Just Joking in an Interview

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groucho-marx-309396_1280In a recent interview, we asked candidates some questions about project management. One candidate was talking about how their part of a project was completed when their bosses’ portion had not been finished. I said to the potential employee, “What would you do should this happen again?” and without missing a beat, he said “I’d chew her out. Just joking!”

After the interview was over, I said to my client “You know that we cannot hire that candidate based on that statement.”

The client responded, “But he was just joking, Beth.”

I replied, “Maybe so, but chewing out your boss? That’s not funny.”

In an interview, our job as hiring managers is to listen actively to the exact words of the candidate’s response. Remember, a job seeker will attempt to put their very best foot forward to impress a potential employer. If you listen to the actual language they are using within their finely tuned responses, you can identify personality traits and core values around work. Through this knowledge, you can identify how a person will fit into your culture, what type of management style they will thrive under and more. Therefore, if you are going to listen to the candidate’s “just joking” comment, then you also have to pay attention to the “chewing out” part.

When we are conducting interviews, we tend to listen to what we want to hear because we want to hire someone. We want the candidates to succeed and become our next new employee! And we are often willing to do whatever it takes to make the candidate ideal, including dismissing a comment like “just joking.”

We do not know what the candidate meant when he said that he was just joking. Maybe he was. But maybe he was not. Can you take that chance with a critical function like a new hire? If you do take that chance and he was not joking, do you want to work with an employee who will “chew you out?” While it may appear the language being used was positioned as a joke, hiring is no laughing matter.

Let’s eat some sushi!

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I used to think I hated sushi. I thought “Who on earth would willingly put raw fish in their mouth, swallow and LIKE it?!?” I held strong to this belief until 1996, when a guy named Randy Smith asked me out on a date and took me to my first sushi restaurant. I had no idea how to order, what to do, how to eat and how to use chopsticks, so Randy showed me how. He ordered very mild fish, because he did not want to turn me off of sushi. He wrapped a rubber band around my chop sticks so that I could learn how to hold them, and he showed me how to mix the wasabi in with the soy sauce so that I didn’t destroy my nostrils.

That night changed my life. Not only did I begin a lifelong relationship with Randy Smith, but also with my love of sushi.

During this amazing night, I also realized I learned an important life lesson as well. The fact is, I could have learned about sushi on my own. I could have struggled with my chopsticks and put WAY too much wasabi in my soy, but I had a guide… someone to show me the ropes, so that my experience was so much more enhanced and the likelihood that I would actually like sushi was increased.

Now how does this apply to business? I realized early in my professional career that I could teach myself certain skills and muddle through all of the mistakes that come from learning a new ability. But I also realized that there are times when it is better to have a guide, a professional who can lead me through learning a new skill set, increasing the likelihood I would both like the activity and my effectiveness when executing it. At A-list Interviews, I am your guide in interviewing for new employees. Can you do it yourself? Yes. Should you? Sometimes. But having someone in your corner with an objective opinion acting on your behalf and showing you the way will definitely enhance your experience. Hire all you want, when you want, but hire an expert to help. You deserve it!


Relax? Who, Me?

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I have not truly relaxed since 1978. In fact, I hate that word! The word “relax” in the same sentence with my name seems like an oxymoron. I am wrapped tight and proud of it! So imagine my dismay when my swim coach says to me “Beth, you are going to have to relax in the water.”


This makes no sense to me. How do you go fast in the water and relax at the same time? When I asked my swim coach this question, he responded, “You let the water move you. Feel it supporting you.”


After some consideration and time trying to reconcile this with my logical brain, I just surrendered to the concept and we began working on relaxing in the water. Much to my surprise, my coach was right! Once I began to relax into my swimming instead of pushing my performance, I actually moved more efficiently in the water with less effort, cutting 15 seconds off my 100 yard freestyle, and 11 seconds off my 100 yard backstroke.

As this lesson in life was presented to me, it also occurred to me that if I could encourage my clients to relax during the interview process, we might have similar results. I said to one of my clients the other day that he might think about relaxing while we are in the interview process. He looked at me like I had grown a third eye but agreed to try. The result I observed was that the interview process began to truly work for us and allowed the next amazing hire to come to the table faster, just like my swimming. And when they appeared, it was much easier to identify them!

I will keep working on relaxing in the water to improve my swimming. I encourage you to relax during the interview process to increase the likelihood of finding the right people for your team.  In the end, I guess Yo-Yo Ma was right. “With every year of playing, you want to relax one more muscle. Why? Because the more tense you are, the less you can hear.

Interviewing? It’s puzzling…

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jigsaw-305576_1280Over Christmas my beloved grandmother sent us a 750 piece puzzle with a picture of puppies with different color bows and colorful wrapped presents in the background. Randy, Katy and I gathered around the coffee table and seriously didn’t get up for 3 straight days. We began with the outline of the puzzle, filled in the colorful gifts, the bows, and finally the puppies who were all tan. It was so satisfying when we were finished with it!

Completing a puzzle is like completing the interview process. You begin with an outline of what you are looking for, and as you interview more and more people the picture of your very best fit begins to fill in the middle. There are times that you get frustrated. There are times that you get a string of pieces that all fit in at once, and you are so proud! There are times that you look at the same piece a 1000 times before you actually are able to put it where it belongs. Overall, at the end of the interview process, you should feel like you won the lottery, not like you finished the puzzle but piece number 750 is missing.

The journey of putting your puzzle together is fraught with detours, bumps and bruises and in the end, it is so completely satisfying when it all comes together. This feeling is precisely why I do every day what I do. I LOVE it!!!

What’s “Like” got to do with it?

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thumb-422147_1280Last week while working with an interview team of 6 people, I asked them what they thought about a particular candidate, and 1 by 1 they all said “I like him, but…”  So, I asked them, “What’s Like got to do with it?” We all laughed. Remember, my theory is to go with your “but” not your gut.

When you hire someone to work for you, you really don’t have to like them. You have to trust that the work will get done. You have to have faith that your clients will be well cared for and that their needs will be met. You have to be able to walk out the door and know that your new hire will have your back. But like them? That is just a bonus.

So why is it that when we interview someone we begin with like? Because we don’t know how else to evaluate someone. When we meet someone for the first time in our personal lives, we look for similarities and common ground. We look for people like us with the same interests. When we hire someone, we look for someone who can and will do the job that we need for them to do. These are two very different mind sets.

So, next time you interview someone, don’t ask yourself if you like them. Ask yourself if the work will get done effectively and efficiently. Ask yourself if your clients will be happy with them. Ask yourself if you can leave your company and they have your back.

If you have resounding yeses on all three questions, then hire them, whether you like them or not.

Don’t Lie To Your Wife

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cultureI was recently flying back from Kansas City and was seated behind three gentlemen on a business trip. One of the men was the boss and the other 2 worked for him. I always like to listen in on conversations between employers and employees as I learn a tremendous amount through their interactions with one another, particularly when it comes to company culture. Here is a recounting of the conversation I overheard:

Boss on the phone: “I’ll call you when I get there. Bye honey!”

Employee #1: “You didn’t tell your wife what we were doing, did you?”

Boss: “Of course! I don’t lie to my wife.”

Employee #2 (laughing): “You just color the truth, right?”

Boss: “Nah. She sees through that crap. One of the things that I like about her. Now, about those reports…”

After that, the 3 men continued to laugh, joke around and talk about business, but the tone of the conversation had shifted. The boss had declared the values of his interaction with his wife and set the tone for the interaction with his employees. This short, simple conversation with the man’s wife had shifted the company culture. There is no longer the expectation that you lie to your wife (or to your employer for that matter). The boss declared that lying was unacceptable, and the employees paid attention.

I have lots of people ask me how to interview more effectively because they want a different company culture. My answer to them is always the same: shifting the culture is a simple conversation about values. Once you know your company values and can articulate them quickly, you have changed your company culture.

At A-list Interviews, our values are spelled out through an acronym of “A-list”: Authentic, Leadership, Integrity, Satisfaction and Teamwork. Where that culture really plays out is when we make a mistake, we take full responsibility for it. And we certainly don’t lie to our spouses (or employees) about it. If you want better culture, set the tone and your people will follow.

World Series of Poker and Interviewing

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Poker Hand RankingLast year during the World Series of Poker, there was a gentleman who made it to the final table and was the first person to lose. He came in 9th place. This year the same gentleman made it to the final table where he tweeted to his network “Not going to get 9th place again.” Guess what happened? He got 9th place again. By the way, the chances of a person getting 9th 2 years in a row at the World Series of Poker is 1 in 42 million.

Many of my clients will call me and say that they aren’t getting the right candidates to the table. I ask them to tell me what their job ad says. I am always a little taken aback by the negative language that people use, like “If you can’t be on time, don’t apply.” I guarantee that when candidates read that line, they see “if you can’t be on time, APPLY.” And they do!

If you truly want to transform the candidate pool, change your language, starting with the job ad. Begin by asking for what you want, not what you don’t. Then share your mission statement and talk about WHY you are in the business you are in. Simon Sinek wrote a book and shared a TED talk called Start With Why that describes fierce loyalty and invested interest when people understand why you do business. Write about the people that you help and how the position will impact them. Describe the position and how it will contribute to the organization, your staff and your clients. If you want to win the game of staffing, then ask for the A-list candidates that you desire and leave 9th place in the dust! I’m ALL IN! Are you?

People on Paper Are Not People in Person

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The single most beautiful resume I have ever seen was written by a woman who stood up at the end of the interview and screamed at my 7 person interview team while banging her fist on the table “I AM NOT FINISHED TELLING YOU ABOUT MYSELF!!!” We had her escorted off the property by security.

People on PaperThe system of screening candidates is backwards…we spend time within the application process by meticulously reviewing resumes when we are really better off spending our time in the interviewing process. Why don’t we? Our culture has told us we can effectively screen people by reading resumes. You cannot. A resume is simply a marketing piece for the candidate. If a sales person brought you a brochure, you would read the fine print. You would ask yourself “What is the catch?” If interested, you would call the salesperson and ask questions, but you wouldn’t take the marketing piece at face value. So why do we in screening resumes?

People on paper aren’t the same as people in person. Randy Smith, A-list Interviews Resume Reviewer Extraordinaire and head to our XLR8 Application Services, says that the better someone looks on paper, the worse they are in person. And you know what? He’s right.

If you have ever worked with me in finding your next A-list employee, you went in blind to an interview without looking at resumes of the candidates you are interviewing. My clients have said that not looking at resumes before an interview actually let them focus on the person in front of them. They listen to the candidate, and the candidate gets a more genuine experience with the company.

My best advice is to spend your time interviewing, not reviewing resumes in order to find your next best employee. You will be amazed at the difference it makes in finding the ideal person for the job.

Rebuttal – How to Spot a Resume of a Psychopath

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strategist-clipart-icon_resumeI am sometimes astounded by the amount of misinformation available about how to conduct a good interview and spot an ideal candidate. As I was reading an article by Kathryn Tuggle on “How to Spot a resume of a Psychopath Applying to Work with You”, I was stunned by the outdated ideas were presented as benchmarks when determining your next employee. Many of her ideas could actually cause you to miss out on a great candidate with the first problem beginning with the title of the article.

First of all, NO ONE can spot a psychopath be reading their resume. As a matter of fact, you can’t find a great candidate at all by reading their resume. People on paper are not the same as they are in person. A complete measure of an individual candidate can only occur when you meet face to face.

Second of all, the article continues to pose that a candidate that you are hiring with work “with” you; you are hiring a person to work “for” you. There is an enormous difference in looking for a partner to work “with” and an employee who will work “for” you.

Then, there is the myth of job hopping. The idea that job hopping is a negative is one that we should stop measuring our candidates by. The concept should have gone out with the 50’s notion that we should work for one company until you retire. We have discovered having the same position for decades that lingers on and on (like a bad hangover) actually reduces our productivity. Research shows that people who job hop every 2-3 years are actually more successful. Ms. Tuggle quoted a psychologist who says that psychopaths will job hop. Well so do people in their 20’s who haven’t settled down yet. As well as those that realize opportunities may exist more quickly with other companies than a current position may hold.  It doesn’t mean that they are a bad hire. In addition, I greatly appreciate a person who leaves a job because they know it isn’t a good fit versus one who will stay just to be able to put 2 years on a resume. Neither of these situations is a win-win for the employee and the employer. Also, Dr. Greenberg makes the assumption that someone who leaves before a year “can’t hold down a job.” What if they had to move home to take care of an aging parent? What if their military spouse got transferred to another state? You NEVER know why someone left a job and to assume that they left because they are a psychopath is dangerous and judgmental.

Dr. Greenberg continues to express a concern and assumption that clear sign of a psychopath is that they are unable to be quiet in an interview. Being a talker doesn’t mean your candidate is a psychopath. In a well run interview, the candidate should be talking most of the time and about themselves. They should be letting you know how they can help you, which is not the same as them “blowing their horn for an hour” as referred to in the article.

One point that was brought up that I may agree with a bit is when you hear a candidate blaming their boss for not getting promoted. This could be a clear sign that the candidate isn’t taking ownership for their part in the last position not working out. But again, that doesn’t make the candidate a psychopath. It could just mean that the candidate hasn’t worked out their issues with the last position. An experienced interviewer will be able to glean enough information from that person to decide if the issues are big enough to warrant not making a job offer.

The last point that Dr. Greenberg makes is that a candidate who compliments you on your office décor is a manipulator. Not necessarily true. They may be trying to break the ice. The discomfort of the interview process, especially for the candidate, is like no other we experience. If the compliment feels insincere or “slimy” certainly pay attention. However not all people who compliment the interviewer are manipulators.

Articles like these are dangerous. They make broad, sweeping arguments that a particular behavior is bad and that the person exhibiting the behavior is bad. I have successful exceptions to every one of these so called “psychopathic behaviors”. Dr. Greenberg needs to stick to therapy and stay out of interviewing or our work force will be completed misplaced.

Flip Flops and Hiring

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flipsLast summer when we were at the beach, my daughter left our condo and forgot her key. My husband threw on some flip flops, and ran out the door to catch up to her in order to give her the key. He got on the elevator, looked down and realized that he had one black flip flop on and one blue flip flop on… it was so funny!

What isn’t funny is when you rush through the hiring process, and you get a person who just doesn’t match your company’s culture. What is painful is when you know on someone’s first day that they just aren’t going to work out to your satisfaction. What doesn’t sit well is when you need one type of shoe, but you put on another.

There is a saying out there “Hire slow and Fire fast”, but nobody does that. We are in too much of a hurry to put a butt in a seat. We think the world will end if we don’t hire someone by the end week. Really though, what counts is making sure that your flip flops match and that you don’t put someone in a position for which they aren’t trained, aren’t passionate about, or don’t like.

Next time you hire someone, check in the mirror one last time and ensure that your flip flops match. You won’t be sorry that you took your time.

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