Crouching Tiger, Hidden A-Hole: Secrets of Observational Interviewing

by Kevin Nakao on Dec 7, 2015 11:00:00 AM

crouching_tiger_4The best executive I've ever worked with is also the lousiest interviewee I know.

He's a brilliant, tireless, and selfless manager who brings out the best in people. Yet I still had to go to bat to get him hired at two companies because he scored low marks for interviewing and fit. The very same companies that expressed initial concern came to love and promote him to leadership positions.

The problem ...

Most interviews are biased towards extroverts who make you feel warm and fuzzy with office-BFF potential. The pedestrian-favorite, open-ended question “Tell me about yourself" is catnip for the extrovert and energy-sucking Kryptonite for the introvert.

Some of the highest performers can be INTJs that challenge and make you feel uncomfortable. They get their energy from their work, not from chitchat. They're listening and thinking of solutions in that same silence that makes others uneasy. Through rain, sleet, snow, and Slack, they quietly get stuff done while others bang their own gong.

So in addition to asking the right set of smarty-pants behavioral questions cooked up in the HR-nerd lab, I also use the following not-so-secret-anymore observational interviewing techniques that allow both blowhard and wallflower to win the call back:


1. Give ‘em homework


Give the candidate an assignment that ties to the knowledge or experience you're seeking. Many candidates will tap out or not read the instructions, while high performers respond to the challenge like a battle call — ready to fight for their right to be on your team. Our new social media hire sealed the deal with her work on a Facebook strategy assignment she over-delivered on and owned like a boss. Now she gets to tweet this article.


2. No, you go first

I always start off an interview letting the candidate ask their questions first. I learned this from my sales mentor and author Mark Roberge, who built the scalable and data-driven sales recruiting machine at HubSpot. Letting the candidate shoot first gives me a sense of how much they have prepared for an interview and also helps signal that the interview process is a two-way street.

Turnover is very disruptive in the workplace, so it's critical to make sure the position is a good fit for both parties. I always ask my team to share tthe good, the bad, and the ugly with prospective recruits.


3. Eat my dog food


Most of the companies I've worked for had some free version of their service or a retail location to browse and experience their product at no cost. I'm amazed by the number of candidates who never took the time to experience the product or service of the company they were interviewing with. This signals to me that a candidate probably doesn’t care enough about what you do or is unwilling to dive deep.

I have had a Director of Marketing search open for 4 months with over 100 applications and only a handful of people that used a no-credit card-required free trial of our product. I’m not hiring anyone in such a senior-level position that doesn’t take the time to do this.

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4. Crouching tiger, hidden A-hole

Get feedback from schedulers, receptionists, and administrators in the interview process — was the candidate polite, easy to work with, and friendly? If you take the candidate out for a meal, see how they treat others.  

One executive candidate I was recruiting was more focused on his hotel arrangements and getting his Starwood points than the people he needed to meet. And I found out from our travel coordinator he was very rude. Conversely, when we hired our Growth Marketing Manager, our office admin gave me a huge smile when she found out we hired him because he was so friendly and engaging in the interviewing process.

An essential part of our recruitment strategies at TINYpulse is to publish our company values in our job descriptions. This also helps to filter out candidates with a low cultural intelligence.  


5. Probability to annoy


Our own research shows that the number one thing that annoys people at work is when their coworkers don’t follow up or follow through. One simple data point is whether or not someone sends a follow-up note for a marketing, sales, or account management role. This observed behavior by itself is not conclusive, so try to pattern-match with other observed behaviors, including promptness, listening skills, note-taking, and yes, showing up for the interview.

And therein lies my point: if a no-show is a no-hire, why not consider other observed behaviors in the decision-making process?

Measuring observed behavior can provide a more complete picture of a candidate and creates a fair process that allows all personality types to shine and reduces selective bias. And if you care about getting stuff done, actions always speak louder than words.



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This post was written by Kevin Nakao

Kevin is the head of marketing and PR for TINYpulse. Prior to that, he was CEO of MeritShare, COO and President of WhitePages, VP of Rhapsody/Real Networks, founder and CEO of Musicblitz (which received a Grammy nomination in 2000, by the way). He also served in executive positions at Fox and Universal Music. Not to mention, he's a guest writer for Mashable, TechCrunch, and GeekWire.

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