Before we start, this stuff also works well on teenagers, spouses, and (as the title suggests) employee evaluations, and if I may suggest, conduct those three interviews in the same mindset. By the latter suggestion, I am not saying we interview our spouses and children as one would a potential employee. Quite the opposite–interview the employee as you would a loved one and see what different that makes.
Whether you’re hunting work, hiring, or just trying to get along at home, these four should at least make the process more fun. They may even improve your chances of getting what you want.
1. Land the plane
If you’re hunting a job or a promotion, the person with control over who gets the prize will ask you a question. Answer it to the point immediately. That is, 15 words or less. Elaborate on your answer for no more than 90 seconds and conclude by telling them you have more if they want more. Do not circle the airport–land the plane!
If you’re the interviewer, tell the candidate that you’d appreciate brevity. If you find yourself wanting to dig more, ask them for more. If it’s something negative or you sense they’re covering up, definitely ask for more.
If asking, use simple, but not simplistic questions–open-ended more than closed-ended. For instance, rather than, “I see that your tenure at XYZ Co. was two years, and you left for better pay at Acme, right?” They can offer you a simple “yes” and you learned nothing new–crackers without the soup. Perhaps, “Other than pay, what did you like better at Acme than at XYZ?” Now you’ll get a steak dinner. Follow up if you think there’s something more to learn.
While you’re at it, please let a question land before asking another question. I once heard an interviewer ask four questions in a row and it felt like he was punching a man who was already down. The poor candidate became so flustered, he froze. If you do that to your child, she will think she’s being interrogated by a hostile attorney.
Land the plane, and let the plane land.
2. Be invasive, not evasive
Don’t dodge a question by responding with vague answers. “I’m a great person,” means less than, “last year, I used my vacation to feed children in Malaysia.” Be specific about what you did and when, and tell me how I can verify that data.
Again, as the asker, use open-ended questions. You won’t learn as much from, “Are you timely?” as you will from asking: “What typically causes you to be late for appointments?” If you’re a candidate wondering if you’ll get a paid vacation, ask something like: “Tell me about your benefits package,” instead of the too simple: “What’s the vacation policy?”
When someone gives an inadequate answer, ask them to elaborate. If someone tells you they love feedback, respond with: “That’s great. Most people hate the sting of feedback. What do you do with it?” Let the silence hang in the air like a circling vulture until they give a solid answer. The truth is that most people despise feedback–feedback by its very definition is a bad noise that results from a frequency going backwards through a sound system. It stings the ears! And, by the way, there’s no such thing as positive feedback–that, my friend, is called praise and it’s music to one’s ears. If someone says they like feedback, they are rare indeed, but more likely, they have a growth mindset, which is gold for their employer, spouse, or parent.
The person you want can demonstrate behavior something like this: “I overcome the pain of negative feedback by thinking through the positive aspects of improving myself. I ask for help from someone who is good at the thing I’m not so good at or books and articles on the subject. I develop an action plan, and ask for accountability to see it though. That’s how I got over procrastinating on sending in reports when I was with Acme.”
Questions about taking feedback are terribly invasive and come off as unfriendly. It seems to me that most people ask weak questions so as not to appear unfriendly. As a result, they receive weak answers, and then they hire weak candidates (or worse, they tolerate liars). The truth is that being uncomfortable is the only way to make sure the person is a good fit. Good fits succeed more often, and bad fits almost always fail! Invasive questioning may turn out to be the most friendly thing of all. Be invasive.
3. Do not wreck the bus
You’ve heard the popular expression of throwing someone under the bus, meaning to blame them to the point of severe injury. I’ve watched people wreck the whole bus during an interview by being defensive. Do not blame other people or argue with an assessment during an interview unless you want to wreck the whole bus.
An interviewer assessed a person’s behavioral style once. It was not a criticism, merely a statement of how the person behaved in regard to new information. The candidate proceeded to argue with the assessment. Surprisingly, it was clear that the person had the job! The interviewer was simply sharing an insight: “Hey, this is how you process information, and it may help to know…,” but the person was emotionally shallow and defended against the assessment.
No! Defensiveness wrecks the bus.
Even if the information is false, don’t wreck the bus. I’ve been falsely accused of bad behavior, and I bet you have too. I felt betrayed and slandered–I do stupid things often enough and I was sure not going to let a false accusation pass without a fight. So I wrecked the dang bus, which branded me as defensive with the person who brought me the info.
Next time something like that happens, I’ll say, “Well, that’s disappointing. I thought [the accuser] and I were on good terms. I did not see my behavior that way. I’ll have to correct that perception by acting differently in the future.” And the bus can go to the next stop.
In an interview, if things did not go well at your last job, admit it and move on. Do not blame others. The same holds if your company culture is not what you want it to be (make it clear how you’re changing and that new people will build the new company). In either case, state your part in whatever mess exists and what you learned from it. A great answer I once heard went like this: “Well, the place caught on fire and burned to the ground. Part of my job was to lock up and that included a check for combustibles. I missed some oily rags under a wooden stairwell and, wouldn’t you know it, they caught fire around 2:00am. I was canned, but I learned to go through a safety checklist, and it’ll never happen again.”
I love that last phrase. I think it’s the magnificent incantation of responsible people: it’ll never happen again.
Conversely, if you are asking someone about their behavior and they wreck the bus, do not let them abandon the scene. Ask what was their part. Ask what they learned. Ask how you can know it won’t happen again. Probe. Make them squirm–it may be the only interesting thing you see that day. Making someone uncomfortable is not fun (OK, it’s kinda fun), but it’s a lot more fun than hiring someone who will not admit mistakes or has not learned from their past. If they persist in covering up, end the interview. If a person will wreck the bus before they’re hired, imagine what they’ll do on the payroll!
Which is worse, by the way, not seeing one’s part in a folly or not learning from it? Either way, do not wreck the bus.
4. Ask: “How do you know?”
If someone offers you a job as Chief Widgeter for $100,000 per year, how do you know that’s a good deal? Ask.
Yes, you need to know the cost to live where they want you, any out of pocket expenses you cover like client lunches or a cell phone. You need to know the total package–does it include insurance, travel expenses, Widget Polishing Cream–that stuff is pricey! Before that, however, you just need to know how they know the number is fair.
And how do you know your expectations are fair? Too often, I’ve heard people say they should be making several dollars more just because. Because why? And then I hear, “Stuffed hippos. Vague generalities. Heartfelt congratulations. Trophies for everyone. Rainbows and unicorns!” It’s like listening to coaches at halftime, politicians on the campaign trail, and teachers during an assembly.
Speak plainly and do your homework. Find the market rate for Chief Widgeters. Show up prepared to back up your salary expectations and expect them to back up their offer.
If you’re asking for more or offering less, at least help them agree with you by stating the source for your numbers. Tell them how you know.
Well, that’s enough for today, don’t you agree?