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There are only three true job interview questions. That’s it. Each question may be asked using different words, but every question, however it is phrased, is just a variation on one of these topics: Strengths, Motivation, and Fit.
3THERE ARE ONLY TRUE JOB INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
There Are Only Three True Job Interviewing for Strengths Interviewing for strengths is not a game. It’sInterview Questions about figuring out if there is a match between the strengths required for success in the role and the candidate’s strengths. If you accept that, then theThe only three true job interview questions are: advice for interviewers and interviewees are mirror1. Can you do the job? images of each other.2. Will you love the job? Advice for Interviewers3. Can we tolerate working with you? Figure out what strengths you’re looking for. Tell the interviewee what they are. Ask the interviewee forThat’s it. Those three. Think back, every question you’ve ever posed to others examples of behavior that evidences those strengths. (Using the Working Girl question to probe.)or had asked of you in a job interview is a subset of a deeper in-depth follow-up to one of these three key questions. Each question may be asked using Advice for Interviewees Figure out what strengths the interviewer is lookingdifferent words, but every question, however it is phrased, is just a variation on for. Give him or her examples of behavior thatone of these topics: Strengths, Motivation, and Fit. evidences those strengths. STAR Behavioral InterviewsCan You Do the Job? – Strengths When I interview someone, I generally follow the same script, telling people: I’m going to do a behavioral interview. I’m looking for evidence of strengths in what you’ve done in the past. I’ll tell you the strength I’m looking for and ask you for an example. It’s helpful if you use a STAR framework in your answer. ST: Situation (Briefly – just enough to help me under- stand the context for your actions.) A: Action (Elaborate here. What you did. Use the word “I.”) R: Result (Briefly – just enough to show me the value or impact of what you did.) The questions aren’t important. The answers are. So, if I ask a question that doesn’t trigger a good example, let’s skip that one and find another way to get exam- ples of your strengths. Strengths Definition Gallup’s Marcus Buckingham and Don Clifton provide an excellent definition of strengths in Now Discover Your Strengths (New York: Free Press, 2001). Talent: Innate areas of potential strength (probablyExecutive Search firm Heidrick & Struggles CEO, Kevin Kelly explained to me present at birth)that it’s not just about the technical skills, but also about leadership and Knowledge: Things people are aware of, facts and les-interpersonal strengths. Technical skills help you climb the ladder. As you get sons learned (through courses, mentors, reading, etc.)there, managing up, down, and across become more important. Skills: How to-s, or steps of an activity (generally You can’t tell by looking at a piece of paper what some of the strengths acquired through deliberate practice) and weaknesses really are…We ask for specific examples of not only what’s With that in mind, as an interviewer, make sure you been successful but what they’ve done that hasn’t gone well or a task understand the driving talent behind an individual’s they’ve, quite frankly, failed at and how they learned from that experience strength, how they acquired their knowledge of the subject and what they’ve done to practice the skill. and what they’d do different in a new scenario. Then you can be sure you’ve identified a real strength. Not only is it important to look at the technical skill set they have…but also the strengths on what I call the EQ side of the equation in terms of getting along and dealing or interacting with people.© Copyright Forbes 2012 There Are Only Three True Job Interview Questions | 01
Will You Love the Job? -Motivation Interviewing for Motivation Interviewing for motivation is much less straight- forward than interviewing for strengths. Part of the problem is that it’s hard to put your finger on what really motivates someone. The other part of the problem is that interviewee’s will have a bias to come across as motivated even if they aren’t sure. While they may not be sure they want to do the job, they are generally motivated to get you to offer them the job. On one level, motivation is born of • How activities fit with a person’s likes/dislikes/ideal job critera and • How the job will help them progress towards theirCornerstone International Group CEO, Bill Guy emphasizes the changing nature long-term goal.of motivation, On another level, people strive for happiness. My working theory of happiness, born out by deep anal- …younger employees do not wish to get paid merely for working hard— ysis of a very sophisticated Harvard survey, is that just the reverse: they will work hard because they enjoy their environment happiness is good. Actually, it’s three goods: Good and the challenges associated with their work…. Executives who embrace for others, good for me, good at it. this new management style are attracting and retaining better employees. Good for others: This is about finding meaning in the work (impact on others, match with values).Can We Tolerate Working With You? – Fit People that care about this want a share in shaping the destiny of the firm (influence, being informed) Good at it: This is about the match of activities with strengths, and resources (support and time). Over time, some people care about employability (learning, development, resume builder) Good for me: This is about near term pleasure (enjoyable work/activities, fit with life interest). Compensation is also a factor (monetary, non-mone- tary rewards, recognition, respect) Advice for Interviewers Heidrick & Struggles’ Kevin Kelly had some helpful perspective on this. He told me that he likes to askContinuing on with our conversation, Heidrick’s Kelly went on to explain the two questions to get at motivation:importance of cultural fit: 1) “What gets you out of bed in the morning (other than your alarm clock)?”. This helps him get at A lot of it is cultural fit and whether they are going to fit well into the what’s important to people now. organization… The perception is that when (senior leaders) come into the 2) “Talk about some of the most significant memories firm, a totally new environment, they know everything. And they could you have had throughout your career and what it is do little things such as send emails in a voicemail culture that tend to that got you through those times either good or bad.” negatively snowball over time. Feedback or onboarding is critical. If you This helps him get at patterns and trends. don’t get that feedback, you will get turnover later on. Advice for Interviewees Be ready to deal with concerns that you may beHe made the same point earlier in an interview with Smart Business, over-qualified for the job. This requires an interviewreferencing Heidrick’s internal study of 20,000 searches. judo response: I’m concerned that you may be over-qualified for this job. 40 percent of senior executives leave organizations or are fired or pushed I am – if you want the organization to stay the way it out within 18 months. It’s not because they’re dumb; it’s because a lot of is. You’d be hiring me to take it to the next level. I’m times culturally they may not fit in with the organization or it’s not clearly not interested in the job the way it is. I’m interested in articulated to them as they joined. the job the way it’s going to be.© Copyright Forbes 2012 There Are Only Three True Job Interview Questions | 02
Preparing for Interviews Interviewing for FitIf you’re the one doing the interviewing, get clear on what strengths, To be clear, this is an attempt to make an inherentlymotivational and fit insights you’re looking for before you go into your complex and ambiguous subject simpler and more straightforward. It’s worth it because poor culturalinterviews. fit is the #1 stated reason for a new leader’s failure. (Of course, stated and actual don’t always match. SeeIf you’re the one being interviewed, prepare by thinking through examples The top three excuses for onboarding failures.)that illustrate your strengths, what motivates you about the organization and The fundamental questions and interviewer isrole you’re interviewing for, and the fit between your own preferences and the getting at around fit are:organization’s Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values, and Environment 1) Will the organization be better off with you in it(BRAVE). But remember that interviews are exercises in solution selling. They over time?are not about you. 2) Will you change us for the better? (Will you be good for us?)Think of the interview process as a chance for you to show your ability to solve Brave Fitthe organization and interviewer’s problem. That’s why you need to highlight The BRAVE framework may have applicability:strengths in the areas most important to the interviewers, talk about how you Behave:would be motivated by the role’s challenges, and discuss why you would be a The way people act, make decisions, control theBRAVE fit with the organization’s culture. business, etc. Relate:Executive Onboarding The way people communicate with each other (including mode, manner and frequency), engage inOnce you’ve got the job, be sure to pay attention to executive onboarding, the intellectual debate, manage conflict, etc.key to accelerating success and reducing risk in a new job. Attitude:This is a big part of step 1 of The New Leader’s Playbook: Position Yourself for How people feel about the organization’s purpose, mission, vision, identify with the subgroup, group,Success organization as a whole, etc. There are several components of this including positioning yourself for a Values: leadership role, selling before you buy, mapping and avoiding the most People’s underlying beliefs, approach to learning, risk, time horizons, etc. common land mines, uncovering hidden risks in the organization, role, and fit, and choosing the right approach for your transition type. Environment: The way people approach the work environment in terms formality/informality of preferred office layout, etc. The suggested approach for an interviewer is to assess the interviewee’s BRAVE preferences and then line them up with the culture. The suggested approach for the interviewee is to do the same thing in reverse. This is one area where no one should play any games. There’s no upside for either the organization or the interviewee to try to be something different than what they are. They will get caught sooner or later. And the later they get caught, the more painful it will be since culture is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage.© Copyright Forbes 2012 There Are Only Three True Job Interview Questions | 03