How to find out in an interview if someone is a giver or a taker

Edited excerpt from 1 Interview Question That Cuts Through the BS to Reveal Someone’s True Character by Betsy Mikel:

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant says that the more often people help each other, the better the organization does. To create a culture of helping, you need to hire the givers, not the takers. However, just because someone is agreeable doesn’t mean they’re a giver — there are plenty of agreeable takers and disagreeable givers in this world. To find out whether someone is a giver or taker, irrespective of how agreeable they are, ask:

Can you give me the names of four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?

The takers will give you the names of four people who have more influence than they do. They care more about influence than they do about helping. The givers will give you the names of four people you’ve likely never heard of, who are equal to them or below them in power. That’s because givers aren’t in the business of helping to help themselves succeed.

Notes:
(1) Thank you Hana Abduljaami for the tip.
(2) This is very different from most other recommended interview questions, such as Sonya Meloff’s, Peter Thiel’s, Spencer Rascoff’s and Lou Adler’s.

Four qualities to look for when interviewing a product manager

Edited excerpt from This Is Why I Never Hire Product Managers by David Cancel:

I try to never hire someone who has been a product manager before. I’ve never seen a correlation with past experience and future success when it comes to product managers. Instead, there are a set of patterns we look for when hiring product managers:

1. Are they truly a product junkie? Are they the first to be playing around with new products? Are they telling me about some product I don’t know about? Do they know about more products than me? And do they have passion around this? I love to have candidates show me their phone or desktop to see which apps they are using, which new products they are testing.

2. Are they curious? Are they settling for yes or questioning why? Do they want to learn from others? What ideas do they have for products? How would they make them better? Pick a product on the spot and ask them to show you how they use it, what they’d change and how they would improve it.

3. How do they work everyday? What do they use from a process standpoint? Trello? Evernote? ProdPad? The best PM’s are always trying new things and finding ways to improve when it comes to process and organization.

4. Do they have a customer-driven mindset? It’s the PMs job to understand the customer better than nearly everyone else. PMs should be talking to the customer the most at your company other than support. Can they help engineering and design get closer to the customer?

Two things don’t matter: Technical ability, and dashboards, slide decks and Excel. Looking at data all day is not what being a PM is about.

Notes:
(1) Cf. The ideal personality type for product managers.
(2) Re. “I’ve never seen a correlation with past experience and future success”: cf. Don’t hire based on past experience.
(3) Re. “Are they curious?”: cf. How to test job candidates for “learning agility”.
(4) Re. “Do they have a customer-driven mindset?”: do they focus on the Job To Be Done?
(5) Re. “Dashboards don’t matter… looking at data all day is not what being a PM is about”: Do you agree with that?

How to identify an A-player in an interview

Edited excerpt from This Is How You Identify A-Players (In About 10 Minutes) During An Interview by Mitchell Harper:

I sat down earlier today and thought about all of the A-players I’ve been fortunate enough to hire over the years at my five previous companies, and came up with seven questions you can use in your interview process to give you a much better chance of finding and hiring them:

Q1 Have they been promoted at least once in a previous role?

Q2 Have they had to lead a big project in a previous role? How did they handle it?

Q3 Is this the same role as a previous job or is it somewhat/completely different?

Q4 Can they speak about your company and tell you what they like and what they might change?

Q5 Are they confident without being cocky?

Q6 Are they committed to continual learning? Can they prove it?

Q7 How would you rate the quality and quantity of questions they ask YOU during the interview?

Notes:
(1) The rationale behind each question is provided in the full article.
(2) Re. “Are they committed to continual learning? Can they prove it?”, see How to test job candidates for “learning agility” and 5 testable qualities that determine a candidate’s potential.
(3) Cf. Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring rule.

How to interview a VP SaaS Sales — questions to ask

Edited excerpt from Jason Lemkin in 10 Great Questions to Ask a VP Sales During an Interview:

1. How big a team do you think we need right now, given what you know? (If he/she can’t answer — right or wrong — pass).

2. What deal sizes have you sold to, on average and range? (If it’s not a similar fit to you, pass. If he/she can’t answer fluidly, pass).

3. Tell me about the teams you’ve directly managed, and how you built them. (If he/she can’t describe how they built a team — pass).

4. What sales tools have you used and what works for you? What hasn’t worked well? (If they don’t understand sales tools, they aren’t a real VP Sales).

5. Who do you know right now that would join you on our sales team? (All good candidates should have a few in mind). Tell me about them, by background if not name.

6. How should sales and client success/management work together? (This will ferret out how well he/she understands the true customer lifecycle).

7. Tell me about deals you’ve lost to competitors. What’s going to be key in our space about winning vs. competitors?

8. How do you deal with FUD in the marketplace? (This will ferret out if they know how to compete — or not).

9. Do you work with sales engineers and sales support? If so, what role do they need to play at this stage when capital is finite? (This will ferret out if he/she can play at an early-stage SaaS start-up successfully — and if he knows how to scale once you scale).

10. What will my revenues look like 120 days after I hire you? (Have him/her explain to you what will happen. There’s no correct answer. But there are many wrong answers).

11. How should sales and marketing work together at our phase? (This will ferret out if he understands lead generation and how to work a lead funnel. Believe it or not, most candidates don’t understand this unless they were really a VP Sales before).

How to interview sales people

Edited excerpt from The World’s Best Interview Question …and 4 other hiring tactics to avoid ending up with salespeople who can’t sell by Sonya Meloff and Jamie Scarborough:

1. In the first 30 minutes of your initial interview, decide if you would buy from them. Put yourself in the mind of a potential customer. Have a conversation and allow them to engage with you. If, after 30 minutes, the answer is “no,” reject them from the process. If the answer is “yes,” progress the candidate to a much more rigorous analysis.

2. Find some proof that they have a strong work ethic. The clearest evidence is someone who knows their own performance numbers extremely well because hard workers love to be measured. The best reps discuss their performance history proudly and confidently both on their resume and in-person.

3. Dig into their sales metrics. How well did they perform compared to their peers? You should be looking for people who consistently rank in the top 25% of performers in each of their previous roles.

4. Ask them “How did you prepare for this meeting with me today?”. That exposes the sales imposterwho survives entirely on hustle and personality.

5. Assign each short-listed candidate a project (such as a 30, 60, or 90-day plan) that helps determine how job-ready they are, how much effort they put into things, and also gives the candidate a chance to get more invested in our company. Instead of sending them home to do this and present to you later, invite them to work with you for a couple of hours on the project so you can get a real sense of how they think and tackle challenges, how coachable they are, and how much you enjoy spending time with them.

Notes:
(1) On “invite them to work with you for a couple of hours on the project”, cf. Lou Adler’s treat job candidates as consultants.
(2) See also: How to run a job interview.

The best question to ask in a job interview: Sonya Meloff and Jamie Scarborough

From The World’s Best Interview Question …and 4 other hiring tactics to avoid ending up with salespeople who can’t sell by Sonya Meloff and Jamie Scarborough:

How did you prepare for this meeting with me today?

Boom! Like water on a wicked witch, we will see the poorly prepared splutter and shrink in the spotlight, while the true sales champion will be thrilled that we asked. They will explain to us how they dug into our websites, Googled our competitors and industry, reviewed our work histories on LinkedIn and found photos of our dogs on Instagram. They will be prepared in the way we always want them to be when they meet our clients: ready to set themselves apart.

Notes:
(1) I like this question a lot, because it probes what someone has actually done in a real world situation — “You came here to sell me on yourself; what did you do to prepare?”
(2) This is more powerful than using tests to ascertain their capabilities, because tests don’t occur in a real work context. And it’s far more powerful than asking the candidate to talk about their capabilities.
(3) See How to run a job interview.

The best question to ask in a job interview: Peter Thiel

Edited excerpt from Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel:

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

This is a question that sounds easy because it’s straightforward. Actually, it’s very hard to answer. It’s intellectually difficult because the knowledge that everyone is taught in school is by definition agreed upon. And it’s psychologically difficult because anyone trying to answer must say something she knows to be unpopular. Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

Notes:
(1) My answer to Peter’s question: “Most entrepreneurs and VCs believe that when you’re not growing fast enough, you should do more. I believe you should do less. By reducing the scope of your activities, you can focus more easily on the core of what will make you great.”
(2) What’s yours?

How to test job candidates for “learning agility”

Edited excerpt from Study: The Most Important Characteristic In A CEO Is… by Paul Petrone:

In a study, Korn Ferry, the world’s largest executive search firm, found that the one characteristic that correlated most directly to an executive’s success is “learning agility”. Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison defines learning agility as “people’s willingness to grow, to learn, to have insatiable curiosity”.

Burnison say you can test for learning agility by asking the right questions during the job interview. “I like to ask questions that explore somebody’s thinking style. Practically speaking, it would be, ‘hey, we are struggling with this kind of problem, how do you think about it?’ Rather than, a candidate saying, ‘this is what I did for this company or that company.’ It is more to engage in a dialogue and a probing about how we think and how the candidate thinks. That’s what we are trying to get to.”

People with strong learning agility will be able to answer spur-of-the-moment questions with logical, thought-out answers. People who lack it will regurgitate past experiences, instead of adapting to what the situation calls for.

Notes:
(1) “People with strong learning agility will be able to answer spur-of-the-moment questions with logical, thought-out answers.” Really? Some people may need time to think. There must be a way to architect an interview to allow for that.
(2) This is valuable not only for job interviews, but also for assessing your team. If learning agility = insatiable curiosity, then an effective litmus test might be: “How good are the questions this person asks?” (This is one of the reasons this blog has a category devoted to asking questions.)
(3) Thank you Guy Cohen for the tip.
(4) Cf. (i) How to run a job interview, (ii) Treat job candidates as consultants, (iii) Explain something to me, and (iv) Hire them for a task.

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?”

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.”

Notes:
(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.

Notes:
(1) In other words, don’t ask the candidates about their capabilities, get them to demonstrate them.
(2) 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 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.

The best question to ask in a job interview: Kevin Morrill

From Kevin Morrill on the Referly blog:

I’ve been doing this question for years and now have seen over two hundred different answers. It’s without a doubt my favorite interview question, because it only take 5 minutes and tells me a remarkable amount about candidates:

 I want you to explain something to me. Pick any topic you want: a hobby you have, a book you’ve read, a project you worked on–anything. You’ll have just 5 minutes to explain it. At the beginning of the 5 minutes you shouldn’t assume anything about what I know, and at the end I should understand whatever is most important this topic. During the 5 minutes, I might ask you some questions, and you can ask me questions. Take as much time as you want to think it through, and let me know when you want to start.

Kevin then explains what he’s looking for:

  1. Empathy: “Weaker candidates think that presentation and communication are one in the same, and lose sight of their audience.”
  2. Goal directed and organized: “It is amazing how many candidates will not premeditate before diving into this interview question. What’s most incredible about this is how accurately it predicts disorganized and non-goal directed behavior on the job.”
  3. Leaders have the guts to say No: “For senior positions, I will ask a question early in the 5 minutes that is a complete tangent and has little to do with their goal. A star candidate will politely refuse to go down this rat hole and insist that we stay on topic.”

The best questions to ask in a job interview: Adi Tatarko

Excerpt from the Corner Office interview with Houzz CEO Adi Tatarko:

I just in general want to understand what is it that will make you happy. So I will ask you, “What will make you thrive?” But I will also ask, “What will make you unhappy?”

And this is always very interesting, and you learn a lot about people. Sometimes they’re very surprised, because they don’t expect a negative question like, “What makes you unhappy at work?” But you hear great answers.

I like hearing that people don’t like to be micromanaged. They like to be responsible for something. People don’t like repetition. They don’t like boring things. When someone says, “I want to own something. I want you to trust me,” I love that.

The best questions to ask in a job interview: Spencer Rascoff

From an interview with Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff:

Q. How do you hire? What questions do you ask?

A. What are you most proud of so far in your career? And if you ran your current company, what are some things you would change? What I’m looking for with that question is whether people “level up.” Usually their answer is very narrow and focused on their particular area. Successful interviewees have broader and more strategic answers.

I then usually ask them to describe the job they’re interviewing for, which is a good question for several reasons. First, it helps force them to articulate what the job description is and how their skills would fit into that job description. Second, it helps me learn their level of interest in the company. It immediately becomes apparent whether they’ve done the research and whether they are really serious. I also ask where they think their career will go in the next five or 10 years.

Q. And what is a good answer to that last question?

A. I want to hire people with ambition, but humble ambition. I want people who want to advance their career, but they need to do so in a self-deprecating, unassuming and not-obnoxious manner. I don’t want to hire jerks.

The best question to ask in a job interview: DJ Patil

From DJ Patil:

I asked a simple question on the LinkedIn Group for our employees: What’s your favorite interview question? Two questions that stood out were “What’s one question you expected me to ask?” and “What’s one question you wanted me to ask?” While deceptively similar in appearance, they elicit very different answers. So much so that they’ve become a standard part of my interview process. These two questions often give me the most insight into a candidate…

Why does it work so well? For me, it’s because it’s open-ended. It sets us up for a conversation rather than just the usual interrogative interview. The conversation is what really helps me understand how the person thinks, and how we might work together. Most importantly, it can shed light on what it is going to take to help make this person successful.

The best question to ask in a job interview: Simon Anderson

From Simon Anderson‘s Corner Office interview:

Q. Let’s talk about hiring. What qualities are you looking for, and what questions do you ask?

A. I like to hire someone who’s the sort of person who believes they can come up with solutions to problems. It’s definitely not black and white, but I find that if I ask someone about their experiences, and their answers start sounding like, “The world did this to me,” or “An outside party did this to me,” then that can be a signal that maybe they’re not the right candidate. I’d much rather have people who believe that they’re empowered to do things.

Q. If you could ask only a couple of questions in a job interview, what would they be?

A. Probably the first one would be, “Tell me about the first experience in your life when you realized that you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful.”

I love the approach — essentially, Can you get stuff done? But I’d try two modifications: (1) ask about their recent work, not their first experience, and (2) if you’re trying to find out how empowered they feel, don’t anchor them. Thus: “What has had the largest impact on how successful you’ve been in your job?”.