The best questions to ask in a job interview: Mark Josephson

From Adam Bryant‘s interview of Bitly CEO Mark Josephson:

Q. How do you hire?

A. I will start with: “Tell me your story. Where are you from? Tell me about your mom and dad. What did they do? Tell me about your brothers and sisters.” I love to hear how they tell their stories. And have they given any thought to how they tell their stories? I don’t like taking anything for granted in my personal life or my professional life, and I’m drawn to people with plans. People who make plans are much more likely to achieve them and set goals.

I like to hear about what was hard for them and where they won or lost. People with a history of success and hard work are more likely to be successful and work hard in the future. I’ll ask them, “What’s the hardest you’ve ever worked?”

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring rule

Mark Zuckerberg, quoted in Entrepreneurial Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg:

What’s the right heuristic for determining if someone is really good? Over time, what I figured out was that the only actual way to let someone analyze whether someone was really good was if they would work for that person. I don’t think that needs to recurse too many levels down in the organization but I basically think that’s a really good heuristic. I believe that. If you look at my management team today if we were in an alternate universe and I hadn’t started the company it would be an honor to work for any of these people. I think if you build a company that has those kind of values, rather than just saying ‘oh I want to hire the best person I can find’ or whatever, if you hold yourself to that standard then I think you’ll build a pretty strong company.

5 testable qualities that determine a candidate’s potential

From The Big Idea: 21st-Century Talent Spotting by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz:

Having spent 30 years evaluating and tracking executives and studying the factors in their performance, I now consider potential to be the most important predictor of success at all levels, from junior management to the C-suite and the board. I’ve learned how to identify people who have it and to help companies develop and deploy them.

The first indicator of potential we look for is the right kind of motivation: a fierce commitment to excel in the pursuit of unselfish goals. We consider motivation first because it is a stable—and usually unconscious—quality. If someone is driven purely by selfish motives, that probably won’t change.

We then consider four other qualities that are hallmarks of potential, according to our research:
– Curiosity: a penchant for seeking out new experiences, knowledge, and candid feedback and an openness to learning and change
– Insight: the ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities
– Engagement: a knack for using emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people
– Determination: the wherewithal to fight for difficult goals despite challenges and to bounce back from adversity

The best question to ask in a job interview: via a CEO coach

From Adam Bryant‘s interview of Bitly CEO Mark Josephson (my italics):

A C.E.O. coach I had worked with said to me: “You need to understand your priorities. What were the three times in your career when you were the happiest, the most successful and just the most fulfilled, and what were you doing? Find an opportunity that matches those.”

(1) We know that people are most successful when they get to do what they’re best at and love most.
(2) I’ve tried asking candidates directly what they most love doing, with limited success. Perhaps they tailor their answer to what they think you want to hear, or perhaps the question is too open-ended. Asking for “three times in your career” seems a far better way to get the same information.

How to run a job interview

From Reinventing Hiring by Dr. Todd Dewett:

In the interview, don’t discuss resumes. Resumes are fake places to take refuge. Ignore them after initial vetting when you get to the small pile of candidates. Instead, have real conversations and make them do real work. They can’t prepare for conversations not directly tied to their resume and they can’t fake tackling real work with their potential colleagues. Follow the lead of Nucor Steel, BMW, and many others by putting them to work discussing real issues or tinkering with real products. If you can’t afford expensive assessment centers like BMW, so what. Just sit around a table with a candidate and throw some of your work at them. See how fast they start to get it. Hire the one that gets it the fastest.

In other words, don’t ask the candidates about their capabilities, get them to demonstrate them. Note the similarity to Lou Adler’s treat job candidates as consultants, Kevin Morrill’s “explain something to me”, Jitbit’s hire them for a task, and Ryan Hoover’s look at their blog, not their resume.

How to avoid hiring someone just because you like them

Excerpts from How to Prevent Half of All Hiring Mistakes in 30 Minutes by Lou Adler:

When interviewers meet candidates they like, they maximize the positives and ignore the negatives. When they meet someone they don’t like, they reverse the process. Getting past the first 30 minutes without making a yes or no decision is critical to increasing assessment accuracy and preventing most common hiring mistakes. This is harder than it sounds, but here are some ideas that might help.

Be more cynical with people you like. When you like a candidate you naturally go into sales mode, ask softball questions, and ignore or minimize negatives. To overcome this natural tendency, force yourself to ask tougher questions, digging deep into the person’s accomplishments that most directly relate to your job opening.

Treat people you don’t like as consultants. Sometimes candidates are nervous, sometimes they’re different from you in appearance or personality, and sometimes they talk with accents you don’t like. And sometimes, these are great people. To find the truth, assume they’re great, and treat them as expert consultants. After 30 minutes you might discover they are.

I love the idea of treating every candidate as an expert consultant, and the interview as a working session. Instead of interviewing someone, you’re seeing what it’s like to work with them.

The 3 things Google looks for when hiring

From How to Get a Job at Google by Thomas Friedman, quoting Google SVP of people operations Laszlo Block:

“For every job 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] 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.

Trial periods and deferring premium pay

From Reinventing Hiring by Dr. Todd Dewett:

Use non-permanent initial employment.  It’s often called probation, but I’m sure we can come up with a better label.  In the US it’s fairly rare for professional roles, though more common in other countries, for example, the UK.  Zappos is really onto something in this regard by paying people to quit, but I think they could save their money by simply initiating a 6-12 month try-out period.  Nobody can hide real deficiencies or fool you by managing impressions for that long.  Over this period, you honestly get to know someone and can then make an informed decision since you’ve observed them produce work and collaborate with the team.

Defer premium pay.  Instead, go market or submarket.  Are you willing to pay top wages for top talent?  Yes.  Should you pay it before seeing what they can do?  No.  A better alternative is to agree on a much-improved second year compensation package that kicks in after they survive the probation period.  If you’re a destination employer due to overall culture, opportunity, and pay, this will work.  You’ll find the talent who really wants to build something meaningful with you over time and you’ll weed out the mercenaries who are always looking for the next jump.

Do you think these suggestions are fair and would work?

Advice for graduating college students

From the Corner Office interview with Ariel Investments CEO John W. Rogers Jr.:

I try to get them to focus on a few things. One is the importance of hard work and really putting in the extra effort from Day 1, when they start their careers. Surprise your boss that you’re there on a Saturday or a Sunday or late in the evening. It shows people you’re committed.

The second thing is to always look for ways to help your teammates. And the third thing is to make sure you live up to the commitments that you make to your teammates. Become that rare person where people know that your word is your bond and you’re going to do exactly what you say you’re going to do.

The best question to ask in a job interview: Lou Adler

From Lou Adler:

More than 90 percent of hiring managers think they’re good interviewers, yet rarely do they reach unanimous hiring decisions with other 90 percenters in the same room evaluating the same candidate. This realization led me on a quest to find the one interview question that would yield universal agreement from hiring managers. It took 10 years of trial and error, but I eventually found it. Here’s it is:

What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?

Lou then asks detailed follow up questions, such as “Walk me through the plan, how you managed it, and its measured success”, “How long did it take?”, “What were the actual results?”, “What aspects did you love, and what didn’t you enjoy?”. He concludes:

With an accomplishment big enough, and answers detailed enough to fill 20 minutes, this one line of questioning can tell an interviewer everything he or she needs to know about a candidate. The insight gained is remarkable. But the real secret ingredient is not the question; that’s just a setup. The most important elements are the details underlying the accomplishment. This is what real interviewing is about — delving into the details.