What Ideas Do You Have on Ensuring I'm Not Hiring the Wrong Person?"..."I have 3 Questions"

Help Wanted

I was speaking at a local leadership forum recently and was asked the question above. As in so many questions, there's both the specified issue and then there's the implied question and all the issues that it contains. The questioner further clarified his issue for me (paraphrased as I recall it) "I interview people, they sound good, resume and references are all positive, the atmospherics and social skills feel right. It starts out OK and then after 6 or so months their attitude and performance goes south. Do you have any thoughts on how I can better do this, so I don't keep missing this?"

I didn't get into how often this occurs. If it bothers a leader enough to raise it publicly then it's an itch that needs some attention. I told him that he wanted to ensure he was asking questions of sufficient depth that gave he and his team the information to make an informed hiring decision. The task is made difficult by all the "interview help" the web makes available to prospective candidates. A sampling includes:

"31 Most Common Interview Questions and Answers"

"Top 10 Interview Questions (And How to Answer Them)

"50 Most Common Interview Questions"

"How To Ace The 50 Most Common Interview Questions"


...to list just a few.


So here are three questions I have found in my experiences as; an assignment officer; job interviewer (and interviewee) and executive coach that get below the candidate's surface ambiance and provide a window into seeing if someone is "self aware or self absorbed" as one of my great officers once said.

  1. "Tell me about a mistake you made, how it happened, what you did wrong, what you learned from it, and how you've ensured not to make it again?" You can ask this as one question or break it up into a series of basic (mistake you made and follow up questions) The depth of the question requires the candidate to reflect and answer in some detail. If they hem and haw or get flippant when you ask, they probably won't generate a learning environment when you hire them and they have to work with others and learn from their own and others mistakes.
  2. Bring the candidate back: People are usually the highest expense and the decision that has the greatest impact (positive and/or negative) on the bottom line of your business enterprise. The right person in the right job builds the organization by doing the right thing routinely. The "wrong" hire sucks the energy out of the organization. Either by being tolerated because "they're not so bad" or, they occupy leader time, attention and energy that should be spent growing the business. So I've found it pays to take the extra time to do a second interview. The candidate, if they're faking it, will be challenged to maintain the facade a second time and you'll be further along at penetrating deeper into the "real worker" Trust me here, EVERY (emphasis added) I've done this I've learned something. The time spent is worth it.
  3. "Tell me about a time(or times) you were or should have been fired. What did you learn from it?": This question is for those senior middle and upper management candidates with some years (10+) of experience and different levels that you are considering for a key leadership role. You've been through the list of mistakes, brought them back and you want to be sure. After getting over the surprise, you'll either have a candidate who answers forthrightly and talks about learning; "patience with others, mercy, attention to critical details, listening, getting on the same page with my boss and team" are among the answers I've heard. Or, you'll have a stammering "humma humma" candidate who either didn't extend themselves to take a chance or blamed others for their shortfalls. (By the way, my answer is three times")

Hiring isn't little league, it's worth the time you'll take and if you don't take the time to do it right, you will get to do it over again.

Hire Vinny

For information on booking Vinny to speak to your organization, please contact Lisa Henry at:

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