The Two-Question Performance-based Interview - Part 2 - The Formula for Hiring Success

Recap: in part one of this series, the two-question performance-based interview was introduced.  The first question involves asking candidates to describe some of their most significant business accomplishments in great detail. While it’s only one question, it’s repeated multiple times to ensure you’re covering all aspects of exceptional performance. Of course, to accurately assess this question you need to first define exceptional performance in the form of a performance profile describing the top 5-6 critical performance objectives required for job success.  Most job descriptions over-emphasize skills and experience requirements with a short list of vague responsibilities. Being reasonably specific with regard to expected outcomes is the key to using the two-question interview and making an accurate assessment

The second question involves asking the candidate how he/she would go about completing one or two of the most critical performance objectives, including figuring out the problem, putting a plan together, and overcoming job-related challenges. This is more a give-and-take type discussion to get at thinking, planning and the ability to visualize job-related problems

The two questions in combination with the performance profile, and an in-depth review of the person’s resume looking for the achiever pattern is all that’s necessary to accurately assess a candidate across all job needs.

The following formula defining hiring success will help guide you through this process

Hiring Success = (Talent x Motivation2)+ Team Skills (EQ) + Problem-solving Skills

Organizational Fit

Here’s the quick explanation of each term. Some people call these factors competencies or behaviors. Regardless of what you call them, the idea is that you need to assess them in order to better predict a person’s ability to meet objectives described in the performance profile

Talent is the ability to do the work, and the easiest of the factors to measure. Surprisingly, too many interviewers, especially those with a technical bent, overvalue this factor, oftentimes demanding brilliance. While talent is obviously important, it needs to be measured in terms of job demands, not some artificial standard

Motivation to do the work required is the most important of these factors, and the hardest to assess. It’s squared in the formula since it has so much impact on job success, output, and performance. To assess it properly you need to find multiple examples of where the person went the extra mile doing work comparable to what’s needed to be done. Alternate terms for this could be “drive” or “results-oriented,” but the key idea is that during the interview you’re not looking for generic motivation, but specific job-related examples of the person doing far more than required

Team skills, aka Emotional Intelligence (EQ refers to the term Dan Goleman coined in his book on emotional intelligence), relates to how the person relates with others. During the interview look for examples of how the person interacted on projects and/or led teams. Seek out coaching examples, dealing with conflict, and persuading or inspiring others. Also look at the make-up of the teams, the person’s role, if the make-up changed or grew in size over time, and if they were multi-functional or comprised of more senior-level company leaders. Team skills and cultural fit is not determined by warmth or affability during the interview. It’s determined by the person’s impact and effectiveness in collaborating with others and the teams the person has been asked to join

Problem-solving skills addresses the person’s understanding of job-related issues and being able to figure the best course of action among various alternatives. The problem-solving question involves asking the person how he/she would solve a realistic problem. Look for depth of insight, the questions asked, the process the person uses to figure out the problem, and how he/she develops and evaluates different alternatives. As part of the assessment, get detailed examples of actual accomplishments the person achieved comparable to the problem under discussion. This two-question combo is called the Anchor and Visualize interviewing process

Organizational fit covers a number of dimensions including fit with the job, the hiring manager, and the company’s environment, values, culture, and its way of doing business.  From what I’ve seen, the candidate’s fit with the hiring manager and the job are the dominant factors here. If the candidate and the hiring manager clash from a style, coaching, and/or development standpoint, the person will fail, regardless of capability. Job fit is just as important. A person competent enough to do the work, but not motivated to do it, will underperform. On top of this you need to consider resource availability, the company pace, and the level of sophistication, to accurately assess organizational fit. Ask about these cultural issues as part of each major accomplishment question for comparison purposes.  (Here’s a video I’ve prepared that describes how to use the two-question interview to assess organizational fit along these dimensions.)

There are some caveats to follow as you assess candidates using the formula for hiring success. For one thing, don’t make a yes/no decision until the end of the interview. Most people are overly affected by the person’s first impression, good or bad, so it’s best to temper this by waiting until the end of the interview to determine the candidate’s suitability for the job. While it’s okay to determine if the person’s first impression will impact job performance, do this at the end, when you’re not personally affected by it. To make sure the team assessment is as objective as possible, go through each of the factors in the hiring formula as a team getting specific and factual evidence from each interviewer. Using the following 1-5 ranking scale can help minimize errors caused by first impressions, intuition, or biases. The idea is that each interviewer has to provide evidence to support their ranking, not feelings or emotions

The 1-5 Evidence-based Ranking Scale

Level 1: Not hirable. Not competent, missing a critical skill, or not motivated to do the work required under the organizational and cultural demands of the job

Level 2: Competent, but not motivated, or not a cultural fit. Technically and team-wise a fit, but not motivated to do the work required. Alternatively, the person is a weak fit from a cultural or organizational fit standpoint.

Level 2.5: Average performance. The person meets the minimum needs of the job on all factors, including cultural fit, but not exceptional in any

Level 3.0: Hirable, rock-solid performance. This is a person who can achieve all of the performance objectives listed in the performance profile and is highly motivated to do the work required. In addition, the cultural fit is right on. This person is promotable and can take on bigger projects quickly

Level 4.0: Far exceeds performance expectations. This person will do more, faster, and/or better. While the person will likely exceed the performance standards of the job, the person must also be given the freedom and opportunity to perform at this higher level

Level 5.0: High-potential all-star. This person will achieve a level of performance far in excess of what’s described in the performance profile. The company and hiring manager must support and encourage this, otherwise dissatisfaction will quickly follow

Using the two-question performance-based interview in combination with the hiring formula for success is a great way to assess competency, motivation, and organizational fit. It’s vital that some type of formal debriefing be part of the assessment where everyone on the interviewing team shares their evidence for each of the factors. Using the 1-5 ranking scale can help minimize the impact of feelings and emotions. Under no circumstances should you allow the team to add up individual yes/no votes to make this decision

In Part 3 of this series, I’ll describe how this type of interview can be used for recruiting purposes. Conducting an in-depth professional interview is part of this. Another part involves looking for differences in what the candidate has accomplished in comparison to the performance objectives for the job. These differences could relate to the size of the project or team, the importance of the work, or the opportunity for accelerated growth. Collectively, these gaps can represent a significant career move for the candidate, which can more than offset the need for a significant compensation increase.