Can Your Candidates Demonstrate Initiative Before You Hire Them?

Q. What questions do you find are helpful for getting to the candidate's motivation and cultural fit?

 One question that I believe addresses these issues is centered around understanding the candidate's drive or initiative. Granted there are others, but I think this particular one deals with both.

Just about all jobs require some level of initiative. Most managers want a person that is willing to take initiative in their job. It is a lot easier to hold someone back than it is to try and push them forward. We believe all top talent is self-motivated and will take initiative.

The question I like to ask candidates is, “Can you give me an example in your current or last position where you demonstrated high initiative?” or “Can you give me an example in your current or last position where you did something you weren't required or asked to do, but you did it because you believed it needed to be done?”  These are excellent phone interviewing questions.

Depending on the level of the person the answer will vary. I wouldn't expect that same initiative from a truck driver as I would a VP level person. It also deals with the speed of one's culture.  After hearing the answer you might think this is high initiative or you might think, “If that is high initiative in their organization, in ours that would be considered standing still.”  Regardless of the answer, you'll know whether or not they demonstrate this trait at the right level for your position and your organization.

Finally, I find this to be one of the best phone interviewing questions. If the candidate can't provide an example of initiative or doesn't meet the standard you are seeking, do you really need to bring them in for an interview?

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I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard

Interviewing Only The Employed. Is It The Way To Hire?

Q. My boss thinks we should only interview and hire people that are working.  What are your thoughts on this?

 I think you and your boss should only interview and hire qualified candidates that will be top performers. Why would your boss want to exclude a potential top performer because they are not working?

I get this question all the time. The fact is bad things happen to good people. I facilitate a group of VP and C level executives for the American Association of Senior Executives ( many of these execs are in-transition and are top performers. It is inconceivable why any company would not consider them when hiring just because they are unemployed.

The goal when hiring should always be first and foremost, hire the person that will perform the best. There are many reasons in this economy unrelated to performance why a person may be unemployed. To paint everyone with such a broad brush is short sighted.  Ask your boss if they have ever hired someone working and that person failed? If the response is “Yes” then that demonstrates that just because someone is working doesn't mean they are the best person.

What if your boss becomes unemployed? Would he/she agree that they are not a high performer and shouldn't be hired?

Join the other 10,000 CEOs, key executives and HR professionals and download a FREE copy of our best-selling book, “You’re NOT The Person I Hired.” Just CLICK HERE and under the FREE Hiring Resources section you can download our free eBook.

Retaining your best talent is always the best thing any company can do. Download our FREE Non-Monetary Rewards and Recognitions Matrix. It will help you retain your best people without additional compensation. CLICK HERE to download under the Free Resources section.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard

A Candidate’s Background & Experience Are Irrelevant

Just to clarify, I said “irrelevant.” I didn't say “not important.”

Since most people have been taught interviewing is about the candidate's dbs background and experience, the interviewer tends to ask a lot of questions about the past. For example, “What have  you done in this area?”  or ” Have you ever done _____?”  Those trained in behavioral interviewing will just simply take those same questions and convert them into an example. For example, “Give me an example of where you have done X” or “Tell me about a time when you had X as an issue?”

All of this may be good stuff to know, but the fact is you really don't care about any of this. The fact is when a candidate shows up on Monday morning, you no longer care about all of the things they have done. You only care about one thing, whether or not they can do the job you are hiring them to do. That is all you really care about. Nothing else matters anymore. They may have the best background and all the right experience, but if they can't do your job, then you really don't care about their background and experience.

Have you ever hired a person that had all the right experience, interviewed well, had all the right answers, their resume read like the job description, and when you hired them they fell flat on their face? This has happened to just about everyone.

Why does this happen? I contend it is because the person's background and experience are not primary indicators of their ability to do your job. These are at best secondary and more often than not misleading indicators. Yet, these are the indicators that most hiring managers rely on.

Instead, let's focus the interview on the primary reason for interviewing, “Can they do your job?” This is the focus behind the Success Factor Hiring Methodology.  The key to a successful hire is having a process that puts the candidate in the job BEFORE you hire the candidate. It is not about determining if the candidate's background and experience fit.

This is why we believe behavioral interviewing falls short. It was once a quantum leap forward in how interviewing was performed. However, in our opinion, it too has run its course. Great interviewing is more than getting examples of the past. It is about doing your job. The tag line for behavioral interviewing, “past performance is an indicator of future performance” isn't always the case.

In our hiring methodology training workshops, we teach how to change the focus from the person's background and experience, to how will they adapt those to your job. If they can't adapt to your company and your position, then they may be a great X but they aren't the right X. That is generally what goes wrong when we hire a person with all of the right background and experience and then they fall flat on their face. The candidate wasn't able to adapt their background and experience to your company and your position.

So how do you put the candidate in the job BEFORE you hire the person?

  1. Stop asking questions that start with “have, what, have you, tell me about a time when, etc.” These are all fine to know but they should be used for probing after the example and not for the example. That is a huge difference. The famous, Who, What, When, Where and Why questions are for probing deep and not for opening questions.
  2. How questions should be used for the opening question. One of the biggest issues we face when working with hiring managers is getting them to shift to asking “How” questions. After that you can then begin probing with the five W's. For example, “How would you decrease costs by 10%?” “How would you increase gross margins by X%?” “How would you go about implementing a complete systems upgrade of our ERP system?” “How would you increase market share in your territory?” Then probe deeply with the five W's.
  3. Now the interviewer is shifting the interview from background and experience to having the candidate explain how they would apply these to do the job. If the candidate can't apply their background and experience to the new job, then one has to question whether or not they are the right person regardless of background and experience.

The reason most interviewing fails is because it is easy for a candidate to talk about their experience. Some might even embellish in this area. It is significantly different  to explain how they would apply those experiences.

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For more information on workshops that will ensure you put candidates in the job BEFORE you hire them CLICK HERE.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard

Stop “Telling” in an interview instead ask “How”

If you are in HR or executive search, how many times have you heard a hiring manager say when referring to a hire that is under performing and about to be let go, “I don't know why they aren't performing, I told them during the interview exactly what that job is. I can't figure it out.”

Most of you just thought to yourself, “Too many. More times than I can count.” or “Just about every time we had to let a person go before their probation period was over.”

Why? What went wrong? It should be obvious from the hiring manager's comment, “I told them exactly what the job is.” The key word is “told.” My guess is that the candidate probably even replied, “No problem, I've done that before and can do it for you.”  Well, with that level of assurance from the candidate, who wouldn't hire them? After all, if the candidate couldn't  do it they would tell you, “Sorry, I haven't a clue how to do any of those things, but I'm a fast learner.” and you still would have hired them. Right?

The reply to the hiring manager should be, “Stop telling the candidate all about the position and having them respond, ‘Yes, I can do that.' instead start asking, ‘How would you do this?'”  If they say they can do it, shouldn't they  be able to tell  you how? If they can't tell you how they would do it,  then how do they know they can do it?  Seems to me if someone tells me they can do something, they should be able to at least explain a little bit about how they will do it.

In our training workshop, Advanced Interviewing – Eliminating Embellishment and Exaggeration, this is one of the biggest issues hiring managers do that creates all the problems. They assume that because they told the candidate the job and the candidate responded affirmatively, all is fine. WRONG.

Train your hiring managers to stop telling and to start asking “how” questions. For example:

1) How have you reduced turnover in your last company?

2) How have you improved customer service?

3) How would you improve customer service in our organization?

4) How would you use your experience in sales to improve our sales process?

5) This position requires managing and improving our accounts payable department, have you done this before? When the candidate replies, “Yes” follow-up with, “How have you done this? and “How you would do it here?”

6) Can you give me an example of how you did X?

How questions engage the candidate, start a dialog, opens the interview up, and allows for the candidate to tell you rather than you telling the candidate.

Get your hiring managers or anyone in  your company that interviews to start asking “How” questions and interviewing accuracy will increase dramatically overnight.

Need help sourcing top talent? Download for FREE the chapter from our best selling book, You're NOT The Person I Hired, on sourcing top talent. CLICK HERE to download this Free chapter.

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I welcome your thoughts, comments and feedback.

Brad Remillard

2 Questions to Ask Sales People

One of the most frequent questions we get on hiring is, “What do I ask sales people to get past the BS?”

For many, hiring sales people is difficult. The fact is most sales people think they can sell anything, when in fact the sales processes are so different, many don't actually sell as much as take orders.

Here are two screening questions I use to at least eliminate sales people that embellish and claim to be hard charging.

1) “Give me an example of where you demonstrated high initiative?”  Seems to me like a simple question, yet most sales people can't answer it because most sales people don't take high initiative. So often I get one of two answers. One is that they tell me about a sale they made where they had to call on the customer  5 or 6 times to get the deal. WOW. Doesn't every salesperson have to do this? Isn't that just part of the job? I don't consider this high initiative and if they do I'm not impressed. The second common answer is that they go back three or four jobs for the example. So what have you done for me lately? They don't consistently demonstrate high initiative.

2) Every sales person has on their resume a bullet that reads in one way or another, “Increased sales by X%.” Usually some figure between 30 and 60 percent. The obvious question to me is, “What two numbers did you divide to get that percentage?”  I find 1 in 10 can answer this question. Not because they made it up (although I don't rule that out), but because they take the position the company grew by X% and I'm in sales, so I did it.

For me, these are phone screening questions I like to ask. It does eliminate a lot of candidates, that in the past, I might have presented to one of my clients and for hiring managers desperate to hire a sales person. It is tough to eliminate candidates, but I have found the ones that can answer these two question have been successful.

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Our, “Cost Of A Bad Hire” calculator is available to help you get a handle on your total cost of hiring. Download our free worksheet at


We welcome your comments and thoughts.

Brad Remillard