"What do you consider your greatest weakness?" "Talk about a time you went above and beyond." How often have you been asked these routine, check-the-box questions in an interview? Or worse, how often have you found yourself asking them to an interviewee?
Interviews are broken. Whether leaders use these rote prompts or the increasingly popular free form interview, we struggle to maximize this short amount of time to make the best decision for our organizations.
When evaluating talent, we tend to be long on credentials and polished answers. We're short on a person's character and the conversations that help us assess someone's potential for leadership. At the same time, most of us would agree that far more than skills, resume traits, and competencies, leadership potential is determined by character-traits like self-awareness, humility, empathy and grit. In my new book, Good People, I aim to help leaders cross this divide. Building off on an earlier HBR article I wrote, "How to Become a Better Judge of Character," the book lays out a method to develop character in ourselves and in those we work with.
So, what can we do better immediately? Here are five ways to redesign the job interview:
1. Create the conditions for a conversation.
The first necessity for a good interview is to remember that you're having a conversation. The best interviews are authentic dialogues between two people, the goal being to determine mutual fit. Whenever possible, especially if you're considering someone for a senior leadership role, go outside the office setting--for a walk, for coffee--to encourage more meaningful dialogue.
2. Reveal a point of view over a rehearsed response.
If you don't want canned answers, don't ask canned questions. What are the candidate's thoughts about a recent news story? Why does this or that capability come naturally to them? What values passed down by their parents do they cherish the most?
3. Understand their development and mentorship philosophy.
Tom Peters once said that the best leaders are those who focus less on generating followers than on producing other leaders. What is a candidate's development and mentorship philosophy? If you're doing a reference check, make sure to bring in people who were under their management, not just their superiors. Great leaders build great teams by being great mentors.
4. Watch the pace, really listen, and probe further.
Standard interview guides can be helpful from a structural standpoint, but they can also pressure an interviewer to just get through it. For most people, being interviewed is a nerve-wracking experience. The biggest job of an interviewer is to listen--really listen. One of the best ways to do this is to be comfortable with silence. Remember that oftentimes a candidate's first response won't be his or her best or most complete answer. Now and again be willing to go deeper by substituting a question with: "Tell me more..."
5. Keep in mind that the best questions are thought experiments, post-interview.
I've been surprised to find how often conversations with candidates are biased toward competency alone. Yes, people need to be able to do the job, but that's the minimum threshold. In the long-run, you need leaders who can not only advance the culture of an organization, but also build, inspire, and engage a team. Sometimes we come up with the most important questions after an interview, which is why I recommend doing a series of post-interview thought experiments to help you determine if it's a good cultural and values fit. Is the candidate an energy giver, or an energy taker? Would you enjoy having dinner, or taking a long car ride with the candidate? How does the candidate treat wait staff, assistants, and others outside of the interview process?
It's time to go beyond the customary barrage of interview Q&As, and make job interviews more meaningful and effective for the candidate, yourself, and your organization. Redesign the job interview process so that it balances competency-based questions with character-based ones. Finally, devote time during a post-interview process to consider whether the person is likely to positively influence the success of others--and thus in the long-run help fulfill your organization's purpose.