The purpose of any interview is simple: to figure out whether a candidate can do the job profitably. Everything else is ancillary — or fluff.
A smart interview is not an interrogation. It’s not a series of canned questions or a set of scripted tests that have been ginned up by HR. You know the drill: the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions for managers who don’t know how to talk shop. If you could be any animal, what animal would you be? Why are manhole covers round? What’s your greatest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years?
An interview should be a roll-up-your-sleeves, hands-on working meeting between you and the candidate, where all of the focus is on the job. Think of the interview as the candidate’s first day at work, with the only question that matters being this: “What’s your business plan for doing this job?”
To successfully answer that, the candidate must first demonstrate an understanding of the company’s problems, challenges, and goals — not an easy thing to do. But since you want to make a great hire — and get back to your own job–, why don’t you help the best candidate succeed? Isn’t that what you’d do for any one of your employees after you give them an assignment? You want them to succeed. Why do the dopey interview dance?
A week before the interview, call up the candidate. (If HR warns you not to, remind them who runs your department.) Provide some instructions and advice: “We want you to show us how you’re going to do this job. That’s going to take a lot of homework. I suggest that you read through these pages on our web site, review these publications from our marketing and investor-relations departments, and speak with these three people on my team. When you’re done, you should have something useful to tell us.”
This will eliminate 9 out of 10 candidates. (Yah, tell your HR department to suck rocks. You’re not interested in tons of resumes, lots of candidates, and plenty of interviews. The fewer, the better. This is not a numbers game. Anyone without the motivation to do the job to win the job isn’t worth considering.) Only those who really want the job will do the work to research the job. Everyone else is a tire-kicker who’s wasting your time.
In the interview, you should expect (or hope) to hear the most compelling question that any candidate can ask: “Would you like me to show how your company will profit from hiring me?” (Yah, it’s no surprise. It’s the same question you’re asking, if you behave like your own job matters, and that hiring great people matters is a manager’s #1 job.) The candidate should be prepared to do the job in the interview. That means walking up to the whiteboard and outlining the steps he or she would take to solve your company’s problems. The numbers might be off, but the candidate should be able to defend them intelligently.
If the candidate reveals an understanding of your culture and competitors — and lays out a plan of attack to solve your problems and add profit to your bottom line — you have some compelling reasons to make the hire.
If you trust only a candidate’s references, credentials, resume, or test results, you won’t know whether the candidate can do the job. Don’t talk around the job; get on it.