Ever know top performers who still had hiring managers judge them as complete failures and misfits within minutes during a job interview?

The sad irony is that you're incompetent until proven job-worthy when interviewing for a job with someone you don't know. And if you are the business owner doing the actual hiring, guess what? You very well could be turning away top talent--and shooting yourself in the foot in the process.

Maybe your personal network links you to all the talent you will ever possibly need. But I doubt it.

After about five years of trial and error, I developed the parameters for a "Performance-based Interview" that levels the playing field for everyone.

Combine this with job descriptions that specify actual objectives ("Learn the product line and achieve quota within six months.") versus rote lists of experience and skills ("Have two to three years selling cloud-based applications to C-level executives to mid-sized companies."). And you've got a hiring process that actually brings in the best.

Here's a summary of the eight things you need to do through an interview in order to effectively judge an applicant's fit for a job:

1. Make an introduction.

The purpose of the introduction is to take control of the conversation and find out the candidate's true motivation for looking for another job. You need to zero in on the best people who see the job as a potential career move. The "why" is more important than the "what."

So give a one to two minute overview of the job, and then ask the candidate to give you a quick overview of what he or she has done that's most comparable. Be sure to ask what the person is looking for in a new job and why those factors are important.

2. Force yourself to remain objective.

Whether the person's a stranger or a former co-worker, don't start the interview with any assumption about competency. Clear your mind, because more errors are made in the first 30 minutes of the interview due to bias, the impact of first impressions, and lack of understanding of real job needs. (This post describes how to eliminate most of these types of errors.)

3. Spend 30 minutes on a work-history review, looking for an achiever pattern.

The whole point is to find an "achiever pattern." Find out why the person changed jobs and if the move proved worthy. Within each company, look for successes and areas where the person has been recognized for strong performance. Was this person given more challenging assignments, assigned to important teams, and promoted into bigger roles?

4. Ask about the person's major accomplishments.

Ask the "most significant accomplishment" question to fully understand the person's major successes in each past position. A core part of the performance-based assessment is comparing the person's major accomplishments to those described in the performance-based job description. Do these two things click together? The trend of performance and growth of these accomplishments over time is a strong indicator of ability and potential.

5. Ask the problem-solving question.

Ask the candidate how he or she would solve a realistic job-related problem. Then get into a give-and-take discussion with the objective of understanding the process the person would use to solve the problem.

The answer itself is less important that the process the person uses to solve the problem. The best people in any job function have the ability to visualize a solution to a problem before they begin implementing it.

Please avoid brain teasers, hypotheticals and trick questions. They are not predictive of success.

6. Give the job candidate a chance to ask questions.

Candidate questions asked early in the interview are typically rehearsed. Spontaneous questions asked after the candidate knows the requirements of the job are better indicators of insight, ability and interest.

7. Does this represent a career move?

So now you're thinking about what you've gotten out of the interview. You don't want someone who is merely changing jobs for more money. You want someone who is seeking to grow and stretch--who sees your job as an opportunity to accomplish more than what was possible in the previous job. Is there a gap between what your job offers and what the candidate has accomplished? The size of the gap represents the size of the career move.

8. Measure first impressions again.

Even if first impressions are important to job success, don't let them affect your judgment. Keep an open mind at the start of the interview. Instead, assess first impressions at the end of interview by determining if the person's first impression will help or hinder job success. With this forced delay, you'll discover about a third of the people aren't nearly as good as you first thought, and another third aren't as bad.

Follow this performance-based interview--along with relying on my "Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard" and a actual performance-based job description--and you'll have a team that can move mountains.

Published on: Jun 9, 2014