Despite those that spend high dollars on personality tests and a battery of aptitude tests, most hires still come down to a gut feeling. Chip McCreary, president of Austin-McGregor International, promotes a “lucky seven” set of questions to gather insight into the personality of the person he is interviewing.
Interviewers should develop similar benchmark questions with a set of expected responses to assist in determining the personality quotient (PQ) of a candidate. Combining the PQ and the old gut feeling should give you a good idea of whether the candidate will fit with your corporate culture.
McCreary’s “Lucky Seven”
1. If there is a better candidate for this position than you, what qualities does the person possess that make them better?
Like the old beauty pageant stumper “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” this question intends to check bandwidth, not generate a specific answer. Few people have the mental quickness to deal with this question. In fact, most candidates are thrown off by it. The issue is how deeply the candidate believes he or she is the right person for the job. When all is said and done, candidates affirm that, Superman or Wonder Woman aside, they believe they are the best person for the position.
2. What is your current compensation? (pause for response) May I see your W-2 or 1099 form?
This is two-part question designed to test a candidate’s honesty. If the candidate back-peddles after part two of the question, it’s a fairly safe bet that they lied on part one. For executive level candidates, the W-2 question might turn them off, so ask them to describe their bonus plan in detail. If that runs smoothly off their lips, then you can pretty much assume the answer to the first question was honest. If they can’t do anything else, most execs can calculate their bonus and explain it quickly.
3. What is it people don’t like about you?
Again, there is no specific right or wrong answer to this question. It’s simply designed to determine how well candidates handle being put on the spot. However, you can usually eliminate those candidates who claim to be universally well liked and not because nice people finish last. It’s not a question of toughness, but honesty. Good executives and managers are honest about their assessment of people, and sooner or later, they have to be frank about someone’s shortcomings. If that gets you disliked, so be it.
4. What books have you read lately that you enjoyed?
The right answer to this question will depend on the corporate culture of your company. If a candidate loved “Anna Karenina,” that’s not going to fly with a company who’s running a testosterone-charged boy’s club. It could be perfect, however, for a company that’s selling passion and romance – whether they make automobiles or movies. Be cautious of those that are reading Robert Fulghum’s “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” a good executive’s thirst for ideas should go deeper than books of this nature.
5. What types of causes or community service are you involved in?
Answers to this question tell a candidate’s political philosophy and social agenda. This evaluation should be based on your corporate culture, not on any liberal, conservative or other bias. In addition, you must evaluate the degree to which the candidate is involved in outside causes. If a candidate is on half a dozen boards or committees, he or she has no time for a career. Though they may be physically at the job, some professionals have their heart in a cause rather than their work. You can admire them, but you don’t want to hire them.
6. Do you have any hobbies or pets?
The real issue here is pets. The part about hobbies is a smoke screen. Dog lovers are generally loyal, have a group or pack mentality and can be trained. Cat fanciers are aloof, resist direction but have a great knack for survival. There is no right or wrong answer to this question because some positions require cats and some require dogs.
7. What mistakes have you made?
If candidates don’t admit to mistakes, they either aren’t being honest or they have stopped learning. Good forms of failure exist. For example, if a candidate initiates a project, lines up the research, has all the right analysis in place and then sees the idea backfire, they now know they are not infallible. They don’t have to learn that lesson at your company’s expense.
What other interview questions have you found successful in determing personality and culture fit?
Great advice. Question on #6. What if the person doesn’t have any pets? Does that tend to portray something negative?
No, there is nothing negative to assume if the person has no pets. They probably just don’t like kitty boxes or walking the dog! That fact just doesn’t give one any additional possible personality hints. All of this is data that helps in the decision process, but alone the specific questions do not necessarily create a positive or negative decision.
What if our reading taste is toward philosophy/aternative religious ideas type of books? For example, in the past month, I’ve completed books on Crop Circles, the Maya 2012 prophecy, and a book on creation mythologies across native cultures.
I just had an interview in which I mentioned the Mayan book and the Crop Circle book and I swear the interviewers eyes glazed over and I had that “oh no” moment.
I can’t see telling a lie about what I’ve been reading, but I also don’t want to be judged harshly because I like *alternative* subjects from alien races to conspiracy theories…
This is a reply to Susen: if your book interests are not related to your dream job culture, make an effort to read something that does. Even if it is one book a year. Pick one that might interest you and read it. And voila – you don’t have to lie, you just made an effort to grow professionally (which will give you that extra touch of confidence), and you have a book to discuss (or just mention) at your next interview. Everybody wins. Consider reading that book an investment. You may learn something new and interesting along the way too!
Best of luck.