Don’t Ask This Interview Question

I haven’t heard of this one but it is intriguing:

To boost the chances of preventing that hiring misstep, there’s one easy tactic everyone should take in an interview: Stop asking candidates to evaluate their own abilities.

Here’s why. Underskilled candidates consistently overrate their abilities, and more skilled candidates consistently underrate their abilities. There’s even a name for this: the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological research finding that the poorest performers are the least aware of their own incompetence.

So I’m immediately left questioning why?  Are highly-skilled salespeople awash in humility?  I don’t think so and neither does the author.

Top performers set higher standards for their own performance, so they judge themselves more harshly than low performers.

Bullseye.  I couldn’t agree more with that statement.  We see this effect in our objective assessments often with top performers.  An interesting aspect is that they often have lower self-esteem.  It isn’t that they are shrinking violets…to the contrary, they set high standards and always strive to reach higher.  They have a drive that says I could have done better or I can do more.  It is counter-intuitive to me and took quite some time to understand this effect.

Don’t be put-off by a sales candidate who doesn’t project a booming confidence.  Trust the assessment and dig down to find out what motivates them to succeed.

Contact us if you want to learn more about how our assessments can drastically improve your sales hiring.

The Most Important Trait In An Interview

Trustworthiness.  It is true.  I have sat through many interviews where I simply did not trust, or believe, what the candidate was telling me.  The Harvard Business Review tip of the day quickly dissects this point.

The most important thing to get across in an interview is not that you are smart and motivated – it’s that you are trustworthy. Trustworthiness is the fundamental trait that people automatically look for in others. To be seen as trustworthy, you need to demonstrate warmth and competence. Warmth signals that you have good intentions, and competence signals that you can act on those good intentions. If you follow the usual interview advice and only focus on highlighting your competence, the interviewer may end up a bit wary of you. One way to project warmth and competence is by asking your interviewer questions. For example, you might show interest by asking, “So how did you come to be [current role] at [company]?” or “What are you currently working on?” The answers might reveal similarities in your background, experience, or goals, and help you connect.

How GPA’s Matter In Hiring

They don’t.  That is the conclusion from Google based on their own internal research.  Some info from the New York Times article:

“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation,” Bock said. “Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.

Mind you, this is research from inside Google – they know a thing or two about data analysis.  I’ve told many hiring companies that GPA’s just don’t matter in the real world, especially for sales hiring.  Give me a street savvy, strong qualifying salesperson any day over a book smart, ivory tower salesperson.  It is best to find candidates that fit both criteria, but GPA is not a reliable predictor of future success.

The feedback from Google’s research on the best strategy for successful hiring (emphasis mine):

Bock said it’s better to use questions like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.” He added: “The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable ‘meta’ information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.”

Yes, drill down is what we like to call it.  I believe it is the single most important interview skill – you must be able to drill down on responses to peel back the veneer and get to the core of the candidate’s response.

They Always Reference The Top Salesperson

I’ve encountered a common question in recent interviews which pertains to the current level of performance from the existing sales team.  This economy is wreaking havoc on many salespeople in terms of their commissions.  Sales candidates are aware of this situation and are diligently asking the question regarding where the current team is performing.  I find it to be a most appropriate question.

The problem often lies within the hiring manager’s response.  It is simply difficult to hide a grossly underperforming sales team.  If the economy is cratering their success, the problem is even more difficult to contain in an answer.  This usually leads to a pseudo-answer that deflects the question.

A prime example – I heard the question asking how the current sales team was performing.  The hiring manager offered this statement back, “Our company revenue is up 8% which isn’t as high as it was the previous year, but it is still growth in this economy.”  A clever answer that went unchallenged by the candidate.  Unfortunately, the company was surviving on existing business that had expanded – not on new customer growth which was the prime directive for this position.

Another common response is quoting the top performer.  “Our top salesperson made $(fill in the blank) last year.”  This is truly a deflection.  What if the other 19 salespeople were all well below quota?  That would tell the candidate more about the state of the sales team than referencing the top performer.

My preferred answer for a hiring manager is to provide a range of performance – our top tier made $X last year, our second tier made $X and our bottom tier made $X.  Some variable of that construction provides good data for the candidate without going too specific.  A strong sales candidate will pursue the information further to clarify it which is simply good qualifying in my opinion.

Interview Question Psychosis

Let me be honest, I have sat in on some interviews that were borderline psychotic.  Questions from left field, overt anger and emotions, lying responses that were easily observed…and those were the good ones.  In all seriousness, interviewing is difficult and being a good interviewer is even more challenging.  Most managers do not spend their time honing their interview skills.  This fact often leads to bizarre questions.  It also leads to bizarre question patterns.

Every year there seems to be a list of the oddest interview questions from the year – it is a guilty pleasure of mine to read them.  Perhaps you would enjoy the list also?  To whet your appetite for frivolity:

1. If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?

As a mathematically-challenged person, I find this question downright perverse and evil:

7. Out of 25 horses, pick the fastest 3 horses. In each race, only 5 horses can run at the same time. What is the minimum number of races required?

Same goes for this one:

15. You are in a dark room with no light. You have 19 grey socks and 25 black socks. What are the chances you will get a matching pair?

You get the idea.  There are strange ones in the list is you read the article.  My point in bringing this up is that many sales managers would scream if their salespeople went into a sales call without a plan, a strategy.  Yet many sales managers that I see go into an interview with the intent of simply rehashing a candidate’s work history and then deciding if they like him or her.  This is not a strategy.  And asking math word problems should not be a part of your interview process.

Gotcha Questions

Do you know what I mean by “gotcha questions?”  These are the questions designed to trap, trick or zap a candidate.  These types of questions are often used by interviewers who believe they need to “win” the interview.  I know it sounds odd and uncommon (I certainly hope it is), but I have sat through interviews where the gotcha questions have been asked.

Interview questions are a tricky sort.  Almost everyone enjoys reading interview questions in hope of discovering an effective one.  However, we incorporate assessments into our process which provides an x-ray of the candidate’s abilities, motivations, aptitudes, style, etc.  The power in this approach is that it identifies the specific areas to pursue with the candidate.

I view the questioning approach as having two important approaches.  First, ask questions to probe the candidate’s weaknesses.  For 10 year I have been in search of the perfect sales candidate.  I haven’t found them yet.  Instead, I look for candidates who have the right blend of abilities to succeed in the position’s unique requirements.  This includes asking questions specifically designed to expose some of their weaknesses.  How intense are they?  Are they detrimental to this position?  (not all are)  How does this weakness show up in their day-to-day selling activities?

I don’t use gotcha questions, but rather simply constructed, open-ended questions or statements.  This is the most effective manner to dig into these difficult to identify areas.

Second, I use questions to confirm the candidate’s strength areas.  The assessment measures a strength area, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the candidate is using that strength.  I like to pursue the topic with them to get a feel for their use of the strength.  I have seen salespeople with great strength areas that they choose not to access.  Sometimes this questioning approach gets overlooked.

Again, all of these tasks can be accomplished because we incorporate the assessment procedure early in our hiring process.

Keep It Clear

I have sat through some interviews which have been enlightening in terms of the struggles of hiring managers who do not hire often.  One of the blatant deficiencies I observed was this – a lack of good questions.  Is there anything more important than questions in interviewing an external candidate?  Even an internal candidate.

Here is one instance of what I observed – a rather inexperienced manager asked esoteric questions that left me scratching my head.  The candidate did a good job attempting to answer the question without embarrassing the hiring manager.  One question took almost 2 minutes for the hiring manager to ask!  The question included an analogy, an experience aspect and a hypothetical component…I think.

This interaction was a perfect example of the manager being too clever by half.

The most effective approach is to prepare for each candidate by writing down your questions for that candidate.  If your question takes more than 15-20 seconds to ask, cut it down.  If you choose to use an analogy, test it out on a coworker.  If they struggle with it, rework it (or scrap it).  The most effective questions are direct, succinct and open-ended.  Provide the candidate with the opportunity to navigate to the answer they would like to offer.  Pay attention to the topics they choose – there is much to discern in that information.

Impression Management

I am a psych major.  As my mother likes to say, “I’ve never met a psychologist who didn’t need their own services.”  Although I am not a psychologist, I get the gist of her commentary.

In that vein, I was revisiting some of my antiquated text books in search of a professional explanation for why “bad” sales candidates can often smoke good interviewers.  I give you self-presentation or impression management.  The definition from Social Psychology-Understanding Human Interaction by Baron and Byrne:

…they flatter others, pretend to agree with them about various issues, or feign great interest in what they are saying – all in an attempt to create a favorable first impression.  Not surprisingly, persons who are skilled in self-presentation often make better first impressions on others than persons who are less adept in this regard.

That sounds just about right, doesn’t it?  The real hook, in my opinion, comes from the next section:

While skillful self-presentation often involves tactics such as the ones listed above, it may also rest, to an important degree, on the effective use of nonverbal cues.  As we noted above, certain facial expressions, patterns of eye contact, and specific body postures or movements convey liking or positive reactions to others.  Persons who are successful at self-presentation seem to be well aware of this fact.  Thus, they often seek to manage such impressions by controlling their own nonverbal behavior.  While interacting with target persons (ones they wish to impress), they smile frequently, lean forward, maintain a high level of eye contact, and nod in agreement on many occasions.  The result:  they often succeed in producing positive first impressions.

Exactly.  This fact is why we use a system for selecting sales candidates that incorporates phone screens and objective assessments before we ever meet the candidate.  Bad salespeople, ones who couldn’t sell ice water in the desert, can sometimes have these deceptive abilities.

The more dangerous candidate is the one who is mired in mediocrity.  These candidates often have decent to strong self-presentation abilities but they lack the overall sales abilities to succeed in your position.  Think of a salesperson who cannot qualify money, who chases dead-end deals or who has a tremendous need for approval.  These are the salespeople who bog down sales teams with underwhelming results.

The Group Effect

My wife was at an interview last week for a medical position that is similar to her most current role.  She walked into the lobby to find 4 other candidates there.  They were all called in to a conference room by the HR person.  They were then asked questions individually and asked to answer in front of the other candidates!

The 5 of them were then asked to role play certain situations while the rest observed.  Finally, they were given a tour of the clinic and then had to provide their own tour to a staff person.  The point, I guess, was to see how they handled prospective patient visits.

Suffice to say, I was laughing my way through the story as she told me later that evening.  But what of this?  What is the purpose for running a group interview?  Personally, I have never heard of such an approach.  The HR person was quite young and perhaps only a handful of years removed from college.  My wife was offput by the fact that she was not provided the opportunity to ask questions of the hiring manager regarding the position or the company.  Her characterization of the entire experience was that it was more like a silly game than a professional interview.

I personally think this was some textbook theory that sounds “progressive” in college but fails in the real world.  My experienced wife was not impressed.  In fact, she was laughing about the comical nature of the entire event.  She has shared her experience throughout much of her network (to their great delight).

I appreciate new approaches, but I find this one to be a bridge too far.

Introverts Make Great Salespeople

You heard me right, that is an indirect quote from this Inc.com article.  This topic comes up often in our sales hiring activities as the conventional wisdom is that extroverts make better salespeople.  Not true.  Successful salespeople have a wide variety of abilities that go far beyond their communication style.  And that is the point here, introvert/extrovert is more of a communication style than anything else.  It is important to know a salesperson’s style, but it is not predictive of sales success.

Here is some excellent advice from the article (emphasis mine):

“When selling as an introvert, use your abilities as a good researcher to really know audience, know what matters to them, and figure out a product match before you go in. You’ll be meeting with people, so rest up before social interactions with those you are selling to or speaking in front of. Prepare and practice because as an introvert you will think before you speak – as opposed to extroverts who speak as they think. So having a few lines ready, or thoughts composed in advance will be beneficial. Rest, prepare and practice is the magic formula because of the way introverts are wired.”

Extroverts need to start talking to get to their point.  Introverts have to think of their response before they speak.  This point is never more obvious than when you are interviewing sales candidates.  When I sit in on interviews with my customers, I always make sure to tell them if the candidate is more extroverted or introverted.

My experience is this – an introverted hiring manager will be unimpressed by an extroverted sales candidate in terms of communication.  The hiring manager has a tendency to comment on the candidate’s rambling answers, long-windedness and tangential topics.  At this point I explain that the candidate is extroverted and needs to start talking to get to his or her response.  If they are strongly extroverted, they will have to rev up their answer a bit before delivering the point.  This isn’t necessarily a weakness, it is simply a style issue.

I have seen a recent rise of the introvert in one key sales area – relationship selling.  The reason is this:

Introverts do well with deep relationships and conversations rather than chit-chat.

If you have a relatively long or extended sales cycle, an introverted selling style is probably a more natural fit for your sale’s requirements.  As sales move away from one-call closes and on to relationship-based deals, introverts will play a prominent part in a sales team’s success.