The divorce rate is high in private companies: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the monthly turnover rate – which includes corporate separations and voluntary leaves – is about 3.5 percent per month.
The interview process is the most commonly used gateway to a new hire, but it’s often highly scripted, insincere and as useful as a coin toss.
With only a couple of hours to meet and greet a potential candidate, you have to get past the canned responses to a more authentic discussion. The best way to do that? Ask better questions.
I like odd-ball questions that don’t have “right” answers. Not only do they elicit genuine responses, they also reveal personality traits and provide insight into how a candidate thinks.
Here are some questions I ask before making a hiring decision in search of the following qualities:
The question: What were the best six months you have spent working in your career?
You want to determine what makes a person tick at work. Does the individual like a collaborative or autonomous environment? Or does he or she prefer thinking, managing or doing?
Rarely is anyone good at all three. You need to make sure what the person is happiest doing in his or her career and see if the job description and the work environment aligns with this. Otherwise, there’s a problem from Day 1.
The question: Would you be willing to tell a joke or sing a song?
Some people think it’s a manager’s job to motivate employees, but I find that self-determination is hardwired into a person. Managers can fuel that motivation – or strip it away over time.
I hope managers can nurture an employee’s potential, but I want someone who commits wholeheartedly from the get-go and is willing to take risks to get what he or she wants.
The question: What is something in your life that you deeply regret?
This question can catch someone off guard – and elicit a raw opportunity to hear what matters deeply to the candidate and affects him or her. The answer tends to reveal a little bit about the person’s soul.
People with integrity draw others to them because they’re trustworthy and dependable. In addition, they can be counted on to behave in an honorable way – even when no one is watching them.
The question: What are you reading right now?
Active readers have might have the tendency to learn and grow. Being inquisitive is a valuable trait in an employee within a small organization. Many innovations at my company, Vitals, have come from employees with deep-rooted interests.
One fitness-minded employee started the corporate wellness program. Another started a spin-off website that led to additional search-engine rankings.
In a young company, you can’t afford to invest in people who let themselves get stale. You want people who are inquisitive and who actively maintain their edge.
The question: What was your college major? Why did you choose it?
The chief financial officer at my company majored in accounting in college and became a CPA by age 25. Some people have their life all mapped out.
Of course, most people aren’t like that: They don’t end up pursuing what their 20-something self imagined they would do.
Find people who connect the dots from what they wanted to do then to what they’re doing now. I look for candidates who see their career as a journey and who are deliberate about their decisions. People who wound up just doing something for the past 10 years that they had no interest in before are often bad hires.
6. Adaptability to change.
The question: Where did you spend your last three vacations?
The ability to embrace change is critical for an employee in an entrepreneurial work environment. Rarely do things go as originally planned, and often staffers must change course.
If a candidate has gone to the same place for the last three vacations, chances are good this person won’t be receptive to the chaos that comes with an entrepreneurial organization.
7. Inner drive.
The question: What percentage of your life do you control?
Debating with a candidate the answer to this question is not the point. But you can learn whether someone has a strong desire to control his or her own destiny.
People who don’t believe they control the lion’s share of their own life are more likely to be passive, become overwhelmed and play the victim. In contrast, I want to hire people who believe they can change outcomes. If they believe they can, they probably will.
8. Ability to wisely compromise.
The question: You have two jobs – each takes two hours to complete. Each is important. But you only have thee hours. What do you do?
This is a typical business problem posed in a new way: How do you balance quality, deadlines and the budget? (The old saying goes, Pick any two.) I want to see the analysis that goes into determining what will be compromised – and what factors won’t be. Will a deadline be sacrificed for quality? Will projects lose some of their scope for the prospective employee to keep on schedule? This question lets me see how a person prioritizes tasks.
No one can afford a bad hire. The experience not only leaves a sour legacy but the person could even cause some good employees to leave. Take time to get to know a candidate beyond his or her degrees and work experiences. Often the skills most highly valued can’t be taught on the job.
Related: 9 Questions to Ask Candidates’ References