Recruiting a leader through six interviewing techniques.

Introduction

The first stages of the recruitment process are key for success down the line but the stakes are high; let the wrong candidates through and you’re wasting the hiring manager’s and your own time, turn down some hidden gems and you’re missing a world of opportunity. Intake interviews serve the purpose of preselection, validating whether behind an interesting CV there is an interesting candidate. This is usually done by phone, but frankly, the era of the phone call is over when the younger generation avoids them like the plague. It doesn’t help that they sap the time of the recruiter like nothing else so it’s a lose-lose. Digitising your process is the answer but they’re only as good as your approach. 

So how do you avoid a time-consuming conversation with an unqualified candidate that doesn’t tell you much more than the CV? In this blogpost we will discuss different overlooked personality traits and how to qualify them with questions that lead to examples and honest self-reflection while not taking up more time than your run-of-the-mill standard set. Don’t wait to get to know your candidate and their potential until you get to meet them live,  get a solid idea of what makes them tick early on in your process by asking the unexpected questions that dig deeper. 

For the first undervalued and misunderstood quality that applies to all hires, here is leadership. In this blogpost we provide you with 6 interviewing techniques:

1. How to spot the Zoom connector?

As a recruiter, you might not be focusing on the leadership qualities from the get-go but snagging a candidate with the potential to lead can be a great long term investment. The problem is those attributes can be difficult to identify in the short period of time a recruiter has for interviewing candidates, and even more so if the communication is not live and you can’t follow-up the answers. When coming up with questions that yield insightful answers is the challenge, the way to go is to understand what you’re looking for and why. 

Will we ever return to the office fully? Highly unlikely. What that means is a leader must be able to transfer those skills into remote work with the same success as they have in the office. People appreciate the comfort of their pyjamas and but also require the connection physical proximity allows for, and that is leading to a constant renegotiation of the pros and cons of remote and in person. However, even for the biggest proponents of in-person office culture, some stints of remote are inevitable so it’s important to be ready for this eventuality. To see which workers will thrive in this environment and elevate the team, it’s important to suss out what their approach to online communication will be. This means understanding what sort of initiatives they had taken remotely at their last position as well as their communication style (proactive or passive) and knack for conflict resolution at a distance. 

A good way to ask about this is to prompt the candidate into sharing their thoughts about how they will go about making these connections with their coworkers based on their own experience and ideas. If their plan is concrete, actionable and shows sensitivity to the challenges of the hybrid work model on the feelings and motivations of workers, it shows their ability to reflect and potential to make a conscious effort to overcome that virtual distance. Here are some questions to start with:

  • If you were a manager in a hybrid workplace, what are some initiatives you think would be important to introduce to help your team? 
  • What have you learned  about remote work in the past year? 
  • What traits do you find crucial in a remote worker?

2. How to tell if your candidate is a life-long learner

As a recruiter, you might not be focusing on the leadership qualities from the get-go but snagging a candidate with the potential to lead can be a great long term investment. The problem is those attributes can be difficult to identify in the short period of time a recruiter has for interviewing candidates, and even more so if the communication is not live and you can’t follow-up the answers. When coming up with questions that yield insightful answers is the challenge, the way to go is to understand what you’re looking for and why.

Adapting to change is necessary for any candidate in the current climate,  but even more so if they will need to show off their leadership chops. Learning is necessary to keep up with the changes in strategy, technology and the move towards hybrid work and it’s a two-way street. The best companies always offer a learning environment but it’s up to the candidate to make use of it and use the learnings to efficiently adapt to change. 

But how do you know if the interviewee is a learner? Here it’s important to ask open ended questions that show the thought-process. If the candidate gets caught up in routine, is not intellectually curious, and does not know how to benefit from change, they may not be able to get the most out of the experience or give back to the team after a while. Everyone says they’re adaptable but how do you find out if that really is their strong suit? Ask questions that let you understand if they look for opportunities and new skills in response to change. Everyone should have a trove of experience from the past year and a half and plenty of learnings. To qualify these experiences ask big open-ended questions that will prove they’re curious and motivated to learn from themselves and others, here are some examples to think about:

  • Can you talk about a time when you felt ill-equipped for an assignment and what steps you took to handle it? 
  • What new knowledge or skills have you tried recently? 
  • Imagine yourself in three years. What do you hope will be different about you then compared to now?

3. How do you verify if a candidate is truly empathetic 

As a recruiter, you might not be focusing on the leadership qualities from the get-go but snagging a candidate with the potential to lead can be a great long term investment. The problem is those attributes can be difficult to identify in the short period of time a recruiter has for interviewing candidates, and even more so if the communication is not live and you can’t follow-up the answers. When coming up with questions that yield insightful answers is the challenge, the way to go is to understand what you’re looking for and why. 

Predicting and managing emotions within the team is impossible without this obvious but elusive trait. Empathetic team members and leaders make for a motivating work environment and pay off when it comes to retention.

It is true that it takes just one newbie that doesn’t play nice with the team to present a serious challenge to the team dynamic  But to eke out the hires that truly possess this characteristic, the focus has to be on understanding whether they see empathy as a means to an end (which is unsustainable and a little Machiavellian) or caring for others is inherent in their every interaction. As long as that goodwill is there, the means to express it can be built up on a team level. In an interview scenario, it starts with leading by example. If you ask about their own emotional journey when it comes to work, you will be able to gauge their openness in regards to others. Some handy questions to bring out the candidate’s approach to empathy include: 

  • Tell me about a success/failure at work, how did it make you feel?
  • Have you ever had a negative impact on someone? Please provide an example.  
  • ‍How would you deliver news of failure to your team?

A great follow-up can include asking to what extent they’ve had the chance to exercise empathy in a workplace as a mentor, manager, or even just as a buddy but for the time being, make your questions concrete to save time. 

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The undervalued and misunderstood quality that applies to all hires, leadership

4. How to elevate the question of learning from mistakes

As a recruiter, you might not be focusing on the leadership qualities from the get-go but snagging a candidate with the potential to lead can be a great long term investment. The problem is those attributes can be difficult to identify in the short period of time a recruiter has for interviewing candidates, and even more so if the communication is not live and you can’t follow-up the answers. When coming up with questions that yield insightful answers is the challenge, the way to go is to understand what you’re looking for and why.

This is a classic interview tactic and yet it can always be taken further. An important tip is to never stop at one example. The first one would’ve been carefully chosen by the candidate, the second and third meanwhile are much more revealing. If the candidate can figure out what they did wrong and why, take ownership and is open and able to show their best and their worst, you can expect honest self-reflection going forward. There’s much to learn from mistakes with the right attitude!

A clear red flag here is then if they start to point fingers at others instead, then you can bet there is more to the story that they’re letting on. Likewise a candidate trying to go for a humble brag is understandable but not exactly helpful to understand their tenacity in the face of missteps. It is a great opportunity to see their entire attitude to work, their ego and honesty and while a simple question suffices to give a snapshot, it is more interesting to ask questions that lead to more insightful reflection. Here are some example questions you can use to dig deeper from the get-go: 

  • Tell me about an experiment initiative you tried at work, its outcome and what did it teach you? How did you apply this learning to another initiative?
  • What is the most important lesson you’ve ever learned from your own mistake and/or someone else's? 

5. How to test if a candidate will give everyone a seat at the table

As a recruiter, you might not be focusing on the leadership qualities from the get-go but snagging a candidate with the potential to lead can be a great long term investment. The problem is those attributes can be difficult to identify in the short period of time a recruiter has for interviewing candidates, and even more so if the communication is not live and you can’t follow-up the answers. When coming up with questions that yield insightful answers is the challenge, the way to go is to understand what you’re looking for and why.

Every company has a mission statement and for many a part of that mission is to create and more importantly maintain a culture of diversity and inclusion. Every management team has to decide for themselves what it means to them and why in order for there to be meaningful change in our workplaces. Everyone on the team has to be on-board and aligned with the values in order for the inclusion initiatives to remain sustainable in the long-term. 

This is another tricky attribute to interview for as there are set ‘correct answers’ but you have to ensure that the candidate is not just paying lip service and giving the answer. Ask for their reasons and insights, are they even aware of inclusion challenges? Importantly have they been an agent of change themselves? It’s not about whether they believe in diverse hiring, but much more so about how they will play in a diverse team and maintain an equitable work environment. The questions here are about deeper understanding, empathy as well as actionable ideas to give everyone in the team a seat at the table. Here are some examples to make you think:

  • Can you give me an example of an inclusion initiative in your past work that failed and why do you think that happened? 
  • Looking at our mission statement/D&I promises, what are your thoughts?
  • How do you ensure that your entire team benefits from your collaboration? 

6. How to test if your candidate is the right type of humble

As a recruiter, you might not be focusing on the leadership qualities from the get-go but snagging a candidate with the potential to lead can be a great long term investment. The problem is those attributes can be difficult to identify in the short period of time a recruiter has for interviewing candidates, and even more so if the communication is not live and you can’t follow-up the answers. When coming up with questions that yield insightful answers is the challenge, the way to go is to understand what you’re looking for and why. 

A tricky balancing act that flies in the face of a lot of advice interviewees get is the test of their humility. And yet, especially when it comes to leadership, humility is the key to maintaining tight-knit teams that are empowered to work effectively. It’s a red flag if someone never mentions their team or their leadership when talking about their success (doubly so if they do mention them when discussing their failures), the chance that they really did single handedly pull themselves up by their bootstraps are pretty minimal. 

It’s easy to get dazzled by the high-performers or people who convincingly say they are, but to ensure meaningful teamwork it’s important to hire someone who values working with others for all the right reasons and is confident without believing themselves to be infallible. The questions to ask to test their humility deal with gaging whether they can recognise where others helped them succeed and give credit where credit is due. This can be pretty confronting, but that’s how you get to the real answers.  Some examples of questions to include are:

  • Who do you owe your success to? 
  • How do you navigate a situation where you disagree with your team/manager? Please provide an example. 
  • What is an example of an important lesson you’ve learned from someone else and how have you implemented that in your career?

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