Never Ask About the Money, but Always Ask This at Every Interview

Last year the editor of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired suggested we extract all of the candidate-oriented content and create a video version for job seekers only. The intro is below. This year he suggested we convert The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired into a practical handbook for job seekers.

The big idea behind this is that too many active job seekers settle for lateral transfers rather than jobs offering career growth. To make this shift, the editor asked me to highlight what job seekers must do in order to get these better jobs. I told him too many job seekers accept the fact that they’re being interviewed improperly. Worse, they don’t do anything about it. Therefore we need to use the main chapter to identify and correct the problem.

This post will be used to test the concept out so please comment below with your results. It starts by asking this question early in the interview.

Based on the job description it isn’t clear what the focus of the job actually is. Would you mind giving me a quick overview of the job and some of the key challenges the person hired will be expected to handle during the first year? Based on this, I’d like to give you an overview of some of my accomplishments that best relate to what you need done.

As the interviewer responds, ask a few clarifying questions like:

  • What are the measures of success?
  • What’s the current status of the project?
  • What happened to the person in the role or is it a new position?
  • What resources are available?
  • Who’s on the team?
  • What’s the quality of the team?
  • What are the biggest technical or business challenges involved?
  • What needs to be done first?
  • What’s the timeframe for completing this project?

With this information you now need to prove you can handle this work successfully. The best way is by giving an example of a comparable accomplishment that best meets the company’s needs.

To get ready for this part I suggest to candidates that they put together a list of their major accomplishments as soon as they begin the job hunting process. Then take the top 3-4 and write a few paragraphs for each one with a lot of descriptive details. This includes the why, when, where, what happened and the before and after results. Describe the team and the technical challenges involved. Be specific and includes dates, metrics and percent changes. The purpose of writing this down is that you won’t forget it during the frenzied atmosphere of the actual interview.

Now you have to practice giving a response. For this I advise candidates to prepare a two-minute summary of each accomplishment using the SAFW format for speech writing or Say A Few Words. This stands for:

- Say: Make an opening Statement.

- A: Amplify the statement with some clarifying information.

- Few: Provide a Few Examples with specific details.

- Words: Conclude with a Wrap-up and summary of the accomplishment.

What I’ve discovered is that interviewers remember the stories and examples and from this conclude the candidate’s ability to do the work required. General statements about strengths without an example to back it up are ignored or quickly forgotten. As important is the length of the response. If it’s too long the candidate is viewed as long-winded and boring and if too short, not insightful enough. That’s why 1-2 minutes is a good length for every answer.

You’ll know the interview is going well if the interviewer starts describing next steps in a positive and specific manner. If things are left up in the air with the standard, “We’ll get back to you,” response, don’t go away without some type of push back. Instead ask something like, “Given what we’ve discussed today, do you think my background fits with your job needs? If so, when do you think another meeting will be arranged and who will it be with? If not, is there something in my background you don’t feel fits your job needs? Would you mind sharing that with me?”

Asking the interviewer to describe real job needs is a great way to ensure you’re measured on your ability to do the actual work required. Then by forcing the interviewer to reveal his/her hand at the end, you will get a chance to redeem yourself if you fell short somewhere. As I say in the video above, while these techniques won’t help you get a job you don’t deserve, they certainly will help you get one you do.

A Great Career Move Is Not About the Money


In this series, professionals share their hiring secrets. Read the stories here, then write your own (use #HowIHire somewhere in the body of your post).

I recently led a hiring workshop with 140+ marketing and engineering design managers. They all complained they weren’t seeing enough top candidates and many of those who were hired either underperformed or were disengaged. I then said all of this was predictable.

I then proved it. The proof started by asking them to describe the characteristics of the best people they had ever hired or had ever worked with. This is the short list of what they came up with:

Top Traits of Top Performers

  • Consistent high-quality results, on time, on budget.
  • Leadership: Can articulate a vision, influence others, plan and organize resources and deliver the results.
  • Proactively tackles difficult problems often with a new perspective.
  • Gets it done – no excuses! Exceeds expectations.
  • Takes the initiative for doing important work and volunteers for critical projects that take extra time.
  • Self-motivated to do the work that needs to be done and doesn’t need a lot of direction doing it.

What’s interesting about this list is that it doesn’t mention generic competencies, depth of experience, personality traits or academic background. There’s nothing about great communication skills, cultural fit, whether the person was on time or prepared for the interview or whether the person had a great DISC profile. Everything described regarding on-the-job success involved doing the work that needed to be done, doing more of it, doing it better and more efficiently, and doing it with other people.

Big Aha Moment: If you don’t know the work that needs to be done ahead of time, it will be problematic if the person hired will be successful afterwards.


Predict Performance by Reverse Engineering Outstanding Performance

To predict a candidate’s potential for on-the-job success, start by defining outstanding on-the-job performance. Then assess candidates by benchmarking their performance against this standard.

Here’s how this can be done in four basic steps:

  • First define the results you want achieved. If the person can do the work, he/she has all of the skills necessary.
  • Assess a candidate’s past performance doing comparable work in a comparable environment with a comparable manager.
  • Make sure the person is intrinsically motivated to do the work.
  • Offer a true career move based on what the person can learn, do and become.

This is the process I call Performance-based Hiring. Here’s how to implement it.

Performance-based Hiring: Predict Job Success in 4 Steps

First create a performance profile describing the 5-6 major results a person needs to achieve in order to be considered successful. For example, for a design engineer it’s better to say, “Complete the prototype of the new (app, circuit, valve, switch, interface, whatever) by Q2,” rather than “Must be a results-oriented team player with 5-10 years of experience in (laundry list of skills).”

For a GM, it’s better to say, “Restore the ABC division to profitability within 18 months,” rather than “Must have 10+ years in the OEM industry working with high-volume rotating equipment in a six sigma environment with an MBA from a top school and a degree in engineering.”

Use the interview to assess a person’s past performance in relationship to these performance objectives. Ask this basic question for each of the objectives in the performance profile:

One of the big challenges in the job is (state one of the objectives). What have you done that’s most comparable? 

Follow up by asking a series of fact-finding questions to fully understand the person’s accomplishments. To determine the comparability of the accomplishments, base your assessment on the scope, scale, span of control and complexity of the work and the environment in which it took place. Then plot all of the accomplishments over time to determine if the person is still growing or if the person has reached a plateau.

As long as the results are somewhat comparable, the person has an upward track record of performance and a good portion of the job involves work the person finds personally motivating, the person deserves to be on your shortlist of finalists for the role. You can use this Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard to collect the evidence needed to make a decision. Under no circumstances use an up/down gladiator voting process.

The final aspect of this process is offering the person a true career move, not an ill-defined lateral transfer with a bit more money. In my mind, a true career move involves a 30% non-monetary increase. In this case, the 30% is a combination of job stretch (a bigger job), increased job satisfaction (doing more satisfying work with more impact) and job growth (being in a situation that offers more upside potential). While compensation is not unimportant, it should not be the most important reason a person accepts your offer.

Since we use a similar performance-based assessment approach for developing and promoting people internally, there’s no reason why this same approach shouldn’t be used for hiring people from the outside. Forget about the laundry list of skills. Start by defining outstanding success as a series of outcomes and results. Then find people who are both motivated and competent to exceed your expectations. Surprisingly, using this technique you’ll still be pleasantly surprised when they do and that's all the proof you'll need, too.