This past weekend I assisted a client in vetting candidates for a critical position. She called Friday night, and said, "Marissa, I interviewed this candidate for the Chief Operating Officer (COO) position. He's young, but I really like him, and want you to conduct the next interview. Can you come tomorrow?"

Of course I complied. We've been scouting for this position for months, and she needs a "Number Two" to streamline processes to move to the next levels of growth. She forwarded me the candidate's resume. Admittedly, I was unimpressed, and skeptical.

However, my 20+ years of experience in vetting employees has taught me that resumes only tell a fraction of the story, and sometimes even tell the wrong story. In the hiring process, it's important to keep an open mind, and peel back the layers to uncover potential.

In my work with my clients, I'm extremely protective of their well-being. Given the outrageous cost of making the wrong hires, every decision matters.

In the hiring process, my sole purpose is to determine if this person has the character, drive, work ethic, and competency to move my client's organization forward.

Here are the questions I ask when evaluating a potential candidate fit:

What is your professional vision for the next 3-5 years? Where do you see yourself going? What do you see yourself doing?

The answer to this question is vitally important for a critical and highly strategic position. Companies require visionaries at the executive level. Visioning always starts with oneself.

If a person can not envision their own future, how can they be expected to execute the vision of someone else?

Ideally, our supporting leaders must have personal professional visions that align with our organizational vision, where they feel that our organizations enable them to realize their own visions.

Why do you want to work for me, and for my company?

For the 15 years that I ran my first company Information Experts before departing in 2011, I clarified that job candidates were interested in working for me and for my company, not simply looking for a job.

To make this decision, this meant they had to do research on me and the company. What about me personally as a leader intrigued them? Why would they want to work for my company specifically, instead of working somewhere else? Why would they be loyal to us?

How have you already implemented/accomplished what this job requires of you? How did you manage the entire change from beginning to end?

In my client's situation, we are looking for someone to make clarity out of chaos, to establish processes where there are none, and to manage the disruption that will accompany this change. I wanted to know:

  • What specific processes have you implemented?
  • What was the state of the company prior to the process implementation?
  • How did you develop the vision for the process?
  • How did you drive buy-in for the process?
  • How did you implement the process?
  • How did you manage the disruption?
  • How did you institute accountability for following the process?

What about your current position isn't working? How have you tried to rectify it?

This question gets to the mindset of the candidate, how comfortable they are with discomfort, and how quickly they jump ship when a problem arises. Are they solutions-focused, or do they bail at the first sign of trouble?

It may also uncover their seriousness about their job search. If they are simply exploring options to know what else is out there, it's important to learn this up front. I'm also not interested in simply being another offer that a candidate can use to negotiate for more money within their current position, or leverage against another offer.

What are the cultures like at your current and previous companies? What have you liked or not liked?

Cultural alignment is essential when making any hire. My client's organization has a fast-paced culture. We require someone who takes initiative, requires very little management and hand-holding, and sees opportunities for improvement rather than problems. We need someone who is comfortable stepping into an environment where employees will resist change, and embraces the opportunity to untangle chaos.

How do you develop yourself?

This question indicates whether the candidate has a growth mindset. Today's business environment provides a wealth of self-development opportunities. While it's important for companies to invest in employee development, it's also important for employees to take ownership for their own growth.

Who are your mentors, and why?

References verify current or past employment, but they often don't provide enough depth to expose the drive and character of a candidate. Further, past or present employers are legally limited in what they can say about a candidate.

Mentors, on the other hand, indicate a desire to develop long-term, substantive relationships, and a commitment to personal growth. Asking about mentor relationships enables a business owner to evaluate the emotional intelligence of a candidate.

In today's business environment, engaging with mentors has never been easier. There are now 5 generations working together in the workplace and the traditional hierarchical structure that separated the executives from everyone else is antiquated.

Platforms like Linked In provide access to mentors in every field, across every discipline. There are also dozens of mentoring platforms to link mentees and mentors together.

Resumes are a good start in finding the right candidate, but they rarely tell the whole story, or even the right story as it pertains to your firm. An objective third party who knows your leadership strengths and weaknesses, and what your company needs to move to the next level, can drill deep, and be the catalyst to landing your next rock star.

Good luck!