Ditch the List

I was recently with an old friend and fellow entrepreneur talking about the trials and tribulations of starting a business. Hearing him lament about having regular turnover in a few key roles, I finally asked what his interview process was like.

“Oh, it’s amazing, let me send you these questions I have been using.” A great interview process that leads to turnover? I must be missing something…

The next day he followed up, sending me a pop-management link of the Top Interview Questions to Drive Performance.

Why are we so fixated on lists? 10 Best Restaurants for Date Nights, 7 Rules for Keeping a Pristine Lawn, 60 Places to Visit Before You Die. Websites like Buzzfeed and Business Insider prey on this fascination and pump out 20 more each day.

But what if you don’t like Italian food and the majority of the list are classic red sauce restaurants? How helpful are these lists if they don’t apply directly to you?

Using the MIP philosophy, let’s explore how you can think about developing interview questions to meet YOUR needs.

Look In the Past

Think about people who have been successful in the role before. What do they do differently than everybody else? Here, think about WHAT somebody was doing. Make sure to document all of the aspects of the job that are most important and highlight these in the job description. By providing a realistic job preview of what leads to success in a role, you will reduce ambiguity and leave your candidates with a clear expectation of what they are signing up for.

Look Around You Now

Next, it is important to put the culture into consideration. Why have good performers at your competitors failed when they joined your team? Here, think about HOW somebody works within your organization. Things like how decisions get made, the amount of autonomy people have, and what collaboration looks like are key indicators. Key behaviors and competencies will identify not only if the person has the technical skills you need, but if they are able to perform within your environment.

Look to the Future

Finally, an interview process is not effective if you are not thinking about future growth. If the goals set in the strategic plan are met, what will your organization look like? Here, think about WHEN the current state will no longer be sustainable. This is a good time to think about how your industry or competitors might change the market. What does your talent need to do in order to change with the tide? A selection process is not effective if six months later, it is obsolete.

Once you have the key questions answered, sit back and look at the data to identify what good looks like. Clarify the non-negotiables from the “nice to haves”. Ask good behavioral questions to tease out the role, environment, and future that will lead your team to success. Tailor the process to what you need and not what you read on a list. Always remember, bespoke is best. 

My Hardest Executive Assessment

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to start my own company and control my own destiny. Like most people who envision leaving the corporate world behind, I have always questioned when to finally take the jump. What could I do to finally give myself the confidence to chase my dream?

As an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, I have conducted many executive assessments for clients to use data as part of the selection process. Empirical methodology helps make decisions objective and provides insight into how to best onboard and develop employees. In deciding when to take a leap in my career, I realized it was time for me to take my own medicine and find out: Would I hire myself?

Competency Modeling and Role Definition

The first step in any good assessment is to establish the criteria vital for performance in the role. What is the target that all aspects of the assessment should be aimed toward? By identifying the key behaviors necessary for success in a role, a customized assessment process can be developed.

This forced me to take a step back and think about the type of firm I wanted to build and the key behaviors needed to lead my organization in the right direction. Obviously, competencies like the ability to network and develop business are important, but I also wanted to emphasize an ethical approach to doing business – ensuring that all of my work is supported by empirical evidence and fit to meet the needs of the client regardless of personal profit.

Standardized Assessment

I like to start any executive assessment with a previously validated measure based on how well it meets the requirements identified in the competency model. It is important to define the role before selecting an assessment and ensure the tool is appropriate for identifying the key criteria for performance.

For my assessment, I found the two best tools were the Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ) and the Hogan Developmental Survey (HDS). The OPQ provides insights into key personality tendencies and can be leveraged to best understand my desired environment. The HDS measures how others will perceive me while under stress, which can help me understand potential derailers that may be masked as blind spots. Increasing my self-awareness will help me avoid the pitfalls that may arise from the regular stressors of entrepreneurship.

Behavioral Interview

The next part of the assessment is to conduct a structured interview targeted to measure the background of the candidate as it pertains to the pre-established competency model. Research has shown that interviews are great predictors of future performance when the questions are focused and anchored to evaluation guidelines. As silly as it sounds, I wrote out an interview guide as I would for a full assessment and what my responses would be. I would like to acknowledge that answering my own interview questions is not void of bias. Do not try this at home!

Inbox Assessment

The final phase of data collection is role play to simulate a real-world situation. Many traditionally think of this as the old “sell me this pen” exercise, but there is a lot more to it.  My experience has seen biostatisticians manage a cross-functional team conflict, a manager coach underperforming employees, and executives manage a visionary difference within a leadership meeting. These exercises are additional opportunities for candidates to display their competence in the selection criteria, as well as give assessors insight into the candidate’s style.

Hearing me put myself through a role play exercise from the other room may lead my wife to have me examined for multiple personalities. Luckily, I have saved every performance evaluation I have gone through since I was an intern in graduate school. I used these previous reviews to see where feedback could be mapped to the competencies (weighting more recent reviews and progress higher). While an inexact science, I was able to add some useful data.

The Results

While I would not defend the validity of the introspective executive assessment, the exercise served its purpose. Creating a competency model helped me establish a philosophy and direction for my firm. The standardized assessment provided insight into personality preferences and tendencies. My high Caring score shows that I will take on my clients problems as my own, and the Tough Minded score shows that I will not be easily discouraged by the difficulties of business development. The behavioral interview allowed me to think about times I have been able to display each of the competencies. I thought about the most difficult projects I have worked on and how I have managed clients through precarious political situations. The role play via reviewing previous work samples allowed me to see the growth and progress throughout my career, as well as acknowledgement of displaying competencies in the real world.

The results did not come back perfect – but they never do. I know there are strengths and developmental areas I need to work on. Knowing this up front allows me to create an environment where I focus on harnessing these strong points and supplementing the weaknesses with partners, virtual assistants, and accounting help.

Overall, results show that I am out of excuses for not taking that next step. Everything I have done throughout my career has put me in a position to be successful. Most importantly, I have been blessed with an amazing wife, family, friends, and network of people who have encouraged and supported me through my journey.

I am excited to begin this next chapter of my life and look forward to providing clients with bespoke solutions for managing their human capital.