Certainly, in my role as President of my company BookBaby, I take the recruitment and interview process very seriously—not just because it’s important, but also because it’s difficult.
The truth is, anyone who takes the time and trouble to send you a resume and apply for your open position can probably do the tasks outlined in the job description. But that’s only half the battle.
What to Look for in a Candidate
A successful hire is one who can complete tasks while also succeeding within the context and culture of the organization that employs them.
For my company, that means being nimble, forward thinking, and having an understanding of the publishing world. More specifically, beyond having good interview questions to ask, I look for three things in every candidate I interview.
1. The ability to work autonomously
All of my employees would agree on this one fact: I’m not a micromanager. I don’t want to spend my time looking over my employees’ shoulders all day long––I’ve got my own job to do!
Thus, I need employees to be self-starters who can not only inspire themselves, but also solve tough problems on their own.
2. The ability to communicate in various environments
Everyone expresses themselves in different ways. To succeed on my team, however, employees must be able to make themselves understood no matter their communication style.
This is true whether they’re communicating with their peers, managers, or especially customers. That means, of course, that new hires must also be able to adapt to different audiences––from those listening to their presentations in the office to those reading their words on Twitter.
3. The ability to make decisions
This might be the most important skill set that, truly, all managers look for. It doesn’t matter if you’re hiring a fresh-out-of-school marketer or a seasoned financial controller––candidates must be able to assess situations, determine the best means of achieving the optimal outcome, and make the call to move forward.
There’s a matter of trust here: as a company leader, you have to know that the people on your team will make the kind of choices and compart themselves in a way that is representative of your company, its ethos, and your ambitions.
Again, these priorities are not unique to me. These are things most founders, CEOs, and managers look for. They evidence, ultimately, abilities of reason and logic, levels of motivation, and self-awareness––the traits quality team members who’ll drive your company forward need to have.
Good Questions to Ask in an Interview
So the question then becomes: how do you go about determining if candidates do possess these qualities?
My strategy: ask the right questions.
1. Tell me about your happy place
The first question I ask candidates is this: tell me about your optimal work environment. An experience in which you know you’ll thrive. The culture in which you are most productive and happiest.((The Balance Careers: How to Understand Your Current Company Culture))
I also want to know the characteristics exhibited by the best boss they’ve ever had—or wish that they’d had.
If their sort of optimal vision aligns with mine––with the sort of environment and culture I’ve worked hard to build in my company––I know we’re on the right track.
2. Putting the boss on notice
Second, my very best hires have all been people who’ve helped to up my game, so to speak.
So I always ask candidates for three or four expectations that they have of senior leaders in an organization. What hopes do they have for the people they work with and for?
If they can speak articulately on that, I know that it’s likely they’ll be able to help me improve in that area, which is a good thing for me and for the company.
3. Serving the customer
At BookBaby, we depend on our people to provide world-class customer service all day long.
It’s for this reason that I always ask candidates, then, to tell me a story about their most challenging customer and how they eventually made them happy––or didn’t.
You can learn a lot about the tolerance, patience, and one’s capacity for empathy and patience through stories like this. Plus, it’s important that candidates have experience to this end. Customer service is very much a skill.
4. That one decision
Finally, I do save one question for the end of every single interview. It’s a simple one––and I’ve received 100 different answers to it. Some amazing, some not so much.
Here it is:
Tell me about the very best decision you’ve ever made.
Was it a snap decision, or did you think it through? Were you happy with the outcome? Would you change it now?
This question reveals a lot about the applicant. Often it evidences their logic, and even gives you a glimpse of their creative capacity.
If the answer is forgettable and cliché, for example––“When I decided to ask my wife to get married” (ho hum)––that shows you either that the applicant hasn’t done many impressive things, or that they lack the creative chops to ideate something exciting.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, of course more goes into whether or not you should make a decision as important as a new hire than just the interview––and four measly interview questions, at that!
But it remains that the interview––and particularly the interview with you, the leader of the company––is the most relevant and crucial opportunity a candidate gets to sell themselves. It’s inherently revealing, in this sense, and speaks to a candidate’s ability to perform under pressure.
Of course, you’ll only get useful questions out of an interview if you yourself put work into it on the back end.
It pays, in other words, to identify which questions, approaches, and strategies work best in helping you hire the right people for your company and its specific context.