The Best Interview Question to Predict On-the-Job Success © Suprijono Suharjoto |

As a recruiter for the past 40+ years I’ve met many talented people. Some were my clients, some my candidates and many more who I wished were either my clients or my candidates.

So when I came across this article by Michael Simmons, The No. 1 Predictor Of Career Success According To Network Science, I was forced to drop everything and read it. It’s fascinating.

Here’s the tweet-like summary: People who are in open networks are far more successful than those in closed networks.

My lay interpretation of a rather scientific article is that more diverse exposure a person has in terms of experiences and interactions allows them to bring a different perspective to any business situation. More important, this diversity of thinking allows them to influence these groups more effectively than those with a more narrow or insular point of view. As a result they get assigned to more important projects and lead more important groups long before their peers.

My interest in this has to do with how this complex factor is assessed during the interview. As part of our two-question performance-based interview I was wondering if we missed something. My concerns had to do with the fact that over the years we’ve proven that our interview and assessment process is not only more accurate than DDI, BEI and Who in predicting on-the-job performance but also more effective in improving quality of hire. Despite this, if we could make it better we’d incorporate these new ideas.

One key aspect of our performance-based interview process is digging into a candidate’s major accomplishments over time to observe the person’s overall trend of growth. This concept is shown in the graph. As you’ll see there are two trend lines shown, one for individual accomplishments and one for team accomplishments. I believe the growth rate of the trend lines correlate highly with the open vs. closed networking concept – especially how we develop the team trend line.
The Single Best Predictor of On-the-Job Success
During the interview we ask candidates to describe their team accomplishments in detail focusing on the size of the team, the person’s role, the purpose of the team and how the person got assigned to the team. A key aspect of this line of questioning involves the candidate drawing a 360° work chart. This chart describes all of the people on the team including peers, subordinates, superiors and people inside and outside the company.

What’s fascinating about this approach is understanding how people progress in their careers especially highly skilled individual contributors or technical people who start interfacing with people in other functions including executives. As interesting is finding people who start working with more senior executives in the company earlier in their careers. Asking how the person got assigned to the team is as revealing. Often it’s because the person is a recognized subject matter expert and the person’s manager wants to give him/her more exposure or the person is very ambitious and volunteered for the position.

If the person leverages this into even larger and more influential teams, it’s clear the person was successful working with all types of people. If the same trend is observed at multiple companies you can rest assured the person has exceptional team and leadership skills. This is true even if the person is quiet, nervous in the interview, not eloquent or introverted.

Equally interesting, are people who over the course of 5-10 years continue to work with the same types of people in the same types of functions on the same types of projects. To me this is representative of the classic “closed network” described in Simpson’s article.

So while the idea that a person with an open network is more likely to be successful in general, I’m not sure it’s a great predictor of success in relationship to a particular job and specific team. In this case I’d suggest that during the definition of the job it’s made clear what types of teams the person is likely to work on. Then compare this to the types of teams the person has already worked on and how successful the teams were in achieving their objectives. If these are comparable and the candidate has an upward trend in growth in team size and scope it’s likely the person will be successful in the new role at least on this dimension of performance.

While this is a critical piece of the hiring puzzle, it’s not the only piece. The other pieces are explained in this post describing the Hiring Formula for Success. Simply stated, on-the-job performance and motivation to excel are functions of the ability to do the work in relationship to fit with the job, fit with the team, fit with the hiring manager and fit with the company culture.

So despite the openness of the person’s network these other factors are equally as important and it could very well be that a person in a big and growing multi-functional closed network might wind up being the better candidate.