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You've Been Asking the Wrong Interview Questions

A Q&A with interview expert Carol Quinn

Motivation - based interviewing a revolutionary approach to hiring the best.

There are candidates with the right qualifications and experience who ace your interviews with confidence and likability—before they become underperforming employees.

So how do you separate those imposters from the high performers, the ones that produce extraordinary results?

Carol Quinn, CEO of Hire Authority, believes the answer lies in going beyond assessing skills and culture fit to determine a candidate's attitude toward overcoming obstacles and passion for achieving goals. Enter motivation-based interviewing (MBI).

Quinn, author of Motivation-Based Interviewing: A Revolutionary Approach to Hiring the Best (SHRM, 2018), discussed with HR Magazine's Book Blog how to identify high performers, how to assess attitude and common mistakes interviewers make.

What's the most important factor in identifying high performers?

Using an interviewing process that aligns with how achievement and success come about. Here's a clue: It takes more than just skill to succeed. We know that high performers typically have great job skills, but there's a big difference between skill and motivation. You can have one without the other. If you had to choose between one or the other, you're better off choosing the highly self-motivated person and teaching them the job skills than having a highly skilled person with no motivation. With all the advances we've made in employee engagement tactics, we still have a problem with unmotivated and disengaged employees.

One of the big problems with behavior-based interviewing—and there are many—is that it's skill-focused. Skill and motivation are assessed very differently, and you cannot accurately assess a candidate's level of self-motivation using behavior-based interviewing.

What are the three things all high performers have in common?

Research has determined that although high performers can have a variety of characteristics, there are three components they all share: skill, attitude and passion. Skill is the ability to do the job duties and responsibilities. Attitude is a mindset that believes that no matter how monumental the obstacles are that block the path to the goal, the goal still can be achieved. This mindset is what puts that person in motion to seek a solution, overcome the obstacles and achieve goals. They're optimistic and resilient. Passion is an inner burning desire that genuinely wants to achieve the goal. When the skill, attitude and passion come together in one person, it creates the highest level of self-motivation.

What's one question every interviewer should ask?

There is no "one question" but rather all of your questions need to be effective so they gather candidate information that is actually useful for correctly predicting future job performance. With MBI, skill assessment questions have three simple rules that must always be applied. When they are, you also gather a second piece of information without any extra interviewing time. Done right, your skill assessment questions reveal a candidate's attitude. They expose how that person normally or predominantly responds in the face of challenge. This is a powerhouse indicator of future job performance. Interviewers who forgo getting this candidate information that is available to them will make avoidable hiring mistakes.

What would you learn about a candidate from MBI that you wouldn't with a behavior-based interview?

In many ways, behavior-based interviewing is like the Wild West, where anything goes. Think about it. Two interviewers are interviewing the same candidate using behavior-based interviewing and afterward they get together to decide whether to hire that candidate or not. One wants to hire, the other doesn't. The one who doesn't says, "I can't put my finger on it, but there was something that I just didn't like about that candidate." That's what happens using behavior-based interviewing, but it's unlikely to happen with MBI. The better-quality MBI interview questions produce a better quality of candidate information. They produce not only skill information but also information about each candidate's attitude, passion and motivation. MBI also has a built-in minimum hiring standard that doesn't exist in behavior-based interviewing. It wouldn't make much sense to learn MBI, learn how to correctly identify and hire high performers, but then say you can still hire anyone you want. MBI closes the holes that exist in behavior-based interviewing.

Why is attitude so important?

A person's attitude is 80 percent formed by age 7. It's extremely set in adulthood. It's not that it's impossible to change one's attitude, but it's impossible to change another human being's attitude. The rule is the attitude you hire is the attitude you get. It just makes sense to hire an attitude that's already effective for overcoming tough challenges because, after all, no job is challenge-free. That makes hiring for attitude—and, if necessary, teaching the skill—a much better strategy for business success. The reason attitude assessment is so important and so effective in MBI is it goes after determining a candidate's predominant attitude. We all have some effective and ineffective traits within us, but one reigns. When a challenge is encountered, one way of responding occurs more often. It's determining this prevailing attitude that will tell an interviewer how a person will likely respond when the going gets tough once hired.

What are the most common mistakes interviewers make?

After garnering years of experience, many interviewers think they know everything they need to know about how to interview and hire well and, as a result, are closed-minded to learning a better way. Since most organizations still don't track their interviewers' hiring effectiveness (quality-of-hire), there is no accountability for bad hires and, worse yet, the problem continues.

Interviewers also:

  • Lack training.
  • Ask ineffective interview questions.
  •  Cannot correctly distinguish a high performer from an average performer from a bad hire.
  •  Don't know how to create an interviewing environment that fosters the flow of candidate information that benefits the interviewer.
  • Focus on trying to change or improve employees' performance after the hire rather than improve their own interviewing effectiveness.

Roy Maurer is an online writer/editor for SHRM who focuses on talent acquisition.


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