7 Interview Questions That Determine Emotional Intelligence – by Carolyn Sun

Determining who you hire for a job plays a big part in forming your company’s culture and ensuring its future success. Selecting informative interview questions can be a key factor in finding the right employees — as well as weeding out the ones that won’t fit. A candidate’s answers can be telling.

While different companies embody various values and cultures, success in the workplace is strongly influenced by a person’s emotional intelligence, a quality that should be a non-negotiable when vetting job candidates, says Mariah DeLeon, vice-president of people at workplace ratings and review site Glassdoor.

Here are seven interview questions that can draw revealing answers from the job candidates you interview — and get you on your way to finding employees with stellar emotional intelligence.

Related: 8 Revealing Interview Questions to Hire Standout Staff

1. Who inspires you and why?

The job candidate’s answer often gives the interviewer a peek into who the interviewee models him or herself after. The response can also highlight the sorts of behavioral patterns the interviewee respects, saysCraig Cincotta, chief of staff and vice-president of communications at online home improvement marketplace Porch, where he’s heavily involved in team expansion and hiring.

2. If you were starting a company tomorrow, what would be its top three values?

Every good relationship starts with trust and aligned values. Insight into a person’s priorities — as well as honesty and integrity — can emerge in the candidate’s answer, explains Robert Alvarez, the CFO of ecommerce platform Bigcommerce.

3. If business priorities change, describe how you would help your team understand and carry out the shifted goals?

Shifting priorities happen in every company, and every job, so look for candidates who are flexible and possess the skills to help carry out change. Hire employees who are self-aware, motivated and display empathy advises DeLeon. “These skills will help employees better work in teams.”

Related: The 5 Must-Ask Interview Questions to Determine if Someone’s a Fit

4. Did you build lasting friendships while working at another job?  

It takes a while for people to build relationships — and being able to do so is a sign of solid emotional intelligence, Alvarez says. “[A lasting friendship] tells you that relationships and caring about people are important to the person.”

5. What skill or expertise do you feel like you’re still missing?

Curiosity and the desire to learn are vital signs that a prospective employee wants to get better at something. “People who struggle with this question are the people who think they already know it all,” warns Alvarez. “These are the people you want to steer away from.”

6. Can you teach me something, as if I’ve never heard of it before? (It can be anything: A skill, a lesson or a puzzle.)

A job candidate’s answer to this question can reveal several qualities:

  • Whether the person is willing to take the time to think before speaking.
  • If the candidate has the technical ability to explain something to a person who is less knowledgeable in the subject.
  • Whether the candidate asks empathetic questions to the person being taught, such as, “Is this making sense?”

7. What are the top three factors you would attribute to your success?

The answer to this question can determine whether a person is selfless or selfish, Alvarez says. “When people talk about their own success, listen to whether someone talks about ‘me-me-me’ or ‘I-I-I.’ Or whether they talk about ‘the team,’ ‘we’ or ‘us.’”

“Look for a team player who brings something positive to the company,” Cincotta shares. “Someone can be the smartest person in the room, but if they are not someone you enjoy working with — because they are more concerned with their own success over that of the company — they won’t be a fit.”

Carolyn Sun

Research Editor
Carolyn Sun is the research editor at Entrepreneur.com.

What To Expect During An HR Interview? Five Questions You’ll Be Asked During A Screening Interview – by Melissa Llarena

Screening interviews with human resources professionals are a crucial step to getting the job. A good or bad interview with HR will determine how far you go in the interviewing process, so it’s best to know what to expect and go in prepared.

As a career coach, I have worked with job candidates on how to answer the most common questions asked by HR. My mock interviews place clients in situations similar to ones they will actually face and prepare them to ace their interviews and land the job.

Let’s take a look at the five most common questions asked by HR during screening interviews and how you should approach them.

1. Why are you interested in this position?

HR professionals love this question so use it as your chance to reiterate your strengths and highlight your applicable skill set and passion for the company and the role. Speak to how your past experiences match the qualifications for the job using keywords from the job description to make the connection stronger. By clearly linking your skills to the position, you are helping the HR manager envision you in the role.

Sample Answer: Having worked within the financial services sector for five years, I have gained an appreciation for the power of client-facing roles in terms of my professional development and organizational impact. As a relationship manager in your firm, I envision bringing my ability to resourcefully optimize any given client’s portfolio as the best way I can help your company’s five-year strategic goal of retaining its client base at a 50% rate. I have done this in the past in X capacity while working for my previous employer and am confident that I can help you accelerate your current goals while growing my career.

2. Tell me about yourself.

As an age-old prompt that will likely never go away, it’s important to know how to provide a compelling answer for an HR manager. Instead of the typical chronological progression of your background, I recommend doing a SWOT analysis within the context of a professional interview. Analyze the sector, the company, and the job function using a SWOT and look for opportunities to market yourself. I go into this in more detail in my blog post on how to tell your professional story in a way that will entice an interviewer to hire you.

Sample Answer: I have been a sales manager for X years, with experiences that include being able to lead a sales force toward the accomplishment of aggressive goals. In light of your organization’s core strength in hiring the brightest salespeople, I would know exactly how to coach them to sell both new and legacy products in new markets quickly. While at Company X, I created the gold standard incentive program that resulted in helping us sell-in potential charge volume that exceeded our goals by 20% in both travel expenses and daily expenses. Prior to that, I worked at X where I completed X, etc. Side note: figure out the assets of the hiring firm or its needs and tailor your response accordingly.

3. Why are you leaving your current job?

HR managers ask this question to determine if there are any red flags related to your departure. Are you leaving on good terms or bad? Are you looking to escape from your current job or grow within a new one? These are a few of the questions running through the interviewer’s mind. Take this opportunity to speak positively of your current employer but communicate that you’re looking at this new position as the next step in your career. By framing your answer positively, you’re making the interviewer focus on your potential contributions rather than any red flags.

Sample Answer: My business unit started with 50 full-time employees and today it has 10. While this reduction in personnel enabled me to showcase my ability to produce results with limited resources in an organization where management has turned over, I am interested in transitioning to an organization like yours where there is growth potential. For example, in my current role I managed to acquire 100K clients with only one other sales manager and a dwindling budget. In your company, I would be managing a team of 20 sales managers, where I stand to make a significant impact not only for your firm but on the firm’s market share.

4. What do you know about the company?

This is a test and one you should be able to pass easily. Doing research on a company prior to an interview is a necessity. You need to know the history and makeup of the company, who the key players are, recent accomplishments and mentions in the press, and any other relevant information. Communicate the positive information you learned about the company, from awards to new product launches, to demonstrate your knowledge.

Sample Answer: Your firm competes with firm A, firm B, and firm C in the U.S. My understanding is that you are better positioned in this area vs. firms A, B, or C. Meanwhile, firms B and C bring these strengths to the table. Given my skill set, I know that I can help you optimize your strength in this and offset the strengths that firms B and C plan to invest more heavily in during 2014. *Side note: the point is to be specific in how you’d use this information to drive results.

5. What questions do you have for me?

ALWAYS have questions for the interviewer. The strongest candidates show their enthusiasm and position themselves as potentially valuable team members by asking smart, strategic questions that benefit both the interviewer and the interviewee. If you’re stumped, here are five questions to ask HR that will take you to the next phase of the interviewing process.

“To learn more about how to navigate job interviews or if you have an upcoming interview, set up a 15-minute consultation.  I have helped professionals go from second choice to first.”

Melissa Llarena is a firsthand career transition expert (having gone through 16 business unit changes in 10 years) and president of Career Outcomes Matter.  Sign up for her blog at www.careeroutcomesmatter.com.

Guess Who Doesn’t Fit In at Work – by Lauren A. Rivera

 ACROSS cultures and industries, managers strongly prize “cultural fit” — the idea that the best employees are like-minded. One recent survey found that more than 80 percent of employers worldwide named cultural fit as a top hiring priority.

When done carefully, selecting new workers this way can make organizations more productive and profitable. But cultural fit has morphed into a far more nebulous and potentially dangerous concept. It has shifted from systematic analysis of who will thrive in a given workplace to snap judgments by managers about who they’d rather hang out with. In the process, fit has become a catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not.

The concept of fit first gained traction in the 1980s. The original idea was that if companies hired individuals whose personalities and values — and not just their skills — meshed with an organization’s strategy, workers would feel more attached to their jobs, work harder and stay longer. For Southwest Airlines, screening job candidates based on their willingness to provide a wacky experience for strangers contributed to the fun environment that enabled the company’s financial success. Likewise, for the investment firmBridgewater Associates, which seeks to distinguish itself through its pursuit of transparency and honesty, screening out potential hires who couldn’t handle criticism made good business sense.

But in many organizations, fit has gone rogue. I saw this firsthand while researching the hiring practices of the country’s top investment banks, management consultancies and law firms. I interviewed 120 decision makers and spent nine months observing the recruiting practices of one firm in particular. The professionals I spoke with, who were charged with reviewing applications and conducting interviews, consistently underscored the importance of cultural fit in hiring. While résumés (and connections) influenced which applicants made it into the interview room, interviewers’ perceptions of fit strongly shaped who walked out with job offers.

Crucially, though, for these gatekeepers, fit was not about a match with organizational values. It was about personal fit. In these time- and team-intensive jobs, professionals at all levels of seniority reported wanting to hire people with whom they enjoyed hanging out and could foresee developing close relationships with. Fit was different from the ability to get along with clients. Fundamentally, it was about interviewers’ personal enjoyment and fun. Many, like one manager at a consulting firm, believed that “when it’s done right, work is play.”

To judge fit, interviewers commonly relied on chemistry. “The best way I could describe it,” one member of a law firm’s hiring committee told me, “is like if you were on a date. You kind of know when there’s a match.” Many used the “airport test.” As a managing director at an investment bank put it, “Would I want to be stuck in an airport in Minneapolis in a snowstorm with them?”

Selecting new employees based on personal similarities is by no means unique to banking, consulting or law; it has become a common feature of American corporate culture. Employers routinely ask job applicants about their hobbies and what they like to do for fun, while a complementary self-help industry informs white-collar job seekers that chemistry, not qualifications, will win them an offer.

Although diversity in many industries has increased in recent decades, progress in the corporate realm has been slower than expected. Selection based on personal fit can keep demographic and cultural diversity low. In the elite firms I studied, the types of shared experiences associated with fit typically required large investments of time and money.

Class-biased definitions of fit are one reason investment banks, management consulting firms and law firms are dominated by people from the highest socioeconomic backgrounds. Also, whether the industry is finance, high-tech or fashion, a good fit in most American corporations still tends to be stereotypically masculine. Consequently, fit can exclude high-performing candidates — female or male — who are more stereotypically feminine.

Some may wonder, “Don’t similar people work better together?” Yes and no. For jobs involving complex decisions and creativity, more diverse teams outperform less diverse ones. Too much similarity can lead to teams that are overconfident, ignore vital information and make poor (or even unethical) decisions.

Perhaps most important, it is easy to mistake rapport for skill. Just as they erroneously believe that they can accurately tell when someone is lying, people tend to be overly confident in their ability to spot talent. Unstructured interviews, which are the most popular hiring tools for American managers and the primary way they judge fit, are notoriouslypoor predictors of job performance.

Fit can work, but personal similarity is not the key. Organizations that use cultural fit for competitive advantage tend to favor concrete tools like surveys and structured interviews that systematically test behaviors associated with increased performance and employee retention. For managers who want to use cultural fit in a more productive way, I have several suggestions.

First, communicate a clear and consistent idea of what the organization’s culture is (and is not) to potential employees. Second, make sure the definition of cultural fit is closely aligned with business goals. Ideally, fit should be based on data-driven analysis of what types of values, traits and behaviors actually predict on-the-job success. Third, create formal procedures like checklists for measuring fit, so that assessment is not left up to the eyes (and extracurriculars) of the beholder.

Finally, consider putting concrete limits on how much fit can sway hiring. Many organizations tell interviewers what to look for but provide little guidance about how to weigh these different qualities. Left to their own devices, interviewers often define merit in their own image.

Wanting to work with people like ourselves is not new. In the past, employers overtly restricted job opportunities based on sex, race and religion, which is now illegal. But cultural fit has become a new form of discrimination that keeps demographic and cultural diversity down, all in the name of employee enjoyment and fun.

The Right Way to Answer “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?” – by David Reese

Thomas Jefferson once said that “honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom”. Though truth-telling abounds in grade school platitudes, it seems scarcer the older we get. But this decline in honesty — let’s call it dishonesty — isn’t necessarily innate. Dishonesty can be taught. In my experience, I’ve noticed that, of all culprits, college career centers are exceptional traffickers of such miseducation. In the process, they’re hurting their brightest students’ chances of making it in the world of startups by convincing them to give dishonest answers to tough interview questions.

Full disclosure: I work at a startup, and it’s my job to quickly build a team of the right people. Throughout my earlier career in larger companies, honesty and being self-critical have always been obvious qualities to look for in candidates, but it wasn’t until I joined Medallia that I realized their special significance for startups. Brandon Ballinger’s now famous blog post about his experience with Y Combinator’s Paul Graham shows why. To cut a long story short, Graham told Ballinger (to his face) that his startup idea sucked — a tough-love approach Ballinger now extols. Why? Well, in a startup, it’s much more comfortable to be a “team player” than “the bad guy,” as Ballinger describes it. The real hard work in a startup, however, is being able to openly admit that the current strategy is just not working — no matter how uncomfortable it is, or how much has been invested in getting to that point.

In other words: one of the biggest dangers for a young company is that a roomful of smart people who aren’t being honest could easily be steering their rocket ship into the ground.

And yet college career centers continue to operate in a 20th century world in which top talent was funneled into careers in mature, staid organizations and industries. These are cultures where people are much more likely to divulge their net worth than a weakness. While a mature organization might have once been able to get by with a “don’t stick your neck out” culture, that attitude is simply lethal to startups.

Nonetheless, the importance of this simple truth seems to still be elusive for the Office of Career Services at many of the nation’s top colleges and universities. Besides guidance on basic items like resumes, cover letters, how to dress, and how to eat, many of these schools are providing either no advice or bad advice on how to adequately answer important questions. Take a very common question that I always like to ask, for example:

What is your greatest weakness?

Even if you’ve only had just one professional interview in your life, then you’ve probably still been asked some version of this question. Do you remember how you answered? Did you say that you work too hard? That you have perfectionist tendencies? Or that you’re too passionate? Be honest.

The truth of that matter is that a quick search of career center websites indicates that students are being encouraged to apply this type of spin to their answers. Even for those that advocating for honesty, there’s often still the contradiction that one’s answers must always be positive. The result of which? Answers that focus on lesser skills (but still skills) rather than actual problems or challenges. One school goes as far as to call it an “angelic weakness.” And if you’re pressed to give a real answer about a flaw, nearly every career center in the universe has apparently decided that “public speaking” is an appropriate response.

Others are more direct at giving the advice that everyone seems familiar with — to make weaknesses into strengths (and vice versa). Northwestern tells grad students, “Turn a negative into a positive.” Boston College advises students to “Turn your weakness into a positive (for example) ‘Because I tend to procrastinate, I have learned to work well under pressure in order to always get work done on time.’”

This is terrible advice. Responses like these tell me little about how a candidate faces challenges and immediately implies a lack of sincerity. It doesn’t demonstrate to me how they think — beyond their ability to creatively avoid being honest or self-critical. It indicates to me that they’re not willing to stand up and say what’s not working — the opposite of what a startup needs. That’s why my recent interviews with college graduates have all started to follow the same pattern. I start with two sentences: “Forget what your career center has taught you about interviews. I want to have a real conversation with real answers, and I promise to do the same.” The candidates take a minute to evaluate whether I’m somehow tricking them. If they lean into their discomfort and take me at my word, the level of conversation improves dramatically — we have a great time getting to know one another in an authentic way. I’m not really looking to find out whether their organizational skills could use improvement, or that they struggle with presenting to large groups or even leading large teams. I’m trying to find out whether they have self-awareness; whether they are able to be critical; and most importantly, whether they’re able to tell the truth — when it’s difficult.

For those candidates who don’t buy in, however, I spend the majority of the interview trying to pry off their layers of canned responses. I leave the interview wondering:Who are you? And what’s worse — I’ll never know. Because they’ll never get the job.

David Reese leads people and culture at Medallia. He came to Medallia from Caesars Entertainment, where he was Senior Vice President of Human Resources. Prior to that, he was a Senior Manager in HR at Macy’s, a board member of the nonprofit ITN, and an Adjunct Professor at Nevada State College.

Inside the Recruiter’s Head: What He’s Really Asking You During the Interview- by Jayne Mattson

Jayne Mattson is Senior Vice President at Keystone Associates, a leading career management and transition services consulting firm in Boston, Massachusetts. Mattson specializes in helping mid-to-senior level individuals in new career exploration, networking strategies and career decisions based on corporate culture fit.
You applied for a new job, and you’ve been called in for an interview. During the interview process, there are three main questions that need to be answered to help the HR person determine if you’re the right fit for the job:
  • Can this person do the job?
  • Will he do the job?
  • Will he fit in with the company culture?

By asking what I call “the question behind the question,” hiring managers have a better chance to making the right hiring decision. As job seekers, your task is to answer them honestly and fully. Here are 10 top questions that the interviewer might ask, along with the hidden agenda behind each one. Tread carefully — the way you approach the answer might tell more than what you actually say.

1. As you reflect back at your last position, what was missing that you are looking for in your next role?

This question gets at the heart of why you’re leaving the current job or, in the case of a reduction in workforce, it helps the interviewer understand what was missing. If you answer with, “I didn’t have access to my boss, which made it difficult to get questions answered,” then the interviewer might follow up with, “Can you give me a specific example where you had to make a decision on your own because your boss was not available?” This follow-up question will help the interviewer determine your level of decision making and how much access to the manager you’ll need.

2. What qualities of your last boss did you admire, and what qualities did you dislike?

This is precarious territory because your answer needs to have a balance of positive and negative feedback. It will show if you are tactful in answering a tricky question and if your leadership style is congruent with the admired or disliked ones. If you name a trait the interviewer dislikes or that’s not in line with company culture, then you might not be a fit for the position.

3. How would you handle telling an employee his position is being eliminated after working for the company for 25 years, knowing they would be emotional?

This question is not unrealistic in today’s job market, since companies continue to downsize as a way of conducting business. Knowing that you might have to deal with this situation, the interviewer wants to know how you would tell the long-term employee the bad news. Would you tell the business reason why the company is downsizing, and would you thank the person in a genuine, heartfelt way for years of service?

4. How do you like to be rewarded for good performance?

As simple as this question is, it helps the interviewer get a sense of what motivates you — is it money, time off or more formal recognition? If you’re interviewing for a management role, the follow-up question could be: How do you reward the good performance of employees who work for you? Are you a “do as I say, not as I do” type of manager? The interviewer is looking for congruency in behaviors, because if you don’t practice what you preach, then it might not be a cultural fit.

5. Can you give me an example of when your relationship with your manager went off track and how you handled it?

The interviewer is listening for the reasons why the relationship went off track. Are you taking responsibility for your own actions first or placing blame on the manager? The interviewer wants to learn more about your communication style and how you approach conflict.

6. When a person says “I have integrity,” what does that mean to you?

The follow-up question is: “How have you demonstrated integrity in your work?” Integrity is broad, and most people think they have it, but can you really articulate what it looks and sounds like? The interviewer is looking for congruency of words and actions with this question.

7. Can you tell me about your experience working with the generation X or Y? What are the three qualities you admire about them?

There’s been much talk about the work habits of various generations. At a startup, you’ll likely be working with younger people, and employers want to know how you will integrate with this population. And young people will be working with baby boomers at bigger companies, like Dell and Apple. The interviewer will be looking for ways you’ve collaborated with workers of all ages and used each others’ talents to achieve a goal — do you have the energy, drive and attitude to work well with others?

8. Do you think age discrimination exists in the job market and if so, why?

Some job seekers use “age discrimination” or “I make too much money” as the reasons why they did not get the interview or the job. In reality, they have applied for a job for which they are overqualified. They have too many skills for this particular job and the employer can find someone who has the exact skill and salary that commensurate with the job. Don’t make that mistake.

9. Can you convince me you are the most qualified person for this role based on what we have discussed?

The interviewer wants to make sure you clearly understand what the problems are and what would be expected of you in the event of your hire. This is the opportunity for you to sell yourself effectively for the job.

10. As you look at your previous companies, can you describe in detail which company culture did you excel in the most and why?

The interviewer is looking for a culture fit, which is one of the essential criteria for job satisfaction. They want to hire someone who will do his best work for you, so do your research before you go in for the interview.


JAYNE MATTSONJayne Mattson is Senior Vice President of Keystone Associates, specializes in helping mid-to-senior level individuals in new career exploration, networking strategies and career decisions based on corporate culture fit

How to Get a Job at Google – by Thomas L. Friedman

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — LAST June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. … We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams. At a time when many people are asking, “How’s my kid gonna get a job?” I thought it would be useful to visit Google and hear how Bock would answer.

Don’t get him wrong, Bock begins, “Good grades certainly don’t hurt.” Many jobs at Google require math, computing and coding skills, so if your good grades truly reflect skills in those areas that you can apply, it would be an advantage. But Google has its eyes on much more.

“There are five hiring attributes we have across the company,” explained Bock. “If it’s a technical role, we assess your coding ability, and half the roles in the company are technical roles. For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”

The second, he added, “is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

What else? Humility and ownership. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in,” he said, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. “Your end goal,” explained Bock, “is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.”

And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.” It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” said Bock.

“They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. … What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ ” You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.

The least important attribute they look for is “expertise.” Said Bock: “If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’ ” Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, “because most of the time it’s not that hard.” Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.

To sum up Bock’s approach to hiring: Talent can come in so many different forms and be built in so many nontraditional ways today, hiring officers have to be alive to every one — besides brand-name colleges. Because “when you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.” Too many colleges, he added, “don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don’t learn the most useful things for your life. It’s [just] an extended adolescence.”

Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.

Change the World: Treat the Interview as a Sales Call

Most employment interviews are a waste of time. Candidates think they’re about correctly answering the interviewer’s questions and interviewers think they’re designed to figure out if the candidate meets the requirements listed in the job description. They’re not.

Google just found out after exhaustive research that brainteasers don’t predict on-the-job performance. (To be a bit cynical here, this is not new news. I read about this classic problem in the mid-1990s doing research for my first book.) The bigger news at Google is that they found that very few of their hiring managers have a good track record using the interview for predicting on-the-job success. Google’s revelation is not uncommon.

Given that the common and traditional interview is flawed, including the vaunted behavioral interview (see below), what is a job-seeker, hiring manager, recruiter or anyone on the interviewing team to do? I suggest all parties take a page from any well-trained sales department and convert the employment interview into a discovery call. Here’ssalesforce.com’s blog describing this core activity. In essence, the idea is to use the sales call to find out the customer’s needs and then craft a solution that demonstrates your product is a perfect fit. Whatever side of the desk you’re on, this is what interviewing should be about.

During the interview the buyer and seller roles often switch, so conducting parallel discovery can become a bit unnerving – similar to dating. Regardless, here are the basic steps.

The Discovery Process for the Job-seeker

Step 1: Find out what’s being sold. Don’t assume the person interviewing you is competent. If the interviewer is either box-checking skills, asking pointless questions, or asking brainteasers, begin your discovery right away. This starts by asking questions at the beginning of the interview to uncover real job needs. Here are some questions that will get you started:

  • What’s the focus of the job?
  • What are some big problems or issues the person will face right away?
  • How will performance be measured?
  • Are there any team related challenges?
  • Why is the position open?

Step 2: Prove you’re the solution. Once you have some understanding of the job, you’ll then need to describe some past accomplishment that demonstrates you’re capable of doing the work required. Use the SAFW two-minute response to form your answers. This involves providing a 1-2 minute overview of a major past accomplishment with just enough details to naturally prompt the interviewer to ask some clarifying follow-up questions. You’ll need to do this for at least 2-3 of the most important aspects of the job during the interview in order to “win the sale.”

Step 3: At the end of the interview ask for the order, or at least find out the next steps. Something like, “Based on what we’ve discussed, do you think my background is a good fit for the position? (Pause) What are the next steps in the process?” If you are a good fit for the job, the interviewer will be specific about the next steps. A vague response is not a good sign.

The Discovery Process for the Interviewer

Step 1: Be different. Don’t ask behavioral questions since all candidates have practiced answering these. (Here’s Google’s multi-million answers.)

Step 2: Figure out what you’re selling. Start by making sure everyone on the hiring team is familiar with the performance-based job description listing the top 4-5 performance objectives required for on-the-job success. Interviewing accuracy is dramatically improved when everyone knows what they’re evaluating.

Step 3: Early in the interview find out why the candidate is looking for another job, most likely it’s something involving economic need or lack of sufficient career growth. You’ll use the balance of the interview to determine if your position meets these needs. This will be essential for negotiating the offer, especially if the person is a passive candidate and/or has multiple opportunities.

Step 4: Validate what you’re buying. Use The Most Important Interview Question of All Timeand the associated fact-finding questions to find out if the candidate is competent and motivated to do the actual work required. This involves describing one of the performance objectives and then asking the candidate to describe a comparable accomplishment. You’ll need to do this for the 3-4 most important performance objectives to make an accurate assessment. From this you’ll be able to determine if the gap between what you’re offering and what the candidate has done is a career move, a lateral transfer or something below or beyond the candidate’s current abilities.

Step 5: Determine thinking skills. Rather than using brainteasers to figure out thinking and problem-solving ability, ask about a real problem the person in the role is likely to face. (This is the second half of the two-question Performance-based Interview.) The purpose is to get into a back-and-forth dialogue to determine if the candidate’s approach to solving the problem is appropriate. Focus on the process of getting the answer, not the answer itself. Then Anchor the question by getting an example of what the person has done that’s most comparable to the problem being discussed. (See Anchor and Visualize questioning pattern.)

Step 6: If the candidate is someone you’d like to consider, describe the opportunity gap and present your job as a true career move. Then find out the candidate’s interest in further discussion. (Here’s the complete explanation behind the selling process involved in negotiating offers.)

Whether you’re on the hiring or job-seeking side it’s important to recognize that an interview is a sales call. While figuring out who’s the buyer and seller is a function of supply and demand, meeting the performance objectives for the job is what’s being bought and sold. Unfortunately, too many companies, job-seekers and interviewers lose sight of the core purpose of the interview. You won’t, if you put yourself in the shoes of a top sales rep on a 100% commission plan, and are always fully prepared.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the creator of Performance-based Hiring and the author of the Amazon Top 10 business best-seller, Hire With Your Head (Wiley, 2007). His new book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, (Workbench, 2013) has just been published. Feel free to joinLou’s new LinkedIn group or ‘like’ us on Facebook to discuss all types of hiring issues.