Conduct an Interview to Land the Right Person: The Midlevel Manager’s Guide

Turnover sucks, but it happens! As a manager, congratulations: it might be your job to replace people who leave your team. While you may or may not have complete authority in the whole process, you know you’ve got to conduct an interview (probably a bunch of them).

This is your roadmap for making sure you (1) never waste any time interviewing candidates, and (2) know exactly whether a candidate goes to the next round (or is hired).

So let’s get to it! (Click here for a handy one page downloadable document for reference.)

1. Behavioral interviewing.

Make sure the candidate can articulate a situation in which they demonstrated a skill – even if it’s in an unrelated circumstance – and pick them over someone who only describes what they “would do.”

Behavioral interviewing is based on the data confirming that people behave not as they say they will, but how they’ve consistently behaved in the past. So (1) always ask for actual examples of when someone did or handled something you’re interested in, or showed a skill you’re looking for. And (2) don’t discount real-life examples outside the workplace over hypothetical examples in the workplace.

I have asked candidates for examples of how they have used creativity in a situation where they didn’t have enough tools or resources at their disposal. If candidates said that they would do some brainstorming, discuss with others including their boss, consult with people removed from the situation for fresh perspective, and then make a sound decision, they lost points.

In contrast, one candidate gained points big time when she described how she managed to find entertainment for her bridezilla sister’s wedding when the hired band got food poisoning and couldn’t make it at the last minute. Now, that’s someone who will probably be a problem solver for you. When you conduct an interview, make sure you can tease out their actual behavior.

2. Teamwork.

If the job requires teamwork, then seek real, true examples of collaboration and conflict resolution.

Let me tell you what teamwork is NOT: it is not splitting up work, going to your separate corners to work independently, then coming together to jigsaw it all. (I used to interview for entry level positions where candidates always described their college or graduate class assignments this way and called it “teamwork.”)

Teamwork is actual brainstorming. (Tell me about a situation you demonstrated respect for someone else’s wacky idea. Tell me about a time you identified when brainstorming was sorely needed – describe the situation, your assessment, and the outcome.)

Teamwork is open conflict and resolution, not passive-aggressiveness. (Tell me about a time you worked with another party to address a disagreement that negatively affected your collective work. Give me an example of resolving conflict – describe the situation, what you did, and explain the outcome.)

Teamwork is problem solving with collaborative removal of barriers. (Tell me about a time you helped remove a barrier or resolve an issue that hindered a fellow team member’s work, and how your action benefited the overall project.)

3. Technical expertise

Take technical assessments offline.

Do you need to assess their command of any particular software? Should they have good business writing skills? Must they be able to speak well in front of others and do commanding presentations?

Great. Take it offline.

These are not Q&A type of assessments. Schedule a time for them to be tested. Arrange for a brown bag meeting for them to come in do a presentation for whomever at the company wants to sit in for lunch.

When you conduct an interview, you don’t need to spend one-on-one interview time asking about the technical stuff. Consider limiting the Q&A to behavioral interviewing.

4. Hire for the need, not for your comfort.

Like tends to hire like. Don’t do this to your team’s and the project’s detriment.

You meet someone, you interview and like them, and it looks like you can really work with them.

Hold on and take a good, hard look in the mirror. DO NOT just hire a version of yourself because that’s what’s familiar and resonant. Remind yourself what the skills for the position are, how to balance the whole team, and what will serve in the long run past an initial (and potentially awkward) getting-to-know-everyone onboarding process.

Make sure you don’t go with “your gut” too much. Go with what makes sound management sense and has concrete rationale to support overall business objectives, too.

If that person’s approach, style, expertise, etc., is too unfamiliar to you, and you are hesitant to work with them because it’s not clear how you can hit the ground running with them, that’s for you as a good manager to figure out. Don’t put it on the candidates and make it their shortcoming, when they may be perfectly qualified candidates who can fill in gaps and round out your team. These people can mean the difference between just having a pleasantly mediocre outcome and achieving a truly great outcome (that might come with some learning curve).

If you hire for your own comfort, the biggest problem is not immediate but downstream with additional growth. When you are surrounded by clones, your blind spots get darker and darker until they are black holes that can suck any advantage and promise out of your future team.

Not everyone will have the same success trajectory as you. When you conduct an interview, always assess (and hire) for the need over your comfort.

5. Fit.

Have fellow team members or direct reports interview on issues of “cultural fit.”

Let other team members and/or your direct reports meet the candidates in higher level rounds. Set expectations with your team about the role they have in the candidate evaluation (seeking opinions only vs allowing a collective team veto vs offering a friendly meet and greet with their opinions not requested at all).

To be clear, this should still be some level of behavioral interviewing! Favor real life examples on office politics, competition, lunch room etiquette, and whatever else over what someone “would” do.

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