
  • Why do you want to leave your current company?
  • What is your management style?

Does anyone learn anything by asking these questions? Aren’t the responses so rehearsed that you really can’t glean any new perspective on the candidate?

I understand the desire to use a few of these questions to warm-up a candidate but would suggest getting back to basics and use interview questions that drive data points on the candidate’s ability to be successful in the role.

Here is an idea to consider…

Get candidates off-script fairly early in order to truly start the assessment process.

My objective in getting candidates off-script is to:

  1. Determine their persona/authenticity
  2. Consider how the individual walks me through their thinking
  3. See how adaptable/agile/flexible they are in answering atypical questions

I’m more interested in evaluating if the individual is logical and organized in their reply and less interested in the actual answer. In most cases, I’m fine if they stumble a bit or need a little extra time to collect their thoughts.

I’m also using this approach in conjunction with behavioral questions related to those competencies that my client is seeking in their role.   Like most interview questions, I’m looking to collect data that helps me determine fit.

To help you get candidates off-script, I’ve pulled the 1-2 questions that some top executives ask when they interview candidates. In some cases, I’ve included the data the interviewer is looking to collect. If you, or your team, are not adept at getting a candidate off-script, try taking the plunge by incorporating one or two of the following questions in your next interview.  

Brendan Browne – Linkedin Head of Recruiting

“What are you most passionate about? Using the whiteboard, explain to me the process of how it works.”

Browne says he learns four things from this exercise:

  1. What do the candidates care about most deeply?
  2. How well can they explain themselves?
  3. How do they think about process?
  4. How do they deal with ambiguity?

Jeff Weiner –LinkedIn CEO

  1. What is your dream job?
  2. Looking back on your career, what do you want to say you accomplished?

Candidates who are able to provide solid answers to these big picture questions demonstrate that they’ve given their careers some serious thought, and that impresses him. 

Michael Gregoire, CA Technologies CEO

“Would you rather be respected or feared?”

The question never fails to catch people off-guard, and “really reveals what they think about their leadership style.” In theory, there is no right answer, but in practice the role they’re interviewing for determines which way the CEO leans. In a collaborative environment, it’s better to be respected than feared; in a business unit that’s struggling, the stick may be more useful than the carrot.

Tony Hsieh – Zappos CEO

‘On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?’

Tony says the number isn’t too important, but it’s more about how people answer the question. If “you’re a one, you probably are a little bit too straight-laced for the Zappos culture,” he said. “If you’re a 10, you might be too psychotic for us.”

Kate Cole –Cinnabon President

What would the closest person in your life say if I asked them, ‘What is the one characteristic that they totally dig about you, and the one that drives them insane?”

Peter Thiel – Paypal Cofounder

‘Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on.’

Larry Ellison – Oracle Chairman

“Are you the smartest person you know?”

Super bosses like Ellison aim to hire people who are more intelligent than they are because those employees will challenge them to come up with better ideas and solutions to problems.

Susan Wojcicki – Youtube CEO

Susan will ask a candidate about a specific product YouTube had released, or a neutral product — something she knows the interviewee uses — and then asks the person, “How do you make it better?”

My personal favorite question to ask is “What skill, attribute or competency do you possess that is matter-of-factly better than everyone else?” I’m looking for one’s “super-power” and I’m particularly interested to assess if this unique item aligns with my client need.