Five Key Ways to Evaluate a Candidate

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There is one flaw I see most commonly among people interviewing candidates for a job: They don’t interview, they talk!

You actually don't need these. Your new employee's flaws were probably evident from the beginning.

You actually don’t need these. Your new employee’s flaws were probably evident from the beginning.

They spend so much time talking at the candidate that by the end of the interview they’ve actually learned very little about him. The whole point of interviewing is to spend time asking the right kinds of questions to get the answers that give you real insight about who this person is and whether or not he will be successful in the job. So please spend the time to listen and then once you know you really want this candidate, that is the time to talk up the company and close the deal.

Next major oops I see that is way too common—glossing over the red flags. When I’m called in to help deal with a difficult employee, the hiring manager says he saw the signs of the current problem from the very beginning, but so wanted to hire the person he thought “I can deal with that weakness in him.” It comes back to bite you, I promise.

So what should you be asking? There are thousands of potential questions, of course, but these are the ones I think are most crucial and why.

1. What’s the last new thing you learned, either personally or professionally?

As I’ve said before, the best kind of employee is a lifelong learner. Adaptation and the ability to learn new skills and approaches are indispensable in every industry. Don’t just ask what she learned, find out how she learned it. This will tell you a lot about how the candidate approaches and incorporates new information.

2. What do you know about our company and how did you get this information?

Here you can discover a couple of things. First, how invested he is in getting this job. Second, what his research skills are. The hallmark of a good employee is the ability to problem solve. You don’t want him coming to you for all the answers, you want him to be able to suss out the information independently, dig for resources and bring you the solutions.

3. Tell me about a time a decision was made that you disagreed with and what you did about it?

We all have situations in which a deadline was pushed up, there was a decision to cancel a product line, or we have to deal with a difficult vendor. You need to know that this person has coping skills that allow her to work through the frustration constructively. Can she cope with interpersonal conflict? Can she handle not getting her way? Can she find a way to turn it to the positive? Or did her behavior display either inappropriate anger or passive aggressive tendencies? This question is also good because it forces the interviewer—in the best scenarios—to look hard at how her team deals with conflict and difficult decisions. If they have rows or days of no communication, this would be a good time to tackle that.

4. How did you do that?

The candidate was the top sales person for four years in a row. Or he won the grant that kept the nonprofit alive. Or he was the most beloved and appreciated office manager ever. Great, now can he replicate that? Can he tell you how he generated leads or got the grant or managed the office processes? Did the candidate do it on his own or with a team? Did he have limited resources or did he just land in the right place at the right time? His accomplishments don’t mean much if he can’t explain how.

5. Have the candidate do an authentic task.

Give the candidate a task that will be vital to her performing the job. If you’re hiring someone to write software, give her a coding problem. If you’re hiring someone for marketing, have her do a mock presentation for you. This will tell you numerous things. It will show you the person’s skill set, the tools she knows how to use, how she problem solves, how she synthesizes information and how she performs under pressure. This will not be something you use for your business, it’s strictly a test. But if you do use it, you need to pay the person for it.

Those are my top questions. I’m curious though, what you’ve tried that worked to spot the good ones or weed out the bad ones. Please comment.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.