Every boss has a favorite story about interviewing job candidates. Mine are the ones where the applicants trash their former employers and tell me about how unfairly they were treated. One man was so incensed about how things went in his last job that I couldn't stop him, so I just sat back and endured his profanity-laced tirade. Let's just say he didn't get the job.
Then there are those who come in for an interview and tell me how much they want to be "fulfilled." Usually these are youngsters fresh out of college, and I try to be as gentle as I can when I explain to them that a more appropriate thing to say would be something like this: "I want a job with your company so I can make money to live on. Furthermore, I promise you I will give 110% every day I work for you simply because I love doing a good job. I try every day to be enthusiastic and positive, and I believe having a job is a privilege, not a right." I believe that's the attitude all of us look for when we interview job applicants, but we seldom hear these words spoken.
But there are other dimensions to a job interview, which now seem to be coming into vogue. There's nothing fancy about these new techniques, but I thought I would share them with you because they make sense.
Job skills are critical, but there are other dimensions to a good hire, including personality and the ability to get along with others and work as part of a team. All of us have hired people at one time or another and then found out the person we hired is entirely different from the person we thought we were bringing on board. For instance, a couple of years ago I was sitting in my office when I received a phone call from an irate hospital chief executive who had met with two of my salesmen at a convention. The man was furious, telling me, "I have never been treated that rudely in my whole life." He said the pair had made some inappropriate remarks and then tried to make a joke out of the whole matter. "I called you because I believe your standards are higher than those displayed by those two fellows," the CEO said.
I couldn't believe what had happened. I had never seen these men behave badly, but then again this was the first time I had entrusted them to handle the booth at a healthcare convention while I was back at the home office. I talked to both of them immediately, and they claimed the CEO's comments were overblown. But reading between the lines I realized they had acted inappropriately and after telling them of my displeasure I phoned the CEO to apologize.
Things like that can happen if we haven't done the necessary homework on an applicant. Not everything is apparent from the give-and-take of an interview or from a resume. I know people who say all the right things in an interview and who look right for a job because of education and experience. All of this says little about how this applicant might behave with others inside and outside the organization. For example, will this person treat receptionists and secretaries at client firms well? These people are the gatekeepers to a company and can be the difference between seeing a potential client or not.
Some people can turn into entirely different personalities when they are not being supervised. That's why an article in Investor's Business Daily caught my attention. It is about Sunny Kobe Cook, the co-founder and former chief executive of Sleep Country USA, a Seattle-based mattress retailer. She believes that the best way to observe job applicants is when their guards are down, such as when they are in a reception area or being shown around the office by someone other than the person making the hire.
"I'm not advocating Big Brother tactics with hidden cameras. There are easier, less offensive ways to accomplish this goal," Cook told the paper. She used to have applicants sit in the waiting area for at least 10 minutes prior to the interview. Her goal was to see how they behaved and make use of their time in those unguarded moments. The receptionist acted as Cook's eyes and ears.
In her book, Common Things, Uncommon Ways, Cook explains that when she confers with her front office "observer" she asks these questions: Did the candidate make small talk with the receptionist or talk down to the employee? Did the person ask questions about the company? What sorts of questions? If there were company materials in the lobby, did the person show any interest in them? A similar tactic is to have someone escort the candidate the long way through the office, making small talk. If the candidate seems impolite or lacks social graces, he or she might not be a fit.
Cook is an example of the American dream. She surrounded herself with the right people by paying attention to the small things about the people she was interviewing. She must have been on to something because she managed to grow her mattress empire from one store in Seattle in 1991 to 28 stores throughout the Pacific Northwest nine years later when she sold her business and retired at 42. She claims that those 10 minutes in the reception area told her as much about a candidate's character as the most detailed interview session.
Too often we see the things we want to see in an interview and we forget the little things that really count about someone we hire, such as good manners, a respect for others no matter what their position and the ability to work as part of a team-in other words, being a decent person.
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com.