NOTE: This was the very first blog post on ERE. Ancient stuff, eh?
Sometimes I think there are really only two questions that recruiters need to ask – sorry Lou, two, not one: The first is just an amalgam of all variants of behavioral interviewing (yes, this is where Lou Adler gets a shameless plug for his single, greatest interview question of all time). But to master the one question really requires an in-depth understanding of everything about the job.
Since so many recruiters just aren’t up-to-speed in terms of content – I mean, who has the time to really learn, for example, finance when all you really need are the buzzwords to conduct an effective interview, right? ;) – most recruiters might just as well ask a simple “Yes or No” question, something like this:
“Look, let’s cut to the chase – this position is for a CFO of a multibillion dollar multinational. You’ve read the job description so here’s my question: Have you been the CFO of a multibillion dollar multinational corporation where you’ve increased profits as measured by EVA by at least 15% annually over the past three years without putting the company under SEC scrutiny? Now before you say yes, if you haven’t and you lie, then you’ll be fired without any severance and your reputation will be smeared from here to the end of the earth. Now, what is your answer?”
Perhaps is conjures up thoughts of the bridge scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (What is your quest?). In reality, it is a simple binary – “Yes or No” – that might take about two minutes to ask and answer. If done correctly, for most it is about as effective as a battery of highly targeted behavioral questions (which ultimately get at the same result – assessing whether the candidate can perform the job as described). Since so many recruiters and hiring managers do a less than stellar job at behavioral interviewing – incidentally, this is the greatest opportunity for improvement in our profession; and this opportunity for improvement is part content knowledge, part learning how to effectively drill down – heck, most might as well just ask a “Yes or No” question and move on to a far more difficult trait to assess Character.
Cicero, the Roman Empire-era philosopher believed that “Within the character of the citizen lies the welfare of the nation.” To paraphrase Cicero, within the character of the employee lies the greatness of the company. Recruiters need to understand how this applies to their company or client and then come up with specific ways to assess character in the same way they focus on work-related behaviors. Because at the end of the day, it is those who are of exemplary character who will create the most value for a company.
Specific ways? How about a business ethics question related to a specific event or series of events that took place in your organization? Something with many levels, potential traps, dead ends, etc. You’ll have to do your homework for this one folks – talking to C-levels, hiring managers, direct reports, suppliers, et. al. – and you may get some funny looks, but when you start talking about why employees really fail to make the grade, once you get past the “Well, they just couldn’t do the job” excuse and dig deep, the reason they failed was most likely character-based.
In interviewing for character and when using developed business scenarios, consider some of the following questions (tailor them anyway you want):
- How do you define character?
- What values are the most important ones to you as you make daily business decisions?
- How do you think your company defines values and values training?
- What are some of the values highlighted in your work?
- To what extent do you feel that your values have been consistent with your employer’s values?
- How do you incorporate character development into interactions with your subordinates?
- How do you handle situations in which peers hold conflicting values or express values contrary to what you believe are the norms of your employer?
- What skills do employees need to possess to be able to determine viable alternatives, hold options up to critical examination, and develop strong rationales for their positions as they solve problems and make decisions?
- In what ways should employees and their bosses demonstrate care and concern for each other?
- How often and in what context are values-oriented issues discussed in your business meetings?
- To what extent have your peers been aware of their role in transmitting values to employees?
What criteria should be used to assess the success of a company’s character training program? According to these criteria, how successful are your company’s character training efforts? What would make them more effective?
Character is a rather arcane concept because it means so many things to different people. But assessing character as it relates to one’s organization is the first step in promoting the Daffodil Principle. Ever plant daffodils? Know what happens the next bloom? There are more daffodils – and the bloom is stronger. What recruiter wouldn’t want to be part of a success like this? Rhetorical question, right?
Here’s why you should seriously consider assessing character…
Last Monday I attended the funeral of a United States Marine killed ten days ago in Iraq – I know, well knew, him and his brother (“oddly” enough, also a Marine as was their Dad and Grandfather). Matt Lynch was a Duke grad who when asked by his Dad what his plans are now that he’s entering the “real world” responded by saying, “Dad, the Marine Corps, of course.” He went to Marine Officer Candidate School, then IOC, then E/2/5 and the 1/5 – at one point, he was stationed in a place called Karma (it was a good omen). After his second tour in Iraq, he had the option of going home; instead, learning that his old and intact 2/5 was headed back to Iraq, he chose to go back saying, “They are my guys, I’m going.”
Matt was killed on October 30, 2004, the victim of a roadside bomb. Even in death, character prospers according to the Daffodil Principle.
After the funeral, many of us assembled at a local restaurant, told stories, and yes, hoisted many a toast in the late soldier’s honor. What was clear to me – aside from the buzzing in my head (for the record, Marines can put away adult beverages at an alarming rate), was how so very much alike each Marine was – especially as it pertained to character.
Now I’m not talking about the four guys I spent hours with – every Marine I met this day was of exemplary character – seriously, the kind of person every Mother and Father wants to meet. And commitment – each of these Marines would put their life ahead of each other. Absolutely amazing – how did the USMC recruiters do such an exemplary job in selecting people who were so in tune with the Marine way? Sure Marines are “made” but there has to be something in there to work with. So how do the Marines select on the basis of character? I’ll touch upon this in a very near future post.
Again, I believe that character really does matter. What do you think?