Mr. Manager, Are You Ready for the Interview?: The Innovators

All reports coming out so far are saying that 2011 is the return of brisk hiring. Whether it's unbridled optimism or insight into business hiring plans, there are millions who will be looking for jobs. But how are companies preparing for the task? A job interview is a two-way conversation, or should be. As such, both parties need to be prepared.

With all of the layoffs of the past years, no doubt a lot of your candidates will come in armed with the latest outplacement service advice on prepping for typical interview questions. This, together with all of the whiz-bang resume software templates available, can make all but the worst Jerry Springer guest look good.

Don't be fooled. There are lots of cons, losers, and deadbeats masquerading as "potential talent" -- your job is to weed 'em out before they ever get on the payroll.

The best way to do this is to prepare. Do your homework. Structure the right questions. Make sure the interview reveals and not conceals the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Here's how:

Know What You Want and Ask What You Really Want to Know

It's easy to spot the technical skills needed to perform the task, but what about values, ethics, personality, communications, attitude, demeanor, etc.? The soft skills are the hardest to learn and to teach. That's why people skills are taught over time from childhood. If a candidate doesn't have it, you can't teach it and still keep a profitable enterprise going.

Without getting into the decline in education and parental upbringing, suffice it to say you can't wish an applicant were more respectful, civil, disciplined, or possesses a strong work ethic and sense of right and wrong by the time he or she is gets across the desk from you. If you don't see what you're looking for in soft skills they won't obtain them after being hired.

Ask questions that are open-ended. These are questions that demand serious thought, contemplation, and reflection, not, snappy, spiffy comeback answers that are practiced over and over.

Ask questions like "Have you ever succeeded with a difficult project? Tell me about it." Or "What's the best advice that you remember to this day?" and "Why do you want to work here instead of somewhere else?" I've covered these and other questions in my book Keeping The Very BEST, but the idea is to get away from the expected and ask the unexpected to reveal the skills you really want. The right questions can be pure magic in separating the winners from the losers.

Pay Attention and Use a Team Approach

Don't just listen to the answers, look at the candidate. Body language, roaming eyes, constant fidgeting -- all signs of discomfort. Now is the discomfort simply from nervousness over the interview or signs of lying. No one talks about this, but candidates do lie. They do make things up. They're human and, as such, can succumb to bad things. So how do you know?

Standardize some favorite questions or at least areas of interest in applicants. Line up other managers, supervisors or highly respected employees to interview the applicant and ask similar questions. Take notes and compare notes. Are the pictures consistent or are there too many conflicts? While this isn't a criminal interrogation, it is an attempt to ensure you're not wasting time on someone who just isn't a fit for your team.

Clear your schedule far enough in advance to prepare for the interviews. Make sure you are not interrupted. Focus on asking, listening and looking at each candidate, not thinking about what else you could be doing.

Don't Forget the Older Workers

Today's workers don't know how to work.

Today's employees don't know how to speak to customers.

Today's hires don't have basic etiquette or common courtesies.

These are just three of the comments I often hear -- and observe -- in the marketplace. So widen your horizons when it comes to the talent pool to be considered.

Sadly there are many workers who were laid off and are in there 50s who bring a great deal to the table when it comes to work force excellence. First of all, thanks to the ubiquitous layoff, they're always in great supply. While they may lack advanced computer skills or heavy lifting abilities, there are significant benefits these able-bodied, talent pool members bring.

12 Reasons to Consider Older Job Applicants
  • 1. Experience from other settings, often best practices;
  • 2. Knowledge of applications, industries, and markets that come only with age;
  • 3. Courtesy and etiquette to deal with customers;
  • 4. Financial stability of dependable cars, homes, families, etc. ;
  • 5. Maturity that precludes many of the distractions younger workers face;
  • 6. A work ethic often unseen in younger workers;
  • 7. Respect for authority and an ability to both follow directions and think on-their feet;
  • 8. Commitment to show up to work on sunny days, weekends, and even if they're not feeling quite up-to-snuff;
  • 9. Relationship, sales, and operational skills that can only be gained over years of success and failure;
  • 10. A desire to make their mark and stay a long time with an employer;
  • 11. Focus on task achievement rather than ladder climbing;
  • 12. Settled lives.

Beware of generalities and don't be in such a hurry that you overlook anyone regardless of their age.

There is nothing more important to ensuring your enterprise's success and nothing more significant to establishing your professional reputation than having a track record of getting the right people in the right positions to do the right things. Take the time and be prepared for that next round of interviews.

And remember, it's better to weed out the losers before they cost time, money and morale.

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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