When you hire the right person, put them in a strong culture, and provide the structure for them to develop their skills and talents, your life as a leader gets better in a hurry. However, when you hire recklessly and bring on warm-bodied-mirrorfoggers so you can claim to have “coverage,” you sentence your dealership to a costly misadventure of misery on the installment plan.
While I don’t have space in this column to share everything of importance to evaluate when assessing a job candidate during an interview, I will provide an outline of three critical success factors that are often overlooked as amateur interviewers become distracted by—and enamored with—a prospective employee’s stellar appearance or years of experience.
1. What have they done?
What are their past accomplishments? Make them be specific as to what they are and how they achieved them. What’s the most significant thing they’ve achieved in past jobs, and how well does the level of that accomplishment suit them for the level of performance you’ll require? Frankly, there is scarcely a better predictor of future performance than past performance. It’s not a
guarantee—there are no guarantees—but the most telling indicator of what you can expect someone to do is what they’ve done. After all, success leaves clues, and so does failure. So it’s not just about what they have: a nice appearance, a well-spoken manner, a college degree, ten years of experience, and the like. What’s more relevant is what they’ve done with those attributes.
Determining specifically what someone has accomplished, overcome, stuck with, and persisted through—and how they did it—will require that you upgrade your interview skills beyond the pathetic “tell me about your strengths” nonsense to a highly analytical, unemotional deep dive into their life. After all, an effective interview is not supposed to be a casual conversation or a good ‘ole boy get acquainted session; it’s to be a fact-finding expedition where you ask the right questions, dig deeply into the answers, and look for the right traits: talent, drive, character, attitude, energy, and passion for starters.
2. What’s their “why?”
One’s “why” is his or her goals, aspirations, purpose, and reason for doing what they do. Without a bold and compelling why— strong personal reasons for succeeding—people are prone to go through the motions and only occasionally exert extra effort; they fail to persist in the face of difficulties, and have normally developed a track record of quitting hobbies, jobs, relationships and more once things get tough. On the other hand, a person with a powerful why won’t require as much external motivation because he or she has a fire already burning within them. The why-driven employee, is more often a fighter—internally motivated to succeed—and is far more focused and resilient than their less ambitious counterpart who’s more likely to do just enough to get by, just enough to get paid, and just enough to not get fired.
3. What is the content of their character?
Character can be defined as “a combination of moral and ethical qualities that comprise the individual nature of a person.” While a person can begin making decisions and choosing behaviors to strengthen his or her character, you can’t change someone’s character from the outside-in. Let me repeat: you can certainly try to influence another human being’s character, but forget
about changing it. It’s tough enough to improve your own character flaws, much less believe you have the ability to change the individual nature of someone else. All this is to say that since you can’t put into someone what they don’t have, it’s important that you hire someone who brings the right basic character traits to the table.
While there’s not a foolproof way to assess someone’s character within the confines of an interview, you can use an in-depth assessment (like the Anderson Automotive Profile) and ask questions that, when answered, offer insights into the quality of a candidate’s moral and ethical qualities. In some of my leadership workshops and books I list a series of character traits (like: truthfulness, keeping commitments, honesty in words and deeds, persisting in the face of difficulties, right motives, strong work ethic, accepting responsibility and more) and then offer accompanying interview questions to ask that offer insight into how strong an applicant is in those. By making a list of character traits important to you and to the position, you can do something similar and then devise questions to ask that will reveal glimpses into the job candidate’s individual nature.
For example, when I ask an “acceptance of responsibility question” like: “You seem to have accomplished quite a bit over the course of your career. Could you name for me three factors that have held you back from being even further along than you are?” and the person responds with conditions beyond their control: “My last boss didn’t like me,” “The last three places I worked didn’t have good training,” and “I felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time with that job,” you may be uncovering someone who doesn’t own their results and will tend to blame other people and things for their lack of success. Answers you’d get more excited about would be along the lines of: “I wasn’t as disciplined early on as I should have been,” “It took me three years after college to appreciate the importance of personal growth and continuing to work on myself,” “I had a lot of personal issues I needed to resolve that distracted me from working with as much focus as I should have.”
I’ve become convinced over decades of hiring, teaching on hiring, and consulting with others on how to hire, that the number one cause of poor performance is hiring the wrong person to begin with. And even if you do hire a great candidate their talent can go to waste in a weak culture, under poor leadership, or without a structured environment that prioritizes training and accountability. However, by focusing on the Three “What’s” (“What have they done?”, “What’s their why?” and “What’s the content of their character?”) you stack the deck high in your favor that you’ll bring on board a teammate who gives you essential tools to work with as you develop him or her.