The 8 Question Early Talent Interview

Career Blog

Slide1Occasionally when interviewing Early Talent performance, skill, and experience differentiators are obvious. Most times however, when a collection of candidates have taken the same classes at the same time from the same professors in the same school, it’s hard to find a compelling X factor. The similarities are even more pronounced when you considered the now all-but-required tick-box style internships, volunteer experience, and social / service projects in which these overscheduled grads participate.

These are all productive additions to the core curriculum, but it makes an interviewer’s job more difficult. In the past you could applaud those who voluntarily chased such opportunities, but when they are baked into the academic programs…well, they’re simply part of the recipe. In fairness, performance in these endeavors and professor recommendations can help with selection, but only slightly.

In the end, many companies default to a combination of questionable quantitative measures such as GPA and class rank, and qualitative indicators based on behavioral interviews aligned to their competencies models. The trouble is, these kids today are sharp…really sharp. Many have stock answers to stock questions and come prepared with formulaic “Challenge, Action, Result” oriented answers to all your “Tell me about a time…” questions. Plus, when you ask about a competency, you’re tipping your hand as to what you value. Don’t. In this moment it’s not about you.

So how can you quickly uncover the best of person? Easy. Let them know that is truly what you are looking for.

Even the most polished person shows up nervous. Diffuse that by ditching the trick questions and making it all about them. The following eight candidate-centric questions will help you do just that:

  1. History: Resumes are like screenplays. People are like novels. Briefly talk me through your recent career storyline. What are the key plot points in your story?
    • Why: This question provides insight as to where they focus and where they don’t. Do they address gaps head on or gloss over them? What part of the story makes them light up or withdraw?
  2. Strengths: Everyone has a personal brand…a go-to skill. What are you known and valued for?
    • Why: Gives me a glimpse at strengths, but also a sense of how they believe others view them.
  3. Needs: Even the best candidates need a little polish. What’s one thing that if you developed would make you an even greater asset to this role and our organization?
    • Why: Unlike the stock “weakness” question, this tests self-awareness, decision-making, and action-orientation.
  4. Lessons: What’s the most impactful lesson you’ve learned recently and how has it changed you?
    • Why: Interviewers sometimes hyper-focus on learning via mistakes. This broadens the issue and demands substance.
  5. Unique: Obviously we are interviewing multiple people for the role. While you can’t know the competition’s background, what’s one thing that likely sets you apart from everyone else?
    • Why: This helps with fit for role. They may have a go-to strength, but is that the attribute that will land them the role? Perhaps not.
  6. Value: How would that personal X-factor be of value to our organization?
    • Why: Forces a reevaluation of the last answer. Is their X-factor simply interesting or actually valuable and a true differentiator?
  7. Questions: What questions do you have for me?
    • Why: This helps evaluate their preparation and cultural fit while providing insight as to what is most important to them.
  8. Misses: Our goal is to see your absolute best. What questions didn’t I ask that you wish I would have? Fill in the blanks for me.
    • Why: No interview method is perfect. This gives candidates the chance to shine by covering ground I may have missed.

Clearly sub-questions can arise in any of these, but in most cases this simple strategy helps me get a solid understanding of a person.

What do you think? To paraphrase Step 8, “What questions does this process fail to ask that you think it should?”

Thoughts, comments, and tricks of the trade are welcome.

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