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To find the right candidate dig deeper

Brian O'Connell on December 30, 2011 Source: Kauffman Foundation

Any entrepreneur knows the drill.

You’re looking for a new employee, or looking to promote an existing employee for a management position, and you’re so busy, you cut right to the chase and ask the cursory questions you think separate the wheat from the chaff.

If so, the interview may even go fine. But the negative vibes reverberating from those “snap interviews” can last for months, and even years.

That’s why becoming a skilled interviewer is a huge factor in the success of any entrepreneur’s business. It’s the “little things” that a good interviewer can dig up beneath the surface that can mean the difference between selecting the right person and the wrong one for a big job or management post.

Says who? Says Dean Stamoulis, chief of the Global Executive Assessment Practice for New York City-based Russell Reynolds Associates. Stamoulis has been interviewing executive management candidates on behalf of top business clients for 18 years, and offers some useful tips for business owners and hiring managers, via the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology web site.

The key to asking the right questions? Stamoulis, the author of the book “Senior Executive Assessment: A Key to Responsible Corporate Governance,” says it’s all about delving beneath the surface to evaluate the genuine substance and skills of a given job candidate.

“What you see is not always what you get and that’s why it is important to be able to provide a full assessment of a candidate including traits and characteristics not readily apparent in an interview or with provided background information,” offers Stamoulis.

That means staying away from the standard tactic of relying on first impressions to make a big hire, and relying more on rooting out relevant past performance indicators that really tell the story on a given job candidate – especially for management.

So what does Stamoulis look for in a good management candidate, and how should business owners extract that information in an interview? Breadth and knowledge are at the top of his list, but they’re not alone.

“For example being able to discern how societal and economic changes are impacting or could impact the market. That shows the ability to see the big picture,” he said. “I recently had a CEO candidate observe that no amount of technological advancement was going to improve the prospects of French businesses in Germany due to a historic cultural problem that he described in detail and insight. It turned out he was exactly right,” he said. “I also look for people comfortable with change and ambiguity and showing evidence of thriving in these conditions, which are reflective of many businesses.

People who are not just tolerating change but embracing it,” Stamoulis says.

He also looks for candidates who can balance examples of superior performance with instances where decisions went awry. “If the candidate only uses superlatives to describe previous performance, then he or she is not showing the ability to be self critical and demonstrating continuous improvement and learning from mistakes, Stamoulis notes. “I often have data about the candidate that helps in the interview, such as the results of personality and cognitive testing. The right kind of testing can provide key information about a person.”

Sometimes, what a job candidate doesn’t say is as telling as what he or she does say.

“If an interviewee doesn’t mention others he or she led and name key contributors to past successes, that might indicate he or she is taking credit for others’ work and ideas. Does the candidate come across as arrogant or narcissistic? If so, it shows there might not be a connection with colleagues,” he said.

Stamoulis says that job interviewers should also look for positive attributes, especially

for evidence of compassion, courage, reflection, decisiveness and the ability to pause and think before answering. “We’re looking for a balance of traits,” he explained.

That could take some time, he adds. “A couple of hours should be sufficient to discern factors about the candidate,” he said.

Above all, a good sign you’re on the right track with an employee prospect is if that prospect has you on the edge of your seat. Passion, insight and knowledge can ignite those feelings in you, but you have to take the time to draw them out.

That, Stamoulis says, is the blueprint for an ace job interview – but it’s up to you to put those strategies in play.

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