Your next key hire: 3 questions to ask, 3 to answer

545019A.TIF“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

We might add to Red Adair’s quip, “Or wait until you hire the wrong candidate for a key position.” To mitigate that likelihood (and it’s happened to all of us), the routine interview process usually falls to the H.R. Department for prescreening, background searches, and applicant presentation. However, when key employees are hired, and executive management is included in the decision-making process, three unintended results are commonplace:

• The interview team spends more time talking about their company and less time finding out how the candidates will fit, hiring instead on the basis of applicants’ reactions to information presented (rather than collected).
• The process moves forward with irrelevant questions focusing on personality “types” or questions geared to weed out candidates who might show similar traits to the departed manager who, after all, left for a valid reason.
• Too much emphasis is put on translatable past industry experience rather than transferable results, interest in the company’s future, or aptitude to learn.

Business journalist Jeff Hayden, writing for Inc., cites mentor John Younger, CEO of Accolo, for good advice when it comes to interview questions. Younger suggests asking these three simple questions in reference to every job listed on an applicant’s “prior experience” resume:

1. How did you find out about the job?
2. What did you like about the job before you started?
3. Why did you leave?

Personally, I agree with Hayden: Younger’s questions are simply brilliant. From them, you can discover if the candidate turned to the newspaper, an online job board, a recruiter in the industry, or had they developed a network of their own based on relationships in the field? Were they recruited due to reputation by an inside champion of their work? Were they attracted to a job for benefits (dollars, flex time, title) or challenges? Were they lured by the opportunity to learn something new or to showcase talents already acquired?

“A lot of people quit looking for work as soon as they find a job,” Zig Ziglar once noted. Others quit a job because they didn’t have enough work, or couldn’t identify new opportunities inside an existing structure. Did your candidate move from opportunity to opportunity or routinely have challenges with bosses? Do they take any responsibility if they reference a “poor fit”?

We take great care in interviewing, but here’s where the hiring game gets really interesting: According to Evolv’s 2013 Q2 Workforce Report, previous experience does not predict future performance or tenure. Nor does job hopping or being unemployed signal a potential problem hire. Previous experience does not predict future performance or tenure. In fact, the study reveals, the best predictor of future success isn’t past success or failure, but who will supervise your new hire.

“Research examined over 2.5 million granular management and supervisory data points for over 5,000 employees spread across four locations in order to study the extent to which supervisors affect an employee’s likelihood to remain on the job. The results were nothing short of striking. The study found that the best supervisors’ employees were nearly six times more likely to stay than employees with supervisors who were worst at retaining staff. In fact, the study shows that an employee’s supervisor is a stronger predictor of his or her likelihood to quit than every other factor combined.”

Assuming you have great candidates and a capable supervisor, here’s what I believe to be the final consideration: what did the job applicants ask you when giving the opportunity? Are they focused on benefits or opportunities? I have found that the candidate who asks, as well as answers, questions rise to the top of my list, and here are the specific questions I most appreciate:

1. What is your vision for the company (or my department) for the next six months?
2. What would you expect me to accomplish in the first two or three months on the job?
3. What are the traits or special skills of your top three performers or managers – what really drives results for the business?

Another finding of the Evolv study: Highly communicative people outperform highly organized ones. Next week we’ll consider five tips for improving C-Suite communications.

About Jody Glynn Patrick

Jody is President of Glynn Patrick & Associates, which provides management consulting, executive coaching and strategic planning services. She is Publisher Emeritus of In Business magazine, which she published for 17 years. Selected as the “U.S. Business Journalist of the Year” in 2007 in Washington, DC, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jody has been a business reporter, editor, radio talk show host , and has won other state and national journalism awards. At the same time, she has helped corporate clients grow their businesses -- the basis for her practical coaching advice here. She also was the 2005 Athena Award recipient for her leadership role in mentoring other professional women. Jody will be talking with you weekly on TDS’ blog to share her insights and tips from the C-Suite perspective. Follow on G+.

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