Don’t Ignore The Value Of Performance-Based Interviews

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John M. O’Connor Forbes Councils Member Forbes Coaches Council COUNCIL POST| Membership (Fee-Based) May 2, 2022,07:30am EDT

John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.

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When the job market turns into more of an employee’s market, shortcuts are often made in qualifying talent. Here is why. Companies need people so badly they are willing to take shortcuts in their interviewing process. They skip more difficult questions and they let their guard down when asking the tougher, longer form questions they should ask to find out about character, technical skills, talent, aptitude and an ability to perform.

What happens when employers ignore the tougher questions and the performance-based interview? The downside is steep. You could water down your talent base. You can miss excellent future performers. You might de-emphasize “how” a potential employee thinks through the tougher questions and how they make decisions. 

Because employers want to focus on simpler interviews and less vetting of candidates, they often ignore powerful, performance-based interview processes at all levels of the organization.

Here are three excuses I have heard from recruiters and my counterarguments to this short-term thinking:

1. We don’t have time to get into that kind of depth. 

You need to set aside time for your recruiting team (inside or outside recruiters) to ensure they are asking the tougher, longer form questions to prospective talent. The short time it will take to ensure performance and behavioral questions are centered in your hiring will help you eliminate people who do not fit your culture and your performance needs. 

2. The process of hiring is already too long. 

They might say, “If you get into these ‘Tell me’ and ‘Describe’ kinds of behavioral questions, you get mired in the process and people’s stories. We are just looking for numbers, people with results and metrics.”

If you don’t find out the stories behind the metrics or dig into how a person thinks or has solved problems in the past, you are asking for a challenge in this new hire. Your recruiting team needs to listen and look for more than metrics, like the “how.” The “how” can instruct you on the kind of talent you are getting and how that person achieves results.

3. I need to let them know what we do and what we expect in the interview. A good resume will tell me what they have done. 

I believe in a well-prepared and accurate resume package, including the oft-maligned cover letter if given the option by applicants or candidates for your company. But your job as a recruiter or headhunter is to dive deeper than even a good resume portrays a candidate. Asking probing, open-ended and performance-based questions can reveal things that even a well-written resume may not demonstrate. Challenging people to illustrate their decisions and solve problems on their feet must be integrated into the best interview processes. 

Bottom line: Time spent on the right cadence of performance-based questions and answers, no matter how challenged you are to hire now, will be worth it in the end.

What do you do now if you want to add this critical performance-based mindset into your interview process? Here are some next steps:

1. Incorporate ​​a clear set of questions for each stage of the interview process. Making uniform sets of questions for the qualifying or first stage can be easy. Maybe you decide on a few rather than a dozen for this initial stage. But remember this: All screening interviews should start with a performance-based mindset. Later-stage interviews and panel interviews should have more performance-based aspects integrated into the process. 

2. Create powerful core questions for each stage. This means you should not randomly ask questions but institute some core questions that balance yes/no/factual questions with performance-based questions. Here are some examples that you might use as a basis at any stage of the interview process (but customize them to your needs):

• Describe how you handled a controversial decision you had to make. This focuses on leadership. Leaders sometimes make tough decisions that are not popular. How a candidate handled this can reveal their capacity to make tough decisions and take responsibility. 

• Tell me about a time when you had to face a weakness of yours and how you handled it. Even top performers need to be comfortable overcoming a weakness. How the candidate responds can help you see their humility and willingness to learn.

• Describe how you responded to a setback at work within the last two years. This question focuses on overcoming problems and responding positively to inevitable setbacks. I am again looking as a recruiter for the “how” here and not just the winning metrics that a typically trained interviewee or candidate may want to espouse.

For the recruiter, an excellent set of performance-based questions can create a level of excellence in your process, often impress candidates and help you and your organization set a precedent in the market. Your company or organization wants the best and is concerned about how someone wins and succeeds, not just the bottom lineIt tells a potential hire (and everyone they talk to) that your organization wants the right character or characteristics in a candidate and not just someone who will get the numbers and drive revenueA company that’s more interested in finding out how a candidate drives revenue and reduces costs can alienate higher character people who want to succeed the right way. On the other hand, if you just want to drive numbers you can skip these seemingly onerous steps and just get people who will get bottom-line results. 

I challenge you, your company and your recruiting team to create powerful, character-attracting, performance-based interview questions. You can increase your brand as an employer and attract top performers who do it right. Here is the key: listening. You just have to listen to them carefully during the interview process. 


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John M. O'Connor

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John M. O’Connor

John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.