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OWNER'S MANUAL

A Great Job Interview Requires a Great Conversation

Finding out if a candidate is right for your company requires more than just a traditional interview.
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Qualifications are great. Skills are great. Experience is great. But those should be a given--those should be what gets the candidate the job interview.

Now it's time to figure out whether a potential employee is a good cultural fit for your company.

Here's another in my series of interviews where I pick a topic and connect with someone a lot smarter than me. This time I talked to Jordan Dolin, co-founder of Emmi Solutions, a company that provides interactive solutions to improve clinical and patient engagement outcomes for healthcare organizations (and a two-time Inc. 5000 honoree.)

Show me anyone who has hired four people and I'll show you a person who regrets at least one of those decisions.

Soft skills are almost impossible to pull out of a resume, yet everyone in hiring seems to realize soft skills really make the difference. Take that one step further: What is the most common reason new employees don't pan out? Rarely do they fail because they don't have the skills. The main problem is a lack of cultural fit.

Even so the average screening and interviewing process rarely addresses cultural fit. The current process is broken... yet most people still follow it.

That's because cultural fit is really hard to determine, especially in an artificial environment like an interview.

I take a step back and think about the attributes the person needs to be successful in our environment and with our customers.

For example, not long ago we hired a PR manager. One thing I wanted to gauge was her creative writing skills. So instead of asking questions that she already had answers for, I just started a conversation. I asked what writers she likes. I asked what she writes for herself.

That conversation was telling because it helped me understand how she thinks.

Give me another example of a "conversational" interview.

We interviewed a gentleman to do lead generation, which is basically cold calling. His resume was basically irrelevant since he was coming right out of college. (Why do you even have a resume when you're fresh out of college?)

I wanted to see if he was bright and could think on his feet. So I asked questions and pushed back occasionally. I wanted to know if he could follow a conversation and handle different opinions and even disagreement. (After all, that's what a good cold caller does.)

At one point he said he really likes good food and enjoys cigars. So I said, "What is your favorite restaurant in Chicago?" I wanted to hear how he would describe something he's passionate about. And I disagreed with his pick just to see how he would handle it.

The key is to decide what skills job--and your culture--truly requires. Lead generators need to be extroverts. They need to be comfortable having conversations, dealing with rejection, overcoming objections, sharing their reasoning in a compelling way... and it's really hard to gauge that by looking at a resume or asking a bunch of canned interview questions.

It's still easy to read people the wrong way. Since an interview is like a first date, most candidates are working hard to come across as a great fit.

That's especially true with candidates for sales positions. After all, good salespeople are first and foremost good at selling themselves.

If you think about every salesperson that worked for us and didn't succeed, the one thing they all have in common is that my co-founder Devin and I looked at each other during the hiring process and said, "He's perfect!"

Not only does a salesperson have to be the right cultural fit for your organization, their style has to mesh with the product they sell and the type of sale. When we first started Emmi the term "patient engagement" didn't exist, so we spent a lot of time explaining what patient engagement is. Now it's the most overused buzzword in healthcare--so 12 years later we spend a lot of time explaining what patient engagement is not.

Early on ours was an evangelical sale that required a tremendous amount of explanation and education. Certain people are much more comfortable doing features and functions sales; they're used to responding to RFPs. Someone phenomenal at RFP or technical sales may not be right for us.

The same was true for people with healthcare sales experience. We hired people with experience selling medical devices or pharmaceuticals... and we later realized they people weren't right for us because they were good at selling a known product. Our sales are consultative sales that require the ability to build and foster consensus.

That raises a good point. An employee can fail at your company and go on to be a superstar somewhere else.

Absolutely. The fact they didn't work out doesn't mean they're terrible workers--that just means they weren't right for your organization and culture.

More importantly, a person who is a superstar at another organization will not automatically be a superstar at yours. Their skills may not translate to what you do.

To your customers, partners, vendors, etc, your employees represent your company. So it all boils down to one common sense question:

Can you picture this person representing your company?

Check out other articles in this series:

Last updated: Aug 28, 2014

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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