Whether you're interviewing for a staff or executive-level position, or hoping to become the next POTUS, you can take some interviewing lessons from Carly Fiorina on how to do it right.
A year or so ago I wrote a post suggesting that the short formula for leadership is the combination of a clear vision for the role and a track record of comparable results. This is what I came up with for the longer version:
The Longer Formula for Assessing Leadership = 1) Identify the Problem and 2) Find a Solution and 3) Develop a Workable Plan and 4) Inspire Others and 5) Deliver the Results.
All of the steps are required.
It's actually pretty easy to assess a candidate's leadership ability (LQ) by using the Anchor and Visualize questioning pattern embedded in the Performance-based Interview I advocate. Here's how.
1. Use the Visualize question to assess depth of understanding and the ability to create a realistic plan.
The Visualize question involves getting into a back-and-forth discussion about a realistic job-related issue or challenge. This uncovers thinking and problem-solving skills, strategic and tactical planning, and upside potential. Assessing the process the candidate uses to figure out the problem is more important than the answer to the problem. The best people are able to fully understand the problem by asking appropriate questions and can offer a vision of how they would solve the problem.
During the junior varsity presidential debate and in subsequent interviews, Carly Fiorina demonstrated an unusual depth of understanding of the issues facing the president. Whether you like her vision of where she would take the country is a different issue, but you clearly know what her vision is. In addition, you have a sense of how she would solve any unanticipated problem she'd face in the role. This is a great demonstration of leadership.
Carly Fiorina Interviewing Tip 1: Don't give glib or vague responses. Ask questions to understand the biggest challenges in the new job and based on this present a reasonable plan of how you'd implement a solution. You can use this interview template to prepare. (I wouldn't be surprised if Carly actually used this.)
2. Use the Anchor question to determine the ability to deliver the vision.
Sometimes less than competent people can talk a good game, so while acing the Visualize question is important, it's not sufficient. The Anchor or Most Significant Accomplishment (MSA) question separates the good talkers from the real doers. The MSA question involves getting into specific details about major job-related accomplishments. The trend of these accomplishments over time is as important as the accomplishments themselves.
Carly is going to have to deal with her tenure as CEO of HP but her track record leading up to this role is incomparable. From an assessment standpoint the hiring team needs to compare a candidate's major accomplishments from a scope, scale, and complexity standpoint with actual job needs.
Carly Fiorina Interviewing Tip 2: Prepare a detailed list of your accomplishments with facts, details, dates, and list of results before the interview. Then practice describing them in one-minute sound bites.
3. Anticipate the tough questions.
You know you're going to be asked about weaknesses so don't be evasive or belligerent. If you have some real problems, proactively bring them up. The goal is to minimize their negative impact. Chris Matthews failed to demean Carly's character right after the debate by asking a purposefully misleading question. Carly reframed his question to neutralize the generalization and gave specific details to defend her position. Attacking the interviewer is not an effective strategy.
Carly Fiorina Interviewing Tip 3: Don't evade the tough questions. Use them as opportunities to shine. If needed, reframe any tough question to be sure it's understood. The reframing demonstrates confidence and a detailed answer with facts and examples demonstrates competence.
4. Don't wing it.
Over the past 40 years I've arranged somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 interviews and debriefed the hiring managers after every one. The candidates who gave vague and generic answers didn't fare too well. The hiring managers gave the highest marks to those who provided detailed examples of comparable accomplishments and asked insightful job-related questions. Listen to Carly's responses to just about every question asked--they're filled with details. Whether you like her or not is not the point; being prepared for anything is.
Carly Fiorina Interviewing Tip 4: Be prepared. Practice, practice, practice. And practice getting nervous.
I thought Carly's debate night performance was masterful, and if I ever get a big enough CEO search I'd like to see if she'd consider it. Until then, everyone can benchmark her approach for acing the interview: Anticipate. Prepare. Anchor. Visualize.