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Career Advice, General, Insights, Leadership, Reflection, Staffing

The Only TWO Important Interview Questions

Man having an interview with manager and partner employment jobIn response to, “The Most Important Interview Question of All Time” by Lou Adler, I am contributing my own advice. As you might infer I disagree with Lou here. It is not so much that his single “most important interview question” is wrong but that his line of questioning that follows is wrong – and that invalidates the initial question… at least for me, the hiring manager.

As a hiring manager I have worked with many recruiters and interviewed hundreds of applicants. Recruiters are head hunters. [Redacted] … I am avoiding my tangent on the lack of quality recruiters and their ability to pre-screen candidates technically as they usually do not have experience in the positions for which they are hiring. Recruiters have an awareness (opposed to in-depth knowledge) of the general purpose of a position, qualities to look for in a potential candidate, and even a list of technical skills that they should identify (and qualify) each candidate by – which is actually supplied by the hiring manager. However, without understanding exactly what it is that person does on a daily basis and how they need to think, the recruiter can only screen a candidate to a certain level before it becomes inefficient. Some recruiters have a knack for this and some don’t. A higher success rate = more conversions, fewer replacements, and therefore more profit.

But back to my original point. Lou’s line of questioning targets (among other things): work history, formal education, quantifiable results, accomplishments and notable achievements. And not to discredit Lou either – his approach is an excellent approach but for a recruiter and not a hiring manager. So, what is it that I the hiring manager am looking for? Before I answer that let’s be clear about how I view an appropriate hiring process (via a recruiter):

1. Recruiter surveys potential candidates based on job description, list of qualifications, and input from hiring manager.

2. [Recruiter] Pre-screens applicants (basic skill-set test).

3. [Recruiter] Interview the candidate (this is where Lou’s question might be beneficial).

4. [Senior Colleague] Employer conducts phone interview – this should be a technical interview.

5. [Manager] Employer conducts an in-person interview.

So, as the hiring manager, we are concerned with this last interview – the in-person interview. And as such there are only two important questions and they are not for the candidate but for myself as the hiring manager:

Is this person indeed the same person I interviewed on the phone?

This question might shock some but it happens – and it happens more often than you might suspect. I learned this lesson the hard way the one and only time I ever hired a person after the phone interview alone, skipping the in-person interview altogether. I was in a crunch and my company was pressuring me to bring a position on-board. Rather than risk losing the position altogether I brought a candidate on-board without conducting the in-person interview. On day one I became aware of the reality of the situation and we had to actually send the entire division home before having the recruiter terminate his contract over the phone for fear of the repercussions – bad situation and one that I will never be in again!

Before you decided to interview this candidate over the phone you read the resume. A resume lists all of the specific background/experience, education, accomplishments, and quantifiable details that Lou asks about. Again, for the recruiter these are good questions – because they can be used to verify the resume without a formal references check (which HR will do if he makes it through the interview process).

When you decided that his resume exhibited the potential for this candidate to fulfill this role (because let’s be honest, that is the only purpose of your resume – to show your potential and that you have more of it than the other candidates), you scheduled a technical phone interview. This is conducted by a senior colleague – someone very familiar with the daily activities, politics in the company at that level, expectations, etc. who can verify that the candidate has the technical ability to be successful in this role. That same person might also raise concerns regarding: team fit, attitude, motivation, etc. but those are just insights. As managers we know that we can influence those things so long as the technical needs are met.

At this point we’ve paired down the potential applicants to two or three candidates, screened them, and qualified them, and now it is time for the in-person interview and the first thing I want to know is that this is indeed the same candidate who has successfully passed all of the previous steps of this process.

Can we be successful if we finalize this position and bring this candidate on-board?

Technical, intelligent, experienced, accomplished candidates are all great things – but only if this person can be successful. And, since your success likely depends on the success of this candidate (yes, it’s a mutual arrangement which some hiring managers occasionally forget – but not the good ones), it is a “we” question more so than a “you” question.

Both of the above questions will likely yield additional questions but they are really only for the purpose of continuing the conversation while your sort out who this person is. The questions might be about football, food, culture, hobbies, etc. – it really doesn’t matter so long as you can determine whether or not you both can be successful together and I would suggest that the most significant factor in that equation is your ability to communicate and work together. From that you can determine if the candidate will be a good team fit, if you can motivate him, if you can critique him, and if you can guide and encourage him.

As for any other questions – they’re just small talk!

I also think Lou’s questions are too strongly geared toward experience, education, etc. These are what I call the “by the book” interview questions. They are guidelines to coach individuals how to build a professional resume but they do not contribute to my bottom line – hiring candidates with the right underlying knowledge and an ability to be successful at my company. Every professional job indicates on the job posting things such as “a four year degree”, “5+ years professional experience”, etc. These are nothing more than deterrents to filter applicants down to those whom are highly qualified, or highly persistent. As for me, I prefer the highly persistent so I will not spend my time focusing on the bullets on their resume. Instead I want to know that they have a solid foundation and an ability to work on a day-to-day basis with me and my team. If they meet those two requirements then I can ensure their continued growth and success – which directly contributes to my own success and that of my company’s.


About christopherjcoleman

Independent IT Consultant. Cloud Expert. United States Navy Veteran. Dedicated. Focused. Driven. I make companies better by developing applications to meet specific business needs on reliable, cost-efficient cloud infrastructure. If the right solution doesn't exist then create it. I have achieved my greatest accomplishments because someone else told me "it's not possible; there is no way to do it" - and now there is.


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