I’ve recently been interviewing people for a job on my team, and I have to tell you: the more interviews I do, the more I learn about what a great interview can look like.
First, I was hugely lucky to have a half-dozen well-qualified candidates right from within the company. I’m a massive believer in “hire from within,” and so it was really great to see such high-end talent existing in our organization, and interested in being on my team.
I sent out a list of interview questions, via email, in advance. Part of our company’s core culture is that we think about things before we just do them. We don’t get stuck in “analysis paralysis,” but we try not to just “go with our gut,” either. We look at data, we talk to constituents, and we form a plan. That being the case, I don’t relish the idea of an interview where I’m firing off questions cold and expecting a job prospect to just go with their gut. I’d rather see what a prospect can do when they can think about it, since that’s the behavior I’d expect on the job as well.
All of the candidates took the time to ask a few pre-questions about the job, to read the job description, and to come to at least a basic understanding of the value the company hopes this role will create. All of them had extremely insightful things to say about how they saw the position, and fascinatingly none of them were the same. They all could have brought something marvelous to the table, which made the hiring decision really difficult for me. Difficult in a good way!
Another interview – I guess I’ll call it “style” more than “technique” – I’ve adopted is to let the candidates ask most of the questions. You can learn a lot about someone by the questions they ask. It helps reveal their concerns, the things that are top-of-mind for them, and it shows you that they know how to think their way through a problem space. Someone who’s just asking the right questions is a more powerful candidate than someone who maybe hasn’t put as much thought into it. And all of my candidates asked great questions. Again, mostly all different, but they all showed that they were thinking pretty hard about the role and what it needs to deliver to the company.
Stress that: everyone was trying to understand how the role delivers value to the company. They weren’t asking about upward mobility (a legit question), or other personal concerns. To be fair, they’re all employees of the company, so they know the benefits package and all that – questions about those things are always legit. But it was their near-universal focus on how does this help the team, org, and company? was immensely gratifying. I’m reminded, every now and then, and how many truly bright people I work with, and it gives me a little shiver every time.
One candidate stood out, though, and in a way I’d never experienced before. That person essentially brought me a business plan for their vision of the role. Just in reading the job description and asking a few clarifying questions, they were able to put together a credible plan, including mockups, lists of other people in the company they’d need to interact with, where the potential failure points were, and more. They basically asked me to critique those plan elements.
What effort. I mean, for a job interview, that’s a lot of effort. But it showed me a person whose head was already in the game. And it showed me where in the game their head was – fortunately, in nearly the precise same place my head is. That suggested, to me, someone who’d not only hit the ground fast and hard, but someone who’d be autonomous really, really fast. My leadership style is very much centered around helping my team understand where it is we need to get to, and then providing them with whatever support they need. I’m a big fan of autonomy, especially for people in senior positions, and for a job candidate to show up with a basic business plan really made my eyes light up.
This new position on my team is going to have a budget, financial guardrails, and a number of other organizational guidelines to follow, and to know that the person filling that role is thinking like a businessperson, all the way down to proposing success metrics and identifying ways to measure them… well. It kind of blew me away. It was definitely a way, in a hard-hitting field of candidates, to rise above.
Offering this up for what it’s worth. If it can perhaps help you better focus for a future interview of your own… awesome!