I asked each applicant to, “bring in one item that best represents you and be prepared to explain why.”
All 14 did an excellent job with this exercise, and the insights it gave me into what really makes them tick was well worth the effort. It also gave them one question for which they could be prepared, which helped some of them with their nerves.
Sure, you can argue that I got canned, prepared answers. But I would argue back that for the most part, I got honest, insightful answers that in some cases told me all I need to know and the canned answers are also quite telling. Plus, some of their answers led me to better questions than I had even prepared.
Mostly, however, we focused on behavioral-based questions that involved specific details of how they handled certain events in their past. Questions like…
Tell me about a time when you made a lasting, positive impression on a customer.
What is the most difficult decision you have ever had to make?
Describe your most remarkable achievement at work.
After each interview I gave myself a couple minutes to quickly write down first impressions. Sometimes that first impression was simply “No”. No sense wasting an extra minute of your time on someone who doesn’t fit the bill.
It didn’t take long to get from 14 down to 6. But I only needed three. How do you separate the rest? Reference calls.
I started by calling past employers. This is always tricky. They rarely give you anything but the run-around (especially chain stores). But there is a way to get around that. I will often ask if the person answering the phone knew the applicant. You can often tell from their response exactly what they thought about the applicant. One of my best hires was a gal that when I called her previous employer, the receptionist asked me how she was and how much they all missed her. From that little tidbit, I knew she would get along well with others.
If that isn’t enough (although it usually is) I would call their personal references.
Lastly, I prioritized the remaining 6 by comparing them side by side. Then it was simply doing that most favorite part of my job – calling and offering someone a job. My top 3 accepted. Two of them start tomorrow:-)
PS Everyone that interviewed received either a personal call or letter explaining that they did not make the cut. I believe they deserve that.