Recently a friend was applying for a job, and she came to me for help with preparing. She had worked with the firm for some time, and the opening was for a more senior position she was hoping to achieve. We took a little time to make sure the resume was presentable, and then we went to the fun part: a strategic plan.

Together, we developed an action plan for the first six months after she got the job that would allow her to be more effective than the previous leader, generating new business for the organization. We included discussions around business development, customer satisfaction, and employee relations.

And she got the job.

This is an incredibly powerful practice, but hardly anyone actually does it. Here are a few options for you to leverage this approach next time you’re looking for the right HR job.

Keys to Success

The first mistake people make is thinking that this just needs to be in their notes or in their head. Not true. This plan needs to be a physical thing you bring with you to give to the interviewers during the conversation. The simple act of giving them something they don’t already have puts you in a different light. Instead of just focusing on you, they are also focusing on your ideas and your insights, which (if they are good ones) can give you a leg up over the competition.

The second piece of advice is to make it attainable. Don’t throw twenty things on there, and don’t put one on there, either. Every company has something they can change, improve, or update. Ultimately, they might take none of your suggestions, but the goal should be to present a powerful case for why the things you mention are worth exploring.

How to Put this into Practice: Never Worked There

It’s challenging to do this from the outside, but with HR we have at least one avenue into the organization that others can’t leverage: the recruiting function. From the first moment you find a job ad, start making note of things that could be improved, changed, or modified.  Here are some ideas:

  • Job ads: are they written in a way that appeals to job seekers? Are they using good search engine optimization techniques to be found more easily by candidates?
  • Interview process: are communications and instructions clear? Do you know what to expect and who you’ll be interacting with?
  • Assessments: does the assessment add value? What is the perception from the candidate side–are the questions relevant and helpful?
  • And, of course, we could examine it through the perspective of the candidate experience. For instance, did you get any notification when you applied? Was mobile apply available, or did you have to use a desktop? Could you do one-click apply with LinkedIn, or did you have to manually enter every piece of information?

Whether you’re bringing in some research to offer context or you’re just giving an observation based on your perceptions (or both), you can make your point in a tactful manner. That’s a key to this entire approach, because if done poorly, it will make you look less qualified.

How to Put this into Practice: Worked There in Non-HR Role

If you have experience with the company already in a non-HR position, you’re in even better shape for helping to illuminate some of the areas of improvement. Remember, this isn’t a gripe session or a chance to air grievances: it’s a process improvement approach. Some ideas on what to talk about:

  • Modifying the onboarding process to get employees up to speed faster.
  • Changing the performance management system so that it actually encourages performance, not hinders it.
  • Offering niche voluntary benefits that appeal to one population or another in your company, such as dependent care or elder care. Or you can go the rock star route, offering something like a ski house for employees to use (one of our previous guest authors, Jane Jaxon, used to offer this as a recruiting tool at her company).

The entire purpose of this exercise is to show that you’re going above and beyond the basic job duties, looking for ways to innovate and bring additional value to the business. Again, I have to remind you that the way you approach this matters just as much as what you actually propose. You have to be careful to point out opportunities for improvement in way that doesn’t indict those that put the processes in place (or those that continue to manage them, for that matter).

How to Put this into Practice: Worked There in an HR Role

If you have worked there in an HR role and this is a promotion opportunity, then you have the biggest advantage of anyone else in the running, because you know what is working and what isn’t. You also have the biggest challenge, because you are familiar with the inner workings and might not be immediately aware of any innovative ideas for how to improve your practice.

If that’s the case, I would encourage you to do more reading, listening, and consuming of HR and business-related content to help broaden your horizons and help you understand some of the ways that exist to improve your processes and approach. Think about the evidence-based HR approach that I wrote on recently–it is a great way to help you examine and propose solutions to problems that others might have already given up on solving.

Last week I was driving to do some face to face interviews for a key position. With five hours on the road, I had a little time to think about what made the “perfect” personality, skill set, etc. for the opening. Then I started backing into the interview questions I wanted to ask. While we had asked mainly about background and experience during the phone interview, I wanted more of an idea of how people fit during the face to face (and final) interview.

Funny enough, I was listening to a podcast for a portion of the drive, and the speaker was talking about some of their hiring practices. He said that when he’s hiring for a “doer” position, which ours definitely was, he asks a specific question to delve into the person’s background of doing things. Basically, he says, “What have you done?” and takes the conversation from there with follow ups, etc.

If I had to critique most people I’ve seen interview in the past, they don’t do a good enough job of the follow up questions. They have their favorite questions and they are sticking to that list no matter what the person says. However, if you really want to dig deeper, uncover half truths, and establish an actual baseline for what the person can actually do, then you need to listen carefully to their responses, then ask an additional question.

It doesn’t have to be complex, maybe just a “tell me more about that” or “and then how did it turn out” or “what did your manager think about what you did?” Those questions aren’t on any preparation website, so it’s hard to study for them. You should get a good picture of what the person is actually capable of from those sorts of interactions.

I’m also now a big believer in asking situational type questions to determine how a person will respond. We haven’t done much of that in the past, but this time around I asked a dozen questions based on what an average day/week would look like, and the answers steered us to the right person.

How do you decide what questions to ask in an interview? Is it time to change?

I firmly believe in the power of using the locus of control theory to have a richer, more fulfilling career. Read on for how you can use the locus of control theory to evaluate job candidates.

locus-of-control-theoryLast week I had a discussion with another local HR pro, and we were talking about interview questions that help to discern what candidates lack the requisite people skills to get the job done. We’ve all run across candidates who may interview very well, but then they turn out to be a nightmare once they are on board.

One of the questions that she likes to use is this:

What were people like at your last job?

In her opinion (and mine), that can tell you a lot about someone. Let’s look at my theory for why that is, then we’ll get into how it applies.

Locus of control theory and meaning

Here’s a snippet from Wikipedia as a refresher:

Locus of control is a theory in personality psychology referring to the extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them… A person’s “locus” (Latin for “place” or “location”) is conceptualized as either internal (the person believes they can control their life) or external (meaning they believe that their decisions and life are controlled by environmental factors which they cannot influence).

In terms that apply to the workplace, I see it as this: you either see life as a series of things happening to you, or you see life as a series of actions you take to make things happen. 

It’s an oversimplification, but it works for the purposes of this discussion. Now let’s dig into how it plays into the question referenced above.

Locus of control theory at work

Let’s say you have two candidates in front of you. They’re fairly evenly matched with regard to skills and experience. Then you ask them both the question, “What were people like at your last job?”

  • Candidate A-I worked with a great group of people. We got along well and it was a great experience for me.
  • Candidate B-I worked with a terrible group of people. There was constant fighting and I could never get any work done. It was a terrible experience.

Here’s the kicker–those people could have both come from the same company. Now I know and agree that there are some organizations where Candidate B’s comments would be legitimate, but it’s important to dig deeper into those comments to understand the full depth and breadth of the issues if possible.

I’ve heard it put another (more direct) way.

If you’re walking down the street and meet someone who is a jerk, you had a bad day. If you’re walking down the street and meet several jerks, you are causing others to have a bad day.

Look for people who identify with the inner locus of control theory. They believe that they have control over things to some degree, and they won’t sit there helpless waiting for someone to solve their problems. It’s not necessarily fool proof, but it is a good idea to keep in mind.

Ever considered the locus of control theory with regard to yourself? Do you think it’s internal or external? 

Lying in an interview? Say it ain’t so!

I wanted to share a short back-and-forth I had with a friend about how to know when someone is lying in an interview. I’ve shortened where I could to get to the point, but the lying discussion doesn’t happen until the end. I think the discussion is worth reading through nonetheless. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the process as well!

lying in an interview

Does recruiting for culture fit really work?

I’ve been working to recruit for culture fit, and I’ve been thinking… Where is the culture that the bad attitudes belong?

I think there’s a place for everyone, and the “bad attitude” is a misalignment in many cases. Your attitude is awesome when it comes to picking up the phone, serving clients/customers/candidates, etc. If someone tried to turn you into a benefits analyst you’d have a terrible disposition.

Not sure if that’s culture-specific or industry/job specific. We hire for people who fit our core values. Some of them are a little more “open and honest” than others, and what they say is often construed as rude or condescending. But that’s who they are and why we hired them in the first place.

Shoving me into a job that requires filing and organization will turn me into a monster. Letting me play all day with different areas of HR makes me just about the happiest person in the building.

Your turn.

Beyond culture to personal job fit

good spin. but don’t some people have JUST a bad attitude? How can we as HR rockstars help people identify what they excel at that makes them happy and grow in that area so they can work in that area??

A permanent case of attitude issues? Yeah, they are the perpetually underemployed/unemployed, if I had to guess.

Part of the problem is bringing people on to do a job when it is not really their passion. At some point the pain of doing something like that will overwhelm them and they leave to find another job. I think that’s why many people are perpetually changing jobs every 1-2 years. They are looking for a J-O-B to solve their problems, when they really haven’t taken the time to determine what they truly love and want to do. Just because it pays the bills doesn’t make it a good career choice long term. This describes the majority of people in a nutshell:

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt

Do what’s expected. Do what’s comfortable. Do what you know. Do what your parents did.

All are recipes for failure.

When people take charge, look inward at what they love, and then pursue jobs and companies that align with those values and interests, the world of HR becomes much simpler.

What if the people are lying in an interview?

I feel like the answers could still be faked- if you’re interviewing me and I know what your culture is and how important it is in making a hiring decision I pretty much know what kind of answer you’re digging for.

So if someone does that much research and fakes it well enough to get in, it will eventually show somewhere that they were being false in the interview. We can’t screen for 100% fit but it still weeds out the 90% I would say.

You’re in a tough spot, but it’s also an amazing opportunity if you can get your current organization to truly focus on their culture.

Be sure they understand that leveraging culture isn’t confined to recruiting. The vendor management guidelines video I did was a very real example of how we use culture externally to help us achieve our goals. Training. Development. Promotion. Termination. Every area is another opportunity to reinforce the core values and culture they want to enforce. Bringing them in on the front end is the beginning of a long and tough, yet very rewarding, process.

How do you determine if someone is lying in an interview? 

weird interview questionsWeird interview questions don’t work. I had to say it. See, someone pitched the 25 weird interview questions article at Glassdoor to me, but that’s not my thing. See, I actually think that asking job-relevant questions will get you more mileage than “What is your favorite song?” And if you’ve been here long, you know I care more about culture fit than about job qualifications in some cases. So why am I against these types of questions? Because they don’t work. I think I said that already, right?

What weird interview questions really measure

All these sorts of things really measure is a candidate’s willingness to answer dumb questions. It doesn’t assess culture fit. I’ll say it again: asking someone how many manhole covers are in San Francisco is not a measure of culture fit. It is not a measure of how they will do the job they are interviewing for. It wastes their time and yours.

Assessing culture fit without the weird interview questions

If you really I want to assess culture fit with interview questions then follow this two step process:

  1. define your core values
  2. ask questions that focus on those aspects

And that’s it.

Using core values to develop interview questions

For example one of our core values is honesty and integrity through open communications. To assess the person’s fit with that sort of core value I will ask them how they handle difficult conversations with coworkers. I will include behavioral questions to assess previous situations where they had to be open and honest, even if it hurt at the time. Here’s another example: another one of our core values is unequivocal excellence. For that I could ask the person how they further themselves outside the workplace or how they pursue excellence in other areas of their life (asking what sports they play and then following up with a “how do you handle x situation in those events” works just as well as asking someone about a specific work task. You are looking for specific behaviors, not what sports they like. It’s a cover for what you are truly trying to understand about the person. Asking them what sort of dog they would like to be is irrelevant and insulting. Want to ask them something to see how they think? Define a problem that simulates one that you experience commonly in the organization, then get them to walk you verbally through the steps of how they would solve it. That short exercise will tell you more about the person’s potential fit for the opening than any number of questions about animals, vegetation, etc. Want to learn about a candidate? Ask real questions with real purpose. 

Ever been quizzed in a job interview? Test prep is difficult when the interviewer moves away from the rote questions and asks you to actually perform the job as a display of your competency. I ran across this great post the other day by Jorden Bartlett and just had to share. She talks about using tests during interviews to assess someone’s ability to actually (gasp!) demonstrate the skills required for the job.

It made me wonder… What sort of tests could we use at work on our own employees? Continue reading

Today\’s guest post comes from Benjamin McCall. He runs ReThinkHR.org (subscribe to the RSS) and specializes in OD, T&D and business strategy. You can follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenjaminMcCall. He’s a fantastic guy with a lot of great ideas. He also contributed a piece to the HR Ninja series a while back, and I’m glad he decided to let me share this post!

‘The’ toughest interview question… Is the one you have not prepared for or have never answered!

I could also say that the toughest interview question would be all of them. Continue reading