Skilful interview lifts odds for jobseekers

The Life: The chances an executive will hire a new, successful leader at their company is only about 50 per cent. Here are ways to improve those odds.

Successful interviewers use probing questions to guide an interview, thereby ensuring that personal perception does not distort the interview process. David Paul Morris / Bloomberg News
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When they flip a coin and get what they had hoped for, many consider themselves lucky.

The same is also true in recruiting "all-star" employees.

Research shows that interviewing a successful candidate is similar to flipping a coin, resulting in a 50/50 chance of a positive outcome.

It is shocking that many seasoned and accomplished executives face such low odds when they set out to select the right team for success.

The most obvious reason for this is what happens - or does not - during the interview.

Not long ago, I was speaking with a group of leaders from across the region concerning hiring and firing. Since I am not a recruitment specialist, I was thinking about our conversation from a leadership point of view.

I made the point that building a team is much like a coach selecting players to be on a pitch: after I outlined what a coach looks for in his players, one of the leaders asked: "How are we supposed to do that in 10 minutes?"

That leader clearly articulated the reason that a team's success rate can be so low: the problem lies in spending only minutes on an interview. This is risky.

As a leader, do you feel confident making this bet in only a 10 minute-interview, or in one lasting even an hour?

Unfortunately, many executives do, and they end up making their decisions on intuition.

They are swayed because the applicant enters the room with a smile, by how articulate he is or even by the person's humour. While these qualities are nice in a social setting, you need to be rigorous in the interview process.

It is more than the intangible "feels right".

There are certain skills to look for when recruiting a leader into your organisation. In a successful interview, you need to be able to articulate what you are looking for in each of the following areas:

Ÿ Understanding the technical background

Ÿ Gaining behavioural insights

Ÿ Quantifying leadership success

Ÿ Predicting future potential

Ÿ Discussing team fit

Ÿ Inferring coachability

This requires preparation for the interview. Successful interviewers use probing questions to guide the interview in the aforementioned areas, as this ensures that gut instinct does not distort the interview process.

One last insight is to have a rating system to quantify impressions. Perhaps the most important thing to do when hiring a leader is to avoid fixating on the technical aspect but rather probe the other aspects, specifically how the candidate has delivered results through others.

Since it is a leader's job to get work through others, leaders who come from technical backgrounds have to be able to demonstrate how they have done this before.

Building a great team is not for the lazy. Being objective, rather than subjective, and improving your interviewing success rate is not hassle-free. It requires much more work than a 10-minute or even one-hour interview, but the success rate can be improved substantially.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, the author of The CEO Shift and the managing director of the Emerging Market Leadership Center