064 – The 5 Best Interview Questions That Great Managers Ask
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Discussed on Today’s Show:
Winning, by Jack Welch
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Hey hey hey! This is Jamie Newman here and you are listening to another episode of the Your Best Manager podcast, and as always, I’m thrilled you are with me again today because guess what?
It’s going to be a killer show and I’m on a mission today. I’m on a mission to teach you something today that you did not know yesterday!
Today’s topic is about interviewing: How to properly interview candidates.
But to be honest this stuff also applies to potential candidates, because if you are a job seeker today, well, if you understand what employers are looking for when they interview you… you have a greater opportunity to give them what they are looking for and win that interview.
And I’m feeling pretty confident on today’s subject because I have interviewed thousands of people for thousands of jobs over the past 8 years, and I’ve interviewed for multiple industries, different markets, different job levels, you name it!
So, I hope that some of the things I’ve learned along the way, some of the things which I’ll be sharing with you now, are going to be really valuable and helpful to you as a manager, as you build and grow your own team.
Are you ready to go?
And, of course, if you are listening today to the podcast for the first time, we are about 7 weeks into a series I’ve been running each Monday on the Fundamentals of Management, where I am talking through the most critical skills good managers need to develop if they want to become great leaders. One of those skills is hiring. And we’ve been on the topic of hiring for 4 weeks now, although I’m pretty sure this is the last week talking about hiring before we move into another core skill, next Monday… which, I’ll tell you about at the end of today’s show.
With that said? Let’s jump in.
A Tough Lesson on Interviewing and Hiring
Let me start off by sharing one of the toughest lessons I learned about interviewing and hiring from my time in the recruiting industry. Now, I don’t have an epic story of failure that taught me this lesson… in fact, I actually think that failure can make hard lessons easier to learn because the answers can often be obvious. But I learned this tough lesson through eventually experiencing success.
It’s when something started to make sense, when something consistently began to work, and when the results started to become more predictable… that’s when I learned this lesson.
I was in the recruiting and consulting business for probably 5 years before I really got it. Although I probably could have given it to you as the right answer long before that, which, as a side note is something I’ve always struggled with.
Often, I know what the right answer is… but I don’t always execute on the right actions when push comes to shove… or maybe I don’t always believe that the right answer is… well, right!
But this lesson. It’s right.
The best hiring decisions are not made because of a great interview. They are made because of a great reference check.
Now, you may be listening and nodding your head with me, because you know this is true. But the reason I struggled with it so much is because I had some great interviews with great people, where by the end of the 30 minutes or 60 minutes, I was convinced they were the right candidate.
But the problem with this is that not every candidate who I interviewed and was subsequently hired, whether that was internally at my company or for one of my clients, was the right candidate.
Some of them were though.
And if you have interviewed many people before you can probably relate to this. Sometimes you feel great about a candidate after the interview and they turn into terrible employees, but sometimes they turn into terrific employees, and that can be a problem because you then look back at your hiring process and think everything was done right! After all, you got the result you wanted, didn’t you?
That’s why this lesson is so tough. Because sometimes the decisions managers make to hire someone in the interview is the right decision! So for me to challenge a manager who “knew it” right away, or who could tell from the interview, or who saw something special during that interview… for me to tell that manager that their right choice still came from an ill-timed decision?
Well, that’s difficult.
Here’s what I learned to be the most consistently true – An honest, detailed reference, from the right person, trumps a great interview, whether that’s a glowing reference or a not-so-positive reference.
Once I learned that lesson, there were times where I turned down that superstar candidate who interviewed great, because his or her reference indicated they weren’t actually the right fit. There were also times where a candidate who did okay in the interview wound up becoming a superstar because of what was conveyed through a reference check.
Do you want to make a great hiring decision? Make it after completing references. References with the right people and the right person is a supervisor from a recent and relevant role (or as close to that as possible).
If you approach your interviews with this in mind, you can actually become a better interviewer.
I say this because it was my job to interview candidates and recommend them to my clients and despite what your feelings may be on the effectiveness of 3rd party recruiting companies, I can tell you this. Not all recruiting firms are equal, and I found success in my industry because I was better at my job than most people.
And let me tell you, one of the most important metrics that was tracked in my business was something called sub-to-hire ration. Meaning how many of the candidates I recommend, get hired?
My goal was, of course, was to always go 1-for-1, but in all honesty, I really wanted to go 1 for 2. Which meant out of every 2 candidates I recommended, one of them would be hired. Did it always work out? No, sometimes I went 1-for-1 and sometimes it took 3 or 4 recommendations. But, to be very clear, it happened a lot because the promise I made to each client was that I’d find 1 or 2 people who could do the job, that was my commitment so that they could then pick the one they liked.
But of course, I’d interview way more than just 1 or 2 candidates, so it’s not like I had a magic formula for finding great people, but if I did my job right, which I’ve already told you I did most of the time. My client should have the same conclusion as I do after interviewing each candidate, they can do the job.
How Companies Typically Interview Candidates
Now, I’ve seen how companies interview candidates. They aren’t all the same, but most of them are actually quite thorough, and sometimes even complicated. There are rating systems, there are, at times, tricky psychological/situational/behavioral interview questions, there are long lists of questions to address things like culture, teamwork, initiative, problem-solving, you name it, and there are quite frequently strategic interview panels put together to include various perspectives and analysis of the answers received.
Other times, interviews are a little more laid back. The resume interview… tell me about this, and this, and this, and this, unfortunately, which becomes more of a resume verification or even an interrogation, rather than a conversation.
Here’s what’s ironic.
It doesn’t matter what interview style or format was used. If I recommended 2 candidates, almost always, one of them was hired. Meaning that the interviewers came to the same conclusion that I did – but my interviews typically only include 5-7 questions and although I like to consider myself to be a pretty smart guy, I’m not a subject matter expert within engineering, or architecture, or construction, manufacturing or finance… but I could interview candidates within those fields, ask 5-7 questions and come to the same conclusions as highly experienced hiring managers with deep expertise and knowledge of what exactly they are looking for.
So the question is… what are those 5-7 interview questions?
That’s what I’m excited to share with you today!
And guess what!
This isn’t a secret. In fact, this interview formula is framed together in an extremely popular leadership book, one that I highly recommend for all new managers, called Winning, by Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric. In the book, Jack talks about the 4 E’s and a P that he looks for when hiring.
Let me read the explanations and then I’ll break them down for you.
- Positive Energy: these people don’t complain about working hard, they love to work and also to play. People with positive energy just love life.
- The ability to Energize others: People who energize can inspire their team to take on the impossible and enjoy the hell out of doing it.
- Edge: the courage to make tough yes-or-no decisions. Effective people know when to stop assessing and make a tough call, even without total information.
- Execute: the ability to get the job done. This skill is a distinct skill from Edge. It means a person knows how to put decisions into action and push them forward to completion, through resistance, chaos, or unexpected obstacles. People who can execute know that winning is about results.
- If the candidate has the four Es, then you look for that final P-Passion: People with Passion love to learn and grow, and they get a huge kick when people around them do the same. They’re not only passionate about work, they have the juice for life in their veins.
Alright? Ready to go run an exceptional interview?
Yeah, didn’t think so. That all sounds great, but how do you translate that into an effective interview?
The 5 Best Interview Questions That Great Managers Ask
Well, you take each component of Jack’s winning formula and create a killer question.
QUESTION 1: ENERGY (Self-Motivation)
For Energy, think self-motivation.
We all want to hire people who bring energy into work each day, but how do you ask a question about, well, happiness? You don’t, you look for self-motivation. You look for someone who has the ability to motivate themselves, why? Because someone who can motivate themselves, has something worth fighting for and that person will have a reason to overcome adversity or will at least have a natural tendency to look toward the positive and bring optimism to the team. So ask an open-ended question about self-motivation, and it could be as blunt as this… how do you motivate yourself? But I’d recommend giving it a little more thought than that.
There’s question one.
QUESTION 2: ENERGIZE OTHERS (Team Motivation)
For the second one, Energize Others, it’s a little bit more straight forward, but you want to ask a question that gives the candidate an opportunity to talk about how he or she looks at teamwork, what responsibility that candidate feels toward overall team morale, and how that candidate builds relationships and motivates the people he or she works with each day. So just as the first question is about self-motivation, now you want to craft a question about motivating others.
QUESTION 3: EDGE (Decision Making)
The third component is Edge. Jack explains that Edge is the courage to make yes or no decisions. So ask the candidate to talk about a tough decision they have had to make and then to explain the circumstances that surrounded that decision. Through the answer, you’ll be able to understand how the candidate takes ownership, what type of responsibility he or she has had, what decision making process is used, and how the candidate understands and analyzes the results of that decision.
QUESTION 4: PASSION (Love The Work)
I’m going to skip the last “E” and cover Passion next. And I want to make a distinction here. Passion and Energy are not the same thing, neither is passion and motivation. Passion is about the work, at least that’s how I look at it. Does this candidate love what they do?
I’ll be honest, I have never been passionate about the staffing and recruiting business, although I did it for over 8 years and I did it well. I was passionate about helping people and I when I had the opportunity to help a company grow, help a great candidate find a new opportunity, help a colleague find success? I was passionate about that and that made me successful.
People who don’t love what they do or can’t articulate why they love what they do… they are going to have trouble going above and beyond, they are going to have trouble having fun, being creative, searching for solutions and opportunities, so, when it come to an interview, ask a “Why” question.
Here’s a good one, why are you a fill-in-the-blank. So, Why are you a project manager, or why are you an engineer, why are you in this industry? The answers can be incredibly revealing when it comes to identifying passion!
QUESTION 5, 6, & 7: EXECUTE (Critical Job Skills)
Okay, so the last E is Execute. The ability to actually do the job. In an interview, this is question number 5, number 6, and number 7. You want to make sure the candidate can do the job, right?
Now, this isn’t as fancy as Jack Welch may have described it, but in an interview, well, the best indicator of future performance is past performance. So pick the 3 critical skills that you identified when you initially developed your job description, and create an open-ended, behavioral/situational / tell me about a time/assignment/project/ or challenge that you faced doing X. You have 3 skills that you need a new hire to be able to perform, so create 3 questions to address and evaluate those skills and the associated experiences.
That’s it. 7 Questions.
Because if a candidate nails these 7 questions, all that’s really left to decide is whether or not you actually enjoy being in the room with the person. Because this person is self-motivated, they are able to motivate others, they can make decisions, they love what they do, and they’ve done it before or have demonstrated they have the skills and capabilities to do what you ask.
Everything else related to their success in the role comes down to your leadership abilities.
Because I don’t really think that you can interview for culture.
And I’m going to finish up with a note on culture.
What About Culture Fit?
It’s your job as the manager to build a strong culture and not every culture is the same and that doesn’t mean there is a right culture and a wrong culture, but here’s the thing.
Most people want to work for organizations that have a good culture, and most people define a good culture EXACTLY the same way… so why would you interview for that?
The ideal culture is arguably the same everywhere… it’s a place where people work hard, but have fun, where ideas are created and feedback is shared, but it’s constructive. Where people go above and beyond, where they treat the customer first, bla bla bla.
You want to know what the real difference is when we talk about culture and culture fit?
The real difference is your expectations, your work environment, and how you treat people. So your interview is not about figuring out if the candidate will ‘fit in’. It’s about figuring out if the candidate wants to.
Which is why although I believe that you can conduct a successful interview with just 5-7 questions, that’s not the whole interview, obviously. The rest of the interview is about providing the candidate with a realistic preview of the job.
- A sales pitch about the opportunities available for the candidate
- A word of caution about the expectations you have and the challenges you have
- An opportunity for the candidate to think about it and follow up with you.
I’m not going to go into detail on each of those aspects in this show, but you are welcome to reach out to me if you have questions about it, just email me, and again, I’m putting together an EPIC hiring guide that I talked about last Monday on the podcast. That hiring guide will include a little more information about these 3 components of your interviews.SEND ME THE EPIC HIRING GUIDE!
Essentially, you want to entice the candidate to say yes, but you also want the candidate to really know what saying yes actually means… like what are the negatives or challenges they will face if and when they say yes to working for you (and to be honest, often the right expectations and right caution will actually entice a candidate to want to work with you).
And finally, emotions are a funny thing so you want a candidate to take some time to really digest what’s been discussed in the interview and make a well thought out decision whether or not to pursue the opportunity further.
And I talked about this also last Monday, but I actually recommend a job shadow interview with some of your team members and then ask the candidate to write an email to you afterward. So you invite the candidate back into your office to sit with and watch some of your senior employees do the job and then give them time to reflect on the entire interview process before they make their decision (and obviously before you make yours as well)
But again, we don’t really have time on today’s show to talk in detail on that, but you are more than welcome to reach out to me with any questions you may have.
Other than that, it looks like we’ve concluded our 4-week look at the topic of Hiring as we continue this series on the Fundamentals of management.
For next Monday, I’m going to switching things up a little bit and talk about how to run a meeting. Run a great meeting and your team can be inspired, challenged, and more productive. Run a garbage meeting, and well, garbage in, garbage out.
So tune in next Monday and if you haven’t subscribed to the podcast yet, please do that so you don’t miss an episode. We have 2 great interviews coming on this Wednesday and Friday, with… looks like, Dr. James Kelley on Wednesday and Lolly Daskal on Friday.
Thanks for listening.