For two years, I was in charge of approximately 200 part-time manufacturing workers we called "task force" employees. Every day we needed more than 150 people to fill gaps on production lines throughout the plant.
Early on, keeping the roster filled -- and, more important, filled with good workers -- was a real problem. The pay was good, but the work was hard: rotating shifts, production pressure, repetitive and often heavy manual labor. A reasonable percentage washed out within weeks.
Until I realized I was approaching the interview process all wrong.
At first, I used the interview guide, a set of boilerplate questions theoretically designed to assess each candidate's experience, qualifications, and skills.
But nearly every candidate possessed the required skills. The job, while physically demanding, was really easy to learn. Almost anyone could do the job.
If they were willing -- to stay busy, stay on task, and, since the plant often ran seven days a week, to work overtime.
One day, I was interviewing a young man and said, almost in passing, "During the summer, we work a lot of overtime."
His eyes lit up. "Really?" he said. "'I will work all the hours you give me. I just bought a brand-new truck and the payments are killing me."
From then on, I casually weaved "we work a lot of overtime" into every interview.
Naturally, the responses varied. Some jumped all over the idea. Others said, with a look of concern, "How much overtime?" Or "Is overtime required or voluntary?" Or "If I work a weekend, will I get days off during the week?"
Had I said, "How do you feel about overtime?" the answer would have been different. Ask for an opinion during an interview and most candidates will tell you what they think you want to hear. "Overtime? Absolutely. Whatever it takes to get the job done."
Make a statement, though, and you'll often get a more honest "answer."
For fun, I kept a tally of how people responded to the overtime line and how things turned out after being hired. In almost every case, the eager-for-overtime candidates were still on the job six months later; a fair percentage had gone on to be hired full time.
In almost every case, the candidates who expressed reservations about overtime had left within three months.
"We work a lot of overtime" turned out to be the most important "question" I could ask.
And that's true for most jobs, no matter how high level. Every job has at least one "overtime" statement.
In sales, it might be, "Our sales reps make a ton of cold calls." For production supervisors, it might be, "Our supervisors spend a ton of time on the shop floor." For programmers, it might be, "Our programmers spend a ton of time debugging older code."
Many candidates will possess the experience and skills to perform the tasks you need. What matters is not only whether they're qualified to get the job but also their willingness to do the actual work.
Try it. Think beyond job descriptions. Think about the one or two attributes that separate the great workers from good ones, or the good workers from the average.
Then, instead of asking a question designed to elicit an opinion, casually slip in a statement. Then pause. People always fill silence, especially in job interviews.
Do that, and you'll be surprised by how often people will say what they really feel.
And not just what they think you want to hear.