In my last post I tried to tackle half the In Your Face Questions folks posted recently. Let’s get on with the rest…

JB King: If a recruiting firm only gets paid once someone is placed, why wouldn’t they want the company to have a churn so that they place more people there? Maybe the company would wise up and expect more, but how can that be worked out so that the company gets a good hire and the recruiting firm isn’t trying to pull something?

Headhunters have no control over whether a company has high employee churn. A headhunter should not be recruiting from his or her clients, and the agreement between them should ensure that. A good headhunter (yah, that’s a loaded term) would not want to continue to place good people in a company where there is high turnover, because it would have an adverse effect on the headhunter’s reputation. That’s why it’s important for companies and job hunters to check out the headhunter — how good is the reputation? Then prepare a solid written agreement.

JB King: Why does it seem that there are places that like to stockpile resumes and not really do much with them?

This is a sign of sheer bureaucratic idiocy. HR departments run job ads and collect resumes even when they have no job openings. They seem to think that the more resumes they have on file, the better off they are. But resumes have a shelf-life of about three months. After that, key candidate factors are likely to change: motivation to interview, availability, salary, location, and more. When a person submits a resume about a specific job, they’re not likely to jump at a different job a year later just because HR calls.

Keep in mind that HR is not paid to hire people. It is paid to process paper and applicants. The more stuff HR processes, the busier it appears to be. That’s what HR budgets are made of. The honest HR rep knows that resume stockpiles are meaningless.

Greg Robinette: I want to ask any company I am looking to join how much they enable the top employees, versus how much they spend on remediating the bottom employees. I.e., Do you spend a lot of training money and focus on the marginal employee or do you reward excellence?

Great question. I would ask it in your first interview. Judge the company.

Russell: Why do companies value credentials more than a proven track record of successful performance? What can I do about it?

Credentials can be sorted and processed by a simple data base system. HR loves key words that it can match against its list of requirements. That’s why HR puts so much stock in credentials. A dog with a note in its mouth could get a job based on that sort of review. But, as tech people know, a person can have a Microsoft certification in some product or other, and still not be able to solve a simple problem relating to that product. (See Who’s paying for those MC$L Certifications?) Without street smarts, credentials are worthless.

There’s a simple way to deal with the over-emphasis on credentials. Turn the tables. Issue your own challenge. Call the hiring manager and ask what problem or challenge the manager would want the new hire to handle. Then, show how you’d handle it successfully. Offer to do this demonstration with other challenges that would be part of the job. “I don’t have the one credential you want, but I do have the skills and ability to do the work. If you’ll give me 20 minutes to prove it to you, and I cannot, I will shake your hand and leave, with no hard feelings. I am fully prepared and able to do the work.” The real challenge is that you must be able to deliver. This requires lots of homework. If you’re not ready to do the work in advance, then don’t apply for the job.

Daniel Hongell: So, my IYFQs for a hiring manager, interviewer, or headhunter include:

  • How often do you provide feedback after interviews?
  • What qualifications do you have in determining my value to your organization in regard to my background and how did you obtain them?
  • How often have you interviewed people with a background similar to mine?
  • Is there anyone with a similar background that can accurately assess my skill sets, qualities, and potential besides you?

Bingo. All great questions to ask an employer. Be polite and respectful, but don’t be afraid to ask. Remember: your time is valuable. You deserve answers. If you’re afraid you might insult the employer by asking IYFQ’s, then move on. Let an assertive candidate ask the questions that matter.

Groucho: “What?! Am I the only one out here who reads Nick’s newsletter?!!! “The only way you get real truth is from stories?” Pulease !! Nick already said it above: If you want to know how someone will be with your team, put him or her with your team in a real situation. Now, be serious — Do you really think the people you’re interveiwing can’t make up stories?”

Anyone who studies books about “top interview questions” and “behavioral interviewing” and does preparation work based on what he or she reads is making up stories. Let’s be honest: You can engage in clever interview repartee in an interview, or you can talk shop and show how you will do the work.

Career experts talk about interview skills. There is no such thing. No one pays anyone for interview skills. People get paid for work skills. If you’re good at your work, can do well in an interview — if you talk shop. Focus on the work you’re good at, and your palms will never get sweaty. If an interview veers into goofy territory (“What animal would you be, if you could be any animal?” “Why are manhole covers round?” “What’s your greatest weakness?”), turn it back to the work: “Please lay out a live problem you’d want me to handle if you hired me. I’ll show you how I’d do the work.”

Anything else is, well, stuff and nonsense. Unless a company assesses a candidate’s ability to do the work first, questions about style, personality, fit, team spirit, and so on are all human resources palaver. It’s preferable to hire people who get along; but it’s impossible to operate if those people can’t do the work.

JB King: Where would you like to be 5 years from now?

I love this one so much that we’ll try it again: “Let me show you how I’ll do the job. If I can pull this off, then hire me. If you prefer instead to ask about my vision for my life, buy me a beer and we’ll talk, then I’ll be moving on to join one of your competitors.”