Interviewing; Pushing Them To The Breaking Point

You might remember that last month I spoke on “Hiring Great People” at a business conference in Chicago…most of the time I am out speaking on marketing strategy, value proposition, or selling to asset owners in the high-tech market.  So this was a new talk for me, but not far out of reach given my time in helping build technology companies.  And today in my executive coaching role, I am frequently called on to interview for top sales, marketing, and management positions.  There is something about the interview process that I really love!  Perhaps there is a hidden “Detective Dave” in me somewhere.

I received an encouraging email yesterday from a business owner who attended this conference.  He had just come out of an interview after applying some of the strategies I shared in my session – his comment, “By using your process I was able to discover some things about this candidate that I never would have guessed to be true.” From his email it sounded like the candidate looked like a great hire until some undesirable things were uncovered, leading to disqualification.

One of the strategies involves taking the candidate to a breaking point.  We do this by asking them to present something they claim to know, in some detail.  The interviewer must have a thorough knowledge of the topic to be presented, but without disclosing their depth of knowledge, they keep pushing the presenter for more details, to the breaking point.  At some point the presenter gets to the end of their understanding; which is fine.  The question is, will they begin to make stuff up, or will they sit down?

I applaud the person who will simply say, “I don’t know, but I can find out.”  No one knows everything, but some people are just too proud to admit it.  Arrogance makes for a poor sales person or manager.  In fact is leads to contention and debate.  And sure enough, if the presenter continues down that road, I encourage the interviewer to push them to debate – to first take them far enough down that road they don’t understand, and then begin debating with them.  If the interviewer takes the bait, they will argue, get angry, and show their true character.  If this happens, let them down easy, and send them on their way.

For the person who honestly admits they don’t know, assuming it’s something they can learn or don’t really need to know for the position, thank them for their honestly and assure them that, not knowing, is not a problem.

© 2012, David Stelzl


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