I’ve spent the week helping a few clients interview for some key new hires. I’ve kissed some frogs, and found a few princes (or princesses, as the case may be). And there is one way I can quickly tell the difference between the duds and the superstars.
I base my hiring decisions on the quality of the questions candidates ask me.
When I hire people for my own companies, it’s easy to make emotional decisions or get stuck on a favorite candidate. But when I am filling a fractional role for a client and need to make hiring decisions, I can’t take risks on their behalf so I am more cut and dry about my criteria. And my number one criteria for any role comes down to questions.
Here’s what I am looking for:
- The questions they ask. Do they ask smart questions? Do their questions show they are engaged and thoughtful about the role & responsibilities? Do they display natural curiosity?
- How they ask the questions. How you ask a question is almost as important as the question itself. Someone who spews a bunch of inquisition-like questions is a turn off. I’m looking for style, rapport building and active listening.
- When they ask the questions. I start most interviews with “What questions do you have for me?”. What I am hoping for is someone to jump in and show their curiosity—about me, about the company, about the role…about anything. When a candidate doesn’t have any questions come to mind, or wants to hold them till the end, that’s a red flag. I’ve had entire interviews where the candidate essentially ends up interviewing me. And when that happens I learn more about a person than I ever could in a standard interview. Their questioning shows me how they think, what they care about, their motivations and intentions.
- The conversational part of their questioning. If someone is just reading off a list of prepared questions, that’s a ding. Natural curiosity leads to good questions, which leads to more questions, which leads to responses and engaging conversation. If someone is listening to your answer, they will ask a smart follow up question, or share a relevant tidbit. There will be an engaging dialog about the question, not just a rote question after a rote question after a rote question.
Good questioning is a pass/fail for me. If a candidate has soared through the entire recruiting process with flying colors, but hasn’t asked any great questions during the process, it’s a fail. Sometimes a heartbreaking one for me when I really like someone and think they could be a strong fit….but, this has to be cut and dry.
I know now from lots of experience hiring great fits and bad fits, the writing was always on the wall based on the questions they asked during the interview process.