Jedi Office Hours: I’m pretty sure I’m about to hire the wrong person (again)

Dear Let S de G:

I was asked to participate in an interview panel of final-round regional sales manager candidates for our office. There were three members on the panel and we each had very different views of which competencies mattered in this role. My priority was to avoid making the same mistake we made with the previous hire. Our legal department is still dealing with the aftermath of that hiring decision.

Prior to the interview, we were asked to submit our questions to Human Resources, who would ensure the questions were “acceptable”. It wasn’t until the day of the interview that we knew what questions we would be allowed to ask.

My problem is that our HR department basically kept us from asking the questions we needed to ask. There were integrity issues with the previous hire, and when it came down to it, it wasn’t HR that was blamed for the bad hire: it was US!

My two colleagues each voted for a different candidate (there were two in the final round) so my vote would decide who gets this job. The answers we got back were wishy-washy because the meaty questions were left out. I don’t want to vote for any until I hear how they will handle certain situations. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure I’m about to hire the wrong person (again).

Am I going to be a troublemaker for stopping the process? What do you suggest I do?

a Reader

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Dear Reader:

“Are you going to be a troublemaker?”

If by troublemaker you mean, “Are you going to be doing your job as an interview panelist and as a manager?”, then yes. Someone make think you are a troublemaker.

And to that I say, So what? It’s your job.

The interview process is supposed to establish whether a candidate meets the requirements and is a cultural fit for a job. The only way to establish that is by asking proper questions that will extract the information you need in order to make the best decision.

Improper questions are those that attempt to establish the candidate’s age, ancestry, national origin, religious affiliation, gender, marital status, disabilities or anything else prohibited by law. If the questions looked anything like what you find here, chances are that’s why they were excluded.

If the excluded questions were behavioral questions (perhaps, that is what you refer to as “meaty” questions), then that’s a different ball of wax altogether.

For some reason, there are HR leaders who think their job is to make as few waves as possible. I call them “Wallpaper Leaders”. They are there, but you don’t really notice them until the edges start to fray.

They say things like: “Why ask questions that could set back the hiring process months if we get the wrong answers from the candidate?” (This is a quote, by the way.)

(Sigh.)

For a sales leadership role, behavioral interviews are paramount. These questions are focused on specific experiences in the candidate’s previous job roles, that reveal critical issues related to character, leadership and responsibility.

I ask sales leaders specific integrity questions because their answers also reveal their ability to reason. One question I like to ask both is, “walk me through a mistake or a difficult situation at work they created that was difficult for them to correct, and how they did their job after that.

If you want to see people lose the color in their face quickly, where they have to admit a major screw up, that is an interview question you will want to write down.

Two things happen whenever I ask that question:

a) the candidate massages the truth so that they don’t seem completely incompetent or,
b) the candidate reveals their error openly, walks you through how they contributed to the error, where they failed to resolve it, its consequences and what they did to earn the trust and respect back of their peers or supervisors.

For sales leaders that question is important because it helps establish how far they are willing to go to be honest and also provides insight into how reliable their decision making is.

So my advice is that you verify with HR why the questions were left out. If there was no legal basis, then let them know the panel needs a quick 20 minute conference call with each candidate. Get your answers before making this important decision. For more information on behavioral interviews or some ideas on questions, read this article.

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