The Two Questions You Must Ask to Ensure a Win-Win Hiring Outcome

The Two Questions You Must Ask to Ensure a Win-Win Hiring Outcome

A Win-Win Hiring outcome means the hiring manager and the new hire both agree it was the right decision one year into the job. While defining hiring success at the one year anniversary date rather than the start date is a worthy goal, it requires some significant process reengineering efforts to achieve it on a consistent basis. The first is recognizing what works and what doesn’t and then asking two critical questions during the interview. (Note: Job seekers need to control the interview if they're not asked the two questions.)

This table is a statistically valid summary of the best and worst predictors of on-the-job performance using information obtained during the interviewing process.

Most of the problems listed occur when interviewers don’t fully understand the job and, as a result, substitute their biases and pet questions to make the assessment.

Eliminating these problems starts by getting the answer to this question: “What does the person in the job actually need to do during the first year to be considered a great hire?” This answer replaces the traditional laundry list of skills and competencies with 5-6 key performance objectives (KPOs or OKRs, objectives and key results) describing the tasks, the actions required to complete the tasks and some specific measures of success. For example, “Reduce scrap on the widget line from 5% to less than 1% by year-end,” and “Conduct a process review of the entire assembly process in the first 30 days to identify problems,” is a lot better than saying, “Must have 10+ years of high-volume widget production experience, an engineering degree from a top school, a results-oriented attitude and strong team and collaborative skills.”

Conduct the Two-Question Performance-based Interview 

While this list of performance objectives is a critical first step, the interviewing process must be redesigned to assess the strong and essential predictors of job success shown in the table based on this actual job description.

Most of the predictors can be assessed with just two questions. The first one is called the Most Significant Accomplishment (MSA) question. It looks something like this:

Can you describe your most significant career accomplishment related to (describe one of the KPOs)?”

It takes about 15 minutes of fact-finding to fully understand what the candidate accomplished covering the actual results achieved, the changes made, how decisions were made, the competencies and skills used, the underlying environment and culture, and the process used to achieve the results. This one question uncovers a great deal but by asking the same MSA question for the other KPOs a trendline of performance will emerge revealing performance, fit and potential to handle the new role.

The second question, called the Problem-Solving Question (PSQ), is entirely different. Here’s the typical format:

"One of the biggest challenges in this job is (provide short description). If you were to get the job, how would you go about solving it?”

For the widget example, the question might be, "We have a big scrap problem. Can you walk me through how you would figure out the root cause and put together a solution?”

Asked properly this question uncovers a critical ability of all top performers: job-related problem-solving skills. The best candidates I've met in my 35 years in executive search all have the ability to anticipate the needs of the job before starting it. They can figure out very quickly what's wrong or what's necessary to accomplish a task, what they need to do to implement a solution, and what resources they need to do it. They also know what they don’t know and are confident enough to tell you how they’ll get this information.

When you ask this problem-solving question it’s important to turn off the spotlights and shift the conversation into a more natural give-and-take discussion about real job needs. It’s also important to note that what’s being assessed is the process the person uses to develop a solution, not the solution itself. Assessing the person’s problem-solving skills includes evaluating the appropriateness of the questions asked and how the candidate handles pushback from the interviewer challenging some of the ideas presented.

Use the Anchor and Visualization Technique to Increase Interviewing Accuracy

Often people can talk a good game when asked a problem-solving question but can’t deliver the results. To address this concern, follow up with the question, “Now can you tell me about something you’ve accomplished that’s most related to what we need done?” I refer to this two-question combination as the Anchor and Visualize approach.

A track record of past performance and the ability to visualize the future is a great indicator of ability. When combined with a clear understanding of real job needs using a performance-based job description, these two questions are all you need to ensure you’re hiring a great person and increasing the chance you’ll obtain a true Win-Win Hiring outcome.

Posted in: Performance-based Interview, Talent Strategy

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