Candidate Fit - what are the 10 most important factors?

By: Maren Hogan via LinkedIn

You may have heard the old saying “hire for fit, teach skills.” And, it’s genuinely true. Hiring for fit, or more accurately, attitude, has become something I’ve espoused closely over the years. Now that I am running my own company, it’s more important than ever not to get the greatest coder, but to find the person willing to bring a smile to a difficult job every day, look at an issue a totally different way, and take feedback regularly.

And, from my experience, there are specific qualities I can screen for to determine if the candidate has the right attitude and will be a fit. Here are the ten questions that help me decide:

1. Are they enthusiastic?

How you can tell: In our process, I always give the employee the chance to reach back out to me after the phone interview. While this may not work for all companies, it works well here, because I only want people who WANT to be here and I tell them so. I won’t schedule a follow up to the phone interview until they contact me.

2. Can they adapt to our agency model (corporate environment, startup culture, insert your thing here).

How you can tell: We use a tool called Vitru to help identify if someone has adaptability. I know other companies use Gallup’s Strengthsfinder. However, you can also see how they adapt if you mess something up, which I inevitably do.

While I don’t recommend playing mind games with a likely nervous candidate, do take note of how they react to their potential future workspace and colleagues. If someone brings them the wrong coffee, what is their reaction? If you schedule them for the wrong time, how do they react? If you are interrupted during the interview, what do they do or say? Any change to the norm is a great opportunity to see if a potential candidate is adaptable.

3. Would they be a team player?

How you can tell: Contrary to popular belief, introverts are not NOT team players, so first, remove your pre-conceived notions. Once you’ve done that, take them around and introduce them to the team.

How do they act, do they remember names or bring up topics that might be interesting to the new team member? While making small talk is not a prerequisite for any job, it's useful to observe if they really SEE the other team members or are simply focused on you, the interviewer. I usually “name-drop” some of my people during the phone interview to see if they bring it back up later. Again, I’m not of the school that everyone needs to be a team player ALL the time, but if you do need to know, this is how you can find out.

4. Do they ask meaningful questions?

How you can tell: I am a master BS artist. Many, MANY times, I have found myself not at all listening to someone and having to pull out some ridiculous question or response right out of you know where. So, it’s pretty hard to pretend like you are paying attention to me if you are not. If a candidate just parrots your own words back to you, but slightly out of order, it’s a guarantee they are paying very little attention.

Another indicator is a lack of specificity. If your candidate talks in broad terms about success, clients, lessons (all the usual job interview fodder), pull back and ask for really specific or one-off proof points or cases. A meaningful question to me is one where I (the interviewer) need to think for a minute before I can answer. That means not only are they paying attention, but are thinking through more sophisticated concepts than the one I put on the table.

5. Are they willing to acknowledge past mistakes and explain how they learned from them?

How you can tell: Every job interview has that fun question about when you screwed up. Articles have been written about how to overcome it and every recruiter you know has heard the “I think my biggest weakness is that I am a perfectionist,” answer more times than she cares to admit.

But to me, this is a huge indicator of whether or not they will be a fit. Do they blame their boss, their team, their MOM? Is it the traffic’s fault, the computer’s fault, the inability to read directions? If they cannot give you a specific example of a time they failed and what they did to get back on that proverbial horse, they are either lying or unable or unwilling to accept responsibility for mistakes and that will KILL whatever team you put them on.

6. Are they willing to learn new things or seem excited by the opportunity to do so?

How you can tell: Does their resume show them leapfrogging or at least moving up at a company? Do you see examples of interesting work they’ve done that is clearly outside the scope of their former or current job title?

I can usually tell if someone is interested in learning more than the usual stuff by whether they ask to shadow more than one person in their onboarding week. (If you don’t implement mentorship or an onboarding buddy, I would highly encourage the process. It teaches as much to the mentors as it does the new employees and has been found to increase retention by69% for mentors and 72% for mentees).

Finally, ask about a project that wasn’t successful or a giant failure, just one they absolutely loved and their role in it. This alone can give you tremendous insight into their passion for learning.

7. How resilient is this person?

How you can tell: This is pretty hard to tell from a few interviews, but by keeping an eye on their work history, and asking pointed questions about a time they’ve failed, their body language will give you some clues.

Keep in mind, if you are truly looking for unique talent, their resilience NOW is the only thing that matters, so ask how they would handle a difficult situation today versus one that happened five years ago.

8. Can they show their skills?

How you can tell: Our mini-assignment in between the phone and in-person interview is the best indicator of this. While skills are NOT the most important piece of the puzzle, the ability to research, follow directions, adhere to deadlines and give your best effort are all unique and useful things here at Red Branch Media. If you have the ability to add an assignment into your process, do so!

9. Do they seem ambitious to ensure work is completed as well as possible?

How you can tell: If they ask about deadlines, work timelines or explain how long projects typically take them, you can get a good idea of whether or not they are used to working on a deadline. Again, some of these questions are more relevant to a smaller team, but even larger corporations need to hit milestones and adhere to deadlines, so knowing that someone has a relevant idea of how to do that is crucial.

10. What is their passion?

How you can tell: By asking, “If you could do anything in the world (professionally) what would it be?” Obviously, we’d all rather eat spicy Cheetos and watch Who’s The Boss reruns, but what do they want to do professionally? Write? Create? Build? Work with people?

Once you have an inside view into their passion, you can mentally gauge where they might be the happiest inside your company, or at least which team to pair them with. The brain of a person feeling positive is 31% more productive than their negative counterparts, so passion and happiness is important.

Hiring really great people goes beyond skills and resumes. It requires understanding the person’s motivations and desires and then connecting those within the company. Only then will you find great hires that are ready and willing to give their best to your work!

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