The current labour shortage has placed a premium on hiring the right people for both today's slowly but steadily growing economy and for tomorrow, when times may not be as good.
While hopping between jobs has become the norm for millennials and the rising generation Z, this short guide aims to sail against the trend. Helping you to find the person with the character and traits that can rise from a supervisor to a manager and from a manager to a director. We based our suggestions on proven academic research from figures such as Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania) and Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business School).
Life and values
1. What is the deepest source of joy in your work?
After small-talk and an overview of the applicant's career this is a great opener to really get to to the heart of what the person values and what they aspire towards. What the answer is and the way the question is answered shows the fit of that person with your vision of your organisation.
Some people are more easy going, some a bit more complicated but if they can describe a substantial part of their work with a fire in their eyes - that tells a lot more than just mouthing buzzwords like "passion", "hard-worker" and so forth.
2. How has it felt to work closely with someone whose personality was different from yours?
One of the greatest assets an individual can have is the ability to not only cope with a team different than them but to thrive in that environment. It may be a bit counterintuitive to ask that at a beginning of an interview but it's essential. in today's world where teammates can come from anywhere in the world to work towards a common goal
However, a disappointing answer to this question ought not to disqualify anyone by any means when looking for supervisors or lower managers. We are looking for a skill that can be learned and perfected. Those that have that skill simply have a huge advantage and a faster career trajectory because they can add value to your firm faster.
3. Who have you helped to succeed in your last position?
You are really looking for a sincere and straightforward answer. Any hesitation answering to this question is a red flag that you ought to keep in mind when going forward with the candidate.
It doesn't matter whether one is grumpy or always smiling or talkative or laconic - what matters is do they help their teammates succeed and become better, no matter their tone or way of expressing themselves. And people tend to remember when they have really helped someone and if someone has helped them as well - so this is a verifiable data-point.
Experience- and competency-based questions
Experience-based questions ask the candidate open up about how their skills and abilities helped them to solve an issue, crisis or a problem in the past. These questions can slightly help to predict performance in the future.
According to a study done by Pulakos & Schmitt compared to an interview based on situational or hypothetical questions, " the experience‐based interview questions yielded higher levels of validity than the situational questions. Additional analyses showed that the interview added incrementally to the prediction of performance beyond the variance accounted for by a cognitive ability test."
4. Describe how you do research and analyze data to solve a problem?
In today's changing world the ability of your team to research a problem and to analyse data is not only a highly valued skill but will shape the future of your company because that defines how you will react tactically and almost by instinct to unexpected exchanges, unwelcome surprises in the business landscape and critical errors in your processes.
Technology companies such as Google further zoom in on this particular skill-set by asking an infinite variety of curve-ball questions that seek to place the candidate on the spot and truly test their analytical skillset in real-time. Questions such as "How many golf balls can fit inside a Boeing 777 plane?" or "What do you need to escape if you are stuck in a giant washing machine?" have become commonplace.
5. How would you spend £50,000/$50,000 to grow a firm faster than the cost of capital?
Nothing is harder to change than habits and amongst the thousands that we have as we struggle in our daily lives, the way we handle our money is one of the most hard-grained patterns.
The specifics are irrelevant from this question you can tell whether the person dedicated to growth: willing to sacrifice efficiency for speed, take on more risk or are their strengths at the other end of the spectrum: focusing on a steady rate of growth. How do they fit with the strategy of your firm and the projected career trajectory of the individual in your firm (and not only the initial position)?
You have to keep in mind that in today's environment companies that focus on hypergrowth tend to have an advantage as the business environment tends to more and more operate by "winner takes all" environment. Reid Hoffman has talked about this in his Stanford University business course, describing the phenomenon with a single word: Blitzscaling. He states:
We’re in a networked age. And I don’t mean only the internet. Globalization is a form of network. It adds networks of transport, commerce, payment, and information flows around the world. In such an environment, you have to move faster, because competition from anywhere on the globe may beat you to scale.
There are three kinds of scale. People naturally focus on two of them: growing your revenues and growing your customer base. And of course, if you don’t get those right, then nothing else matters. But very few businesses can succeed on those fronts without also scaling the organization. An organization’s size and its ability to execute determine whether it can capture customers and revenue.
Grit: the greatest predictor of success
So what do you do when you have a group intelligent and talented people applying for the job but you can only hire one of them? Angela Duckworth has done extensive academic research that shows that when ranking high-performing individuals between each other the greatest predictor of success is not their level of intelligence but their ability to preserve and to keep going when times get tough. Grit matters.
Duckworth et al state in a 2014 article published in "Frontiers in Psychology":
The current investigation examines the association between grit, defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals, other individual difference variables, and retention in four different contexts: the military, workplace sales, high school, and marriage. Grit predicted retention over and beyond established context-specific predictors of retention (e.g., intelligence, physical aptitude, Big Five personality traits, job tenure) and demographic variables in each setting.
Grittier soldiers were more likely to complete an Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) selection course, grittier sales employees were more likely to keep their jobs, grittier students were more likely to graduate from high school, and grittier men were more likely to stay married.
6. Do you find new ideas drive you away from old ones?
The way you judge someone's ability to preserve is not by directly asking "Do you value grit?" or "Are you tough enough to face the challenges of our business/our sector" but rather in a question that reveals the person's true qualities without directly touching the topic or even encouraging a less experienced person to answer the question incorrectly.
This is one of those tricky questions: the ability to embrace new ideas sound like a big positive but 9 times out of 10 way to win in business is the ability to stick with old ones or to be patient when implementing new ones, even if a current way of doing thins appears unattractive. New ideas have defects that appear later.
Often the resulting lack of focus can lead to introducing a product or service model that is not ready for use and that in turn results in increased customer dissatisfaction, churn and higher customer acquisition costs.
7. Do your interests change from year to year?
Similar to the last question this is a bit of a roundabout way to see what the person is really like. It is meant to be asked when you already have filtered down the candidates to a pool of talent that you know has the required energy and the level of business IQ you demand.
This innocent looking question helps you to highlight those that combine the positive qualities that helped them to initially stand out with stability and straightforwardness.
Questions for Upper Management Candidates
8. Is a higher gross margin/higher profit the most important business goal for you?
It may be obvious that acquiring higher profits and a higher gross margin should be an objective of any mature commercial organisation (other than start-ups oriented for growth). But that may not be the case when a soberer long-term view is taken when breaking down the market your firm operates in.
Chasing higher margins and leaving low margin sectors or businesses can look very good in a quarterly or annual report and make a manager look like a winner but done without forethought will give an advantage to disruptive competitors that will start with the lower end of the market and eat you out from there and then step by step from the more profitable parts of the market as well.
The end result is that your company under siege in the most profitable part of the market. What a firm should try to achieve is a consistent flow of profit or alternatively cash rather than the highest margin possible. And if possible increase that margins slowly or with infrequent price hikes every couple of years after the product or service has improved a lot.
This is really a question where only exceptional young people or deeply experienced managers will have the right answer. Professor Clayton Christensen has described how an organisation can limit themselves when everyone in the organisation orients themselves to target for the highest profit process happening in almost every manufacturing or service sector under the sun:
9. How do you implement a long-term strategy when emergencies compete with it for scarce resources?
If you have filtered down the candidates to the top 3 you can start asking more long-winded questions. The reason for asking this specific question is that implementing the firm's strategy is a core part of every executive, regardless of their title or a particular field of operations.
The issue is that implementing strategy is not an analytical exercise but more akin to a Darwinian competition for resources (time, money, people and energy) between defined objectives and a thousand unforeseen events. The answer to this question gives you what you really want to hear from top candidates when you ask them "How do you perform under pressure" but most people disappoint as they have prepared a cookie-cutter answer.