Tag Archives: InterviewingSkills

Hiring: A Better Approach, Part II

When we were last together, we spoke of some of the challenges regarding hiring. We took a high-level look at things an organization and its leadership might consider throughout the search process. These included:

  • the importance of a formal approach;
  • the need to assess behavior, not just appearance;
  • the value of a prescreening interview; and
  • the overall idea that effective hiring is rarely the result of “good luck.”

This month, I want to examine the interview phase and share some suggestions that will help you hire the very best candidate for the job, the team, and your organization.

Let’s start with questions…

Many hiring managers feel tremendous pressure to ask the “right” questions of an interviewee. This concern often leads inexperienced interviewers to fall back on cliché: Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses. Where do you want to be in five years?

Unfortunately, this stale approach is guaranteed to result in a boring interview and few usable insights regarding the candidate’s fit and future potential with the organization.

A better practice is to think about important questions for which you want actual answers. Questions that don’t simply engage the candidate in playing the “interview game,” but instead, reveal the degree to which they will work well with others on the team, contribute to and represent the organization, and perform the job in question.

Some examples:

  • What’s the most important thing you can contribute to our organization?
  • How do you recognize when you are overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious and how do you manage those things when they occur?
  • What are three things you like and three things you dislike about your current position or organization?
  • What kind of mistakes have you made and what kind are you likely to make in the future?
  • To whom do you turn when making an important decision for which there is no obvious answer?

Then, prior to the interview, print these questions on paper. When you meet, hand them to the candidate (or share via Zoom if meeting virtually). Let them know you will return in a few minutes to listen to their thoughts.

This unconventional approach accomplishes two important things:

First, it reminds the interviewer that they need to listen more and talk less, circumventing a common mistake that many novice interviewers make.

Second, it puts the burden on the candidate, where it belongs. It lets them know from the start that you are there to hear what they have to say and that the interview is intended to reveal who they are and of what they are capable.

Most people, candidates in particular, welcome the opportunity to talk. If you show them you are willing and eager to listen, you are going to learn a great deal.

Don’t we need to “sell” the organization to the candidate?

Of course, but you will have time for that later. For now, your job is to let the candidate speak — and bite your tongue when you feel the urge to interrupt.

As for the appropriate balance between your listening and speaking, I used to say the ratio should be two-to-one, correlating with your two ears and one mouth. I now believe a four-to-one ratio is even better, adding your two eyes to the mix. Pay attention to the valuable information being transmitted nonverbally, whether in person or virtually!

I also recommend taking copious notes during the interview. This will focus your attention, help you recall the conversation, and keep you from hiring a candidate who is glib or attractive, but not the right person for this job at this time.

Pay Attention to the “How”

In addition to the content and substance of a candidate’s responses, you want to get a sense of who they are and how they communicate. Who the candidate is matters a great deal in a people-focused profession such as fundraising and development.

What words do they use? What does their body language demonstrate? How comfortable do they seem in their own skin?

For example, while speaking with a candidate recently, she said, “You ask very good questions. I need to think about my answer for a few minutes.” That was a wonderful way to deflect and give herself time to think. Her easy, confident manner told me a lot about how she might handle herself in a work situation.

Two Final Thoughts

#1. Keep it real.

There used to be a lot of emphasis on stressing a candidate during the course of an interview — creating an artificial situation designed to see how the candidate would perform.

Unfortunately, this reveals little of value and builds walls rather than relationships. Your goal in an interview is to get a sense of how a person will perform in a real-life situation, not in a made-up scenario that is unlikely to occur.

#2. Focus less on “passion.”

I think passion in the workplace is overrated. Of course, we want people who are eager to do the work and who believe in the mission. But their wanting to do the job is more important than whether it was their lifelong dream, even when looking for a CEO, COO, or Chief Development Officer.

Nonprofit work is team based — we want people who can be sensitive to and respectful of others while collaborating on the fulfillment of long-term goals. Under these circumstances, passion takes a back seat to cooperation and a willingness to chip in wherever and whenever needed.