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Recruiters: The 3 Important Questions You’re Not Asking Candidates

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Here I am, seated at a conference table after Paul’s first interview. Everybody loves Paul. Top of his class, Yale graduate in Biomedical Science, Harvard MBA, five years at McKinsey — Paul is your classic straight-A player. Yes, he’s a great fit on paper. The recruiter and the head of the HR department love him. “This is the perfect guy for the position,”  they keep saying.

I try to warn them, but how can I? I’m the new recruiter. Paul takes the offer and starts work immediately. He’s fine the first few weeks, but he never looks happy when I see him.

Soon, problems come up from all sides. Colleagues file formal complaints, and his work deteriorates. I would have loved to say, “Told you so.” But since I knew no one would have listened to me, I did what I had to do. I quit that recruiting job at a major consulting company.

Some companies don’t realize that assessing skills only gives you a one-sided picture, which can lead to a bad hire. (Click to Tweet!) To develop a more comprehensive picture of a potential candidate and improve your hiring process, focus on these three factors: motivation, abilities and personality.

1. Motivation

Our motivations are the deeply embedded reasons we behave a certain way. They appear on both a conscious and subconscious level. They are created by internal and external factors that stimulate our intensity of desire and energy to be interested in a certain task. Motivation is the most important determinant of a good fit.

Ask the candidate these fundamental questions: What do you like to do at your job? What environments, stress levels and team dynamics make you excel at work?

Take Paul, for example. Paul was excited about the job he applied to, but he wasn’t excited about the company he applied to. Most people who work at the company where Paul applied are driven by joint values, challenges and creative team activities. Paul, on the other hand, was motivated by strict deadlines and brutal statistics to fulfill his daily tasks. It wasn’t the right environment for him. His negative energy was visible and led to problems with his colleagues.

2. Abilities

Abilities stand for a person’s mental and physical capacity to do a particular job. This term also includes the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired and developed through experience. It includes their potential for learning new skills, too.

Assessing abilities in the hiring process is a crucial activity. Surprisingly, when it comes to abilities, the foundation and framework is more important than the qualities the candidate already possesses.

To learn more about a candidate’s abilities, ask: What are the things you’re exceptionally good at at your job?

Back to Paul. His abilities shined. Paul not only had all the fundamental abilities needed for the job and an excellent track record, but also the capacity for learning. His abilities were the only factors assessed during the hiring process. And even though he performed flawlessly in the abilities category, the greatest skills and the highest knowledge still made for a bad hire in the end.

3. Personality

Personality is what makes us who we are. It’s the core of our character and is deeply coded in our system. It’s the particular combination of emotional, attitudinal and behavioral response patterns of individuals to their environment. Partly genetic, partly formed through our experiences, personality is unchangeable (at least on the job level).

To get a feel for someone’s personality, ask: Are you happy and comfortable in your role at the company?

Paul was more the bootcamp type of employee who enjoyed a structured way of working. He never understood the company’s values because they were not communicated to him. Paul’s communication occurred on a different level. He focused on individual achievements and a clear hierarchy. His personality was not a good fit for a creative, social and innovative environment that thrived on joint decision-making and shared ideas. This created tension between Paul and his coworkers and eventually led him to leave the company.

At the end of the day, the convergence of three factors — where motivations, abilities and personality overlap — is what leads to ultimate success in the hiring process.

Mona Berberich is a Digital Marketing Manager at Better Weekdays, a Chicago-based company that has developed a platform to help HR leaders source, screen and develop talent based on job compatibility. Contact her on Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Prep’t

    Great article! The flip side of it is that candidates need to do some soul searching and ask these questions about themselves to see if the position they applied and interviewed for is the right one for them.

  • Robert Gately

    Hello Mona,

    The best candidates may (20%) or may not (80%) be a good hire.

    · Competence is the King of job performance.

    · Talent is the Queen of job performance.

    · Potential is the Prince of job performance.

    · Education is the Princess of job performance.

    · Experience is the Court Jester of job performance.

    Competence and Talent rule job performance.

    There are many factors to consider when hiring talent but first we need to define talent unless “hiring talent” means “hiring employees.”

    Everyone wants to hire for talent but if we can’t answer the five questions below with specificity, we can’t hire for talent.

    1. How do you define talent?
    2. How do you measure talent?
    3. How do you know a candidate’s talent?
    4. How do you know what talent is required for each job?
    5. How do you match a candidate’s talent to the talent demanded by the job?

    Employers need to assess for:
    – Cultural Match (Cultural Fit)
    - Skills Match (Competence)
    - Job Match (Talent)

    Some employers assess for all three.

    Potential is identified during the Job Match evaluation.

    • David Hunt, PE

      I don’t see ethics anywhere in your list.

      • Robert Gately

        Hi David,

        Why would anyone consider hiring an unethical applicant? It seems to me it need not be said.

        Bob Gately, PE, MBA

        • David Hunt, PE

          Why would someone consider hiring someone who didn’t have ANY of the characteristics listed? Would you hire someone who wasn’t competent? Someone who wasn’t educated, or experienced, or … ?
          I’ve been in unethical places, and seen (and alas worked with) unethical people. If the requirement is not stated, it very well may not be considered – even if you and I agree that it should be something so fundamental that “it need not be said.”

          • Robert Gately

            “Why would someone consider hiring someone who didn’t have ANY of the characteristics listed?”

            Some people are bad at hiring.

            “Would you hire someone who wasn’t competent?”

            Yes, if I could train them to become competent and they fit the culture and the job.

            “Someone who wasn’t educated, or experienced, or … ?”

            For engineers I would require an education.

            “I’ve been in unethical places, and seen (and alas worked with) unethical people.”

            There are many of them.

            “If the requirement is not stated, it very well may not be considered – even if you and I agree that it should be something so fundamental that “it need not be said.”

            You mean if we don’t state that an applicant must be ethical then we cannot make sure that they are ethical?

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