By: Kirsten Olson
Is the candidate sitting in front of you right for this job? How do you know when market conditions are so volatile it’s hard to predict all the qualifications and attributes you’re going to need six months or one year down the road?
As the world of work is changing -- constantly reorganizing, fragmenting, and requiring market reconceptualization -- you’ve got to ask the right interview questions as well as internal questions to see if the candidate has the attributes you need to grow your business and adapt to constant change.
Old command and control work environments didn’t demand the kind of flexibility, adaptability, and broad business knowledge that new dynamic work environments do. Desirable candidates, even ones who have the right qualifications -- must be flexible, rapid and eager learners. Here are some questions you need to ask.
1. Is the candidate highly adaptive? You want someone who is fleet on their feet in adapting to changes in the work environment, since right now change is the only constant in most organizational systems. Can the candidate offer you examples of how they were able to grow, shift, and evolve to workplace change in their last position? Adaptability, the capacity to take on new roles and embrace new ways of thinking, are critical when the winds of the economy swirl.
2. Do they ask great questions? Everyone knows you need to come to a job interview having researched the position. But once they’re in the interview, what do they “hear” about the business or your work? Are they able to listen, synthesize and ask thoughtful questions about the heart of your business? Great interview questions from the candidate can tell you a lot about how a candidate thinks and whether they will be able to diagnose a market problem as it is occurring, and respond to it.
3. Are they voraciously curious? What else do they want to know? Are they lit up with questions? In a new book about curiosity, Todd Kashdan notes that curiosity is about “appreciating and seeking out the new. Instead of desperately seeking certainty, it is about embracing uncertainty.” Because a great employee now needs to be a great learner, being voraciously curious is key to high productivity and breakthrough thinking.
4. Can they see patterns in disparate information? Mountains of data and an overabundance of information now overwhelm every work environment. Does the candidate demonstrate they can see patterns and sense important trends in information, workflows and organizational crises? Old-style work environments required employees who could effectively respond, but new market conditions demand the ability to proactively “see” what’s happening in the market synthetically, and to be able to communicate it to others. This ability to see patterns in swaths of information and data needs to be something you hire for, from the front desk receptionist, to the regional sales manager, to IT security.
5. Are they team players? Over at Netflix, where the corporate culture is all about freedom and responsibility to lead the market in innovation, they emphasize hiring and retention of stunning colleagues who are superb collaborators. While some businesses tolerate “brilliant jerks,” today’s competitive business environment demands individuals who are deeply cooperative and have skills to help groups thrive and be productive. You don’t want to hire a “swan,” someone who is so self-directed and creative they have difficulty collaborating, or an “eagle” that thinks only about themselves and their own competitive gains, notes Kathryn Alexander of Ethical Impact. This means searching for the candidate who understands their thinking is improved by collaboration and diversity, and also has the interpersonal skills to add to the team.
6. Are they good resource managers? Knowing how to do best with less is a critical new skill as the world downsizes and gets focused on using, owning, and consuming less stuff. Can the candidate use both sides of their post-its? Are they morally committed to the project of more for less, because it’s good for everyone?
7. Are they enthusiastic about people and relationships? “Spirited workplaces,” are filled with individuals who are creative communicators -- who are affirming of others and attentive to how their interactions with other make people feel, says business consultant Barbara Glanz. Enthusiastic people tend to generate positive feelings and productive energy for their projects and initiatives, because they are creative in connection and savvy about their impact on others. You need this energy in your company. Do you feel it when you are talking to this candidate?
8. Can they admit to mistakes? Many of us learned in school that making mistakes was an indicator of lack of ability. New research describes how adaptive learning requires mistake making -- you can’t go forward without experimentin. Really able learners make lots of mistakes and are able to glean important lessons from them. Look for the candidate who can easily describe three failures, and what they learned from them. Take it as a warning sign if they can’t readily describe their screw-ups.
9. Do they see learning as pleasure? Steve Leveen, CEO and founder of Levenger, a tools-for-reading company, says when he hires he looks for people who are collectors. “It doesn’t actually matter what they collect,” he says.“Just that they are really interested in something, that they have passions.” Because great candidates are eager and rapid learners, they will also have learnings they pursue on their own. What are they? Do you get excited when the candidate describes them?
10. Is this the kind of learner you want on your team?You are hiring them, not their skills. No candidate has exactly the right skills for the job or is perfectly qualified. Who is the person sitting in front of you, and are they someone you want on your team after a restructuring, business crisis, or redesign of the firm? Do they have values and habits you respect? Can you trust them to do the right thing? Every employee is going to have to “learn into” any job they are hired for now. Your gut will help, but asking the right questions is also critical.
Kirsten Olson is principal of Old Sow Consulting and author of Wounded By School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up To Old School Culture.