The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are world-renowned for their ability to spot counterfeit currency. They undergo hour after hour of training in the Academy to help them identify the frauds. By the time a new Mounty graduates, he is able to distinguish a counterfeit bill in an instant. What’s unusual about their training methods is that in all the hours of instruction, a Mounty never sees a counterfeit bill. All the training is spent entirely on studying authentic currency.
Why? Because by becoming experts in recognizing the genuine article, they can easily pick out the pretenders.
What if we had the clarity of the Mounties when we were interviewing candidates to fill positions on our teams? We could easily separate those who were qualified from those who weren’t. Our problem is that we don’t know what the genuine article looks like. Sure, we have a general idea, but that’s much too vague to be of use when we are sitting across the table from a professional interviewer (someone who’s read the books, anticipated your vague and overused interview questions and practiced her answers in front of a mirror). We rely on gut feelings, but too often they disappoint. What we need is clear and specific criteria that surface the best candidates.
And where can you find clear and specific criteria? For tactical skills and knowledge (i.e., negotiation skills, time management skills, analytical skills, etc…) study the job. What does a person in this position have to be able to do to be successful? What does he need to know? For personal characteristics (i.e., integrity, ability to deal with conflict, willingness to learn or to work with a team, etc…), study high performers. What makes them successful? How do they handle challenges? How do they respond to change?
Throw out interview questions like,
- “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
- “Where do you want to be in five years?”
- “Tell me about yourself.”
- “What was your favorite subject in school?”
- “What hobbies do you have?”
- “Why should I hire you?”
They are old, tired and tell you very little. Instead, ask questions that are strategic and well-thought out to determine if the person has what is required:
- “Tell me about a time when you had competing priorities. How did you deal with the conflict?”
- “Describe a time when you had to make a decision with insufficient information. What did you do?”
- “Share with me a situation in which you found you had to execute a decision that was unpopular. How did you handle it?”
The Mounties know a counterfeit when they see one, because they know what’s required for authenticity. If you want to be able to separate the “counterfeit” from the qualified, don’t worry about all the ways an interview candidate might try to fool you. The tricks and techniques of the dishonest candidates will change faster than you can keep up with them. Know what you are looking for, and the pretenders will be easy to recognize.