“It Doesn’t Sound Like You’re a Top Performer”

One way to find out how an applicant will perform under pressure is to enter a bit of pressure in the interview.

So, how would you do that?

You could discuss the position for awhile, get some good back and forth going, ask what qualities the applicant brings, how they might handle various situations and then say:

“Well, Frank, it doesn’t sound like you’re a top performer.”

And then just sit there patiently and say nothing. Just wait.

At some point, Frank is going to respond. Here are two possible responses:

“Well, I appreciate you taking the time to interview me. I guess I’ll leave now.”

“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, but I believe I am, and if you give me a chance, I’ll do everything I can to convince you. And frankly, I know I can convince you.”

There are, of course, several other possible responses. Each one is giving you an insight into your applicant.

The two ends of the spectrum are:

Frank believes he has the goods and is determined to convince you of that.

Frank just gives up and leaves.

And there will be other responses in between those two.

What if Frank gets upset or aggressive?

I’m thinking he’s not your guy.

Sometimes entering a little pressure in the interview will give you an insight on how your applicant will respond to future pressure in your workplace.

How Would Your Previous Employers Rate Your Performance?

This is an interesting question to ask applicants. Asking this may not get what the previous employers would actually say, but it gives an interesting perspective on the applicant in front of you.

It could go like this:

“Alice, in looking over your résumé, your three previous employers were Acme Industries, AAA Insurance and Lehigh Construction. Let’s talk briefly about Acme Industries. How would your supervisor rate your performance there?”

After Alice answers, get her to elaborate some. Ask her how would her supervisor rate her performance as a team player; how would she rate her competence; how well she got along with others; how well she aligned with the goals of the company.

You can see where I’m going here. What are the different areas or qualities that are important to you? Once you ask the general question of how would your supervisor at Company X rate your performance, break it down into the different qualities and competencies that you are looking for.

Then move on to AAA Insurance and Lehigh Construction.

This is a bit of a two-fold approach: 1) you’re looking for your applicant’s perspective on how they were viewed by their supervisor and 2) you’re likely to get a fairly honest answer. The applicant doesn’t know if you’ll be contacting their previous supervisor or not, so they’ll want to stay as close to the actual scene as they can.

Now you may get an answer like: “Well, my supervisor at Acme Industries hated me. He gave me assignments he knew I couldn’t complete in the time given. He made me stay overtime and I rarely got paid for the overtime. He criticized how I dressed. It was a horrible scene.”

But, more than likely, you’ll get some really good insights into your applicant. It may take some time, covering three previous employers and several specific performance areas, but it could very well be worth your time.

Don’t Get Too Attached

I recall a client who needed to hire a new front desk person. This was a key hire as the front desk person handled all of the incoming calls and walk-ins. This person could make or break my client’s business, so it was a very important hire.

Now, this tip may sound like a commercial for my company’s testing service — and that wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it? — but I am also looking to make a point about the hiring process.

We provide three tests: a disarmingly accurate personality test; an IQ test, measuring problem-solving skills; and an Aptitude test, measuring one’s ability to follow written and verbal instructions.

The first person tested was not a big hit with the client.

The second person, however, was a huge hit. My client calls and can’t contain himself: “I love this guy.”

However, the Aptitude test score was very low.

So I told my client what I tell all of them: “I’m not here to tell who you should or shouldn’t hire. But the very low Aptitude test score does indicate this person will have difficulty following instructions. It’s your decision, but it’s important you know what the test scores reveal.” I said quite a bit more, but that was the gist of it.

I asked what he wanted to do. He got real quiet and finally said, “I don’t know. I’ll get back to ya.”

A few days goes by and another set of test scores come in.

My client calls and his first words are: “I love this guy!” I look over the test scores and they’re in good shape. We discuss the scores for a bit and he’s going to hire this person and is very happy to do so.

I asked my client if he had not been using our tests, would he have hired the person before this. Without hesitation, he said, “Yes!”

But he added this:

“Actually, Stan, it’s more than that. The guy from a couple of days ago, well, I ran into his previous employer and all he would talk about was the guy’s difficulties with following instructions!”

So, he was quite attached to the second person he interviewed and tested, but ended up hiring someone else because a key bit of information became available to him.

The point of this tip is simply this: you may find yourself in love with a particular applicant. And of course that person may very well be THE correct hire for you. But it can’t hurt to do a bit more interviewing, a bit more searching for that right person.

Yes, it’s more time expended, but you a) may find you’ve now located an even better hire and b) you may find someone (or several someones) you can note as possible future hires. You do have a notebook or a place to record those people, right?

Anyway, there you have it. You can head to Vegas and get that immediate wedding without any kind of wait period, or you can hang in there a bit and make sure you’ve got the right person.

Take Me Through Your Résumé

Here’s an interesting approach to an interview.

You and the applicant both have a copy of the résumé. Ask her to walk you through it.

The applicant might not grasp immediately what you’re asking of her, so you might say this:

“Alice, you’ve got a number of items here on your résumé. I’d like you to expound on the important ones. We obviously don’t need to cover the basic points: contact information, that type of thing, but, as an example, for each previous company you’ve listed, tell me what you did there, what you liked and didn’t like about working there, things like that.”

And when Alice does that with each company listed, move on to her qualifications and skills:

“You’ve got three different skills mentioned here, Alice. Tell me what you can about each skill. How did you accomplish them? How did you utilize each one in previous positions? How would you utilize them here?”

When finished with skills, look over the résumé and see what else is there you can have Alice discuss in some depth. Are there interests or passions that you’d like to know more about?

This tip is a nice guideline to help you learn a good deal more about your applicant. Which of course reminds me of our basic premise:

The More You Know About Someone BEFORE You Hire Them,
The Better Your Hiring Decision Will Be

What Skills, Knowledge and Personality Traits Are Needed For Each Position?

In addition to the skills that are required for a particular position, what knowledge and personality traits are needed?

Let’s look at the skills that would be needed for an Office Manager:

• The ability to manage others.

• The ability to assign specific tasks within certain time requirements and the ability to follow up to ensure the tasks are executed.

• The ability to observe what’s happening in the work environment and to take action, delegate and ensure things get done quickly and efficiently.

There are other skills but let’s take a look at the knowledge that’s required:

• An Office Manager of course needs to know what a smoothly running office looks like.

• She should have a good knowledge of what each position beneath her does and how each individual contributes to the overall scene.

• She should know how to utilize each individual to get the most out of each and so that they “stay in their lanes.” In other words, a good Office Manager doesn’t have Mary do things that Tom should be doing. This may be necessary in time crunches, but overall, having people do THEIR jobs and not someone else’s is important for an Office Manager to know and respect.

What about the personality requirements for a position? For the Office Manager, ideally the person:

• Should be able to get along well with others. Not necessarily to be everyone’s friend, but certainly should have genuine affinity and empathy for the staff.

• Be able to communicate VERY well. This includes giving and receiving communication. Some Office Managers excel at “giving out communication” or issuing orders, but are poor in receiving or allowing communication FROM the staff. This is a major weakness. If the staff can easily communicate their observations, difficulties and suggestions to the Office Manager — and ideally if this is even welcomed — you have a far more effective Office Manager.

• Patience. An Office Manager often needs things done right away, especially if there are customers (or patients) making their way through the workspace. But an impatient Office Manager will actually make it more difficult for the staff to get things done in the long run. They’ll be more likely to just “get it done” then learn new and more efficient ways to carry out day-to-day tasks.

Who would you rather work for? Someone impatient and for the most part demanding that you get things done? Or someone who, yes, does need and want things done in a timely fashion, but is also willing to help you through your mistakes and shortcomings so that you get better at your job?

I just broke the surface for skills, knowledge and personality traits. There are of course others and they are going to vary for each position.

Put together a list of the skills, knowledge and personality traits needed for each key position in your company. Then compile questions that will help you determine if your applicants have these qualities. Take these questions with you to the interview.

This approach will help you get past the “fluff” and get a much needed objective look at your applicants.

Practice, Practice, Practice

This tip applies more to someone who is just getting started doing interviews. But it could also be helpful to the seasoned interviewer.

The best musicians practice.

The best professional athletes practice.

Smart businessmen and women practice a presentation before they deliver it.

When it comes to musicians and athletes, they’ll likely spend thousands of hours over a lifetime practicing their craft.

The best kind of practice increases confidence and competence.

How would an interviewer practice?

I would sit down with her and have her ask me the first interview question. I would then give a simple and proper answer.

I would then have the interviewer ask the question again.

This time I would avoid answering the question. Perhaps I’d give a partial answer, but it really wouldn’t be a full and proper answer.

Now I want to see how the interviewer responds.

Does she get a bit thrown?

Can she skillfully get the applicant to answer the question?

Does she not even recognize that the question wasn’t properly answered?

I would stay on this question until the interviewer could easily and comfortably get a complete answer. If that means having the interviewer do this ten different times, that’s fine. That’s absolutely fine. The entire purpose of practicing a skill is to gain a comfort and competence applying that skill. Give the interviewer some really tough situations to handle, but don’t go overboard. Keep things realistic within an interview framework.

While doing this, I would make sure that I acknowledged the interviewer when she did something well. The purpose here is not to nit-pick the interviewer into competence. You want the interviewer to acquire an ease in interviewing that can be applied to any applicant. Acknowledging the interviewer when she does something well will help you get there.

Take the time to go through the entire interview process. Practice each question and each part of the interview over and over until the interviewer achieves a comfort and competence with each question which will lead to a comfort and competence with the entire interview.

Can They Improve Things Around Them?

We’ve got employees who come to work to do their job and if things aren’t going quite right around them, they’re inclined to keep themselves focused on their own work and their own workspace.

And then we have the employee who can’t keep his nose out of everybody’s business.

“Oh, Frank, don’t you think you should tell the boss about that?”

“Mary, are you sure you want to use a dark green on that promotional piece? Wouldn’t olive be a better choice?”

“Going home early, Alex? Trouble with the wife?”

And then there’s Alice, who does concentrate on her own work, but also has an eye out to help those around her.

Perhaps a fellow employee is struggling with something and Alice asks if she can lend a hand.

Or Fred, the supervisor, is having a bad day and Alice works extra hard and puts a little overtime in to help take some of the pressure off of Fred.

Or a customer seems confused and, even though it’s not Alice’s job to work directly with customers, she comes over and sees what she can do to help out.

If you can fill your company with hard-working, competent staff who ALSO look to improve things around them, that would be good, right?

So how would you determine this in the interview?

Well, some simple, direct questions should work:

“Bill, in your previous positions, in addition to doing your own job, what did you do to improve things around you?”

“Jill, are you determined to just do your job and stay out of everybody else’s business, or are you also inclined to see how you could help fellow employees?” If Jill is inclined to be helpful outside of her immediate sphere, ask her how she would go about this.

As with many of these hiring tips, watch closely how the person is answering your questions. How easily the person answers is almost as important as the answer itself. When a person fumbles around for an answer, they are often giving you a clue they lack familiarity or experience with what you’re discussing.

Look for employees who are focused on doing a great job but also care enough to want to improve things around them. Without being a nuisance, of course. It’s a bit of a juggling act, but the ones who can do this skillfully can be real assets for you.

You Are Hiring Them, Not Their Skills

You are of course looking for skilled individuals to fill skilled positions.

You want people who know what they’re supposed to do, who are attentive to the details of what is needed and wanted, who know how to problem solve situations as they come up, and who can and do produce a valuable product.

That product could be a professionally delivered dental procedure.

It could be a properly sold prospect.

An overdue bill collected.

These are things that get produced in a business that require skill.

If you could hire a highly skilled person and not spend (lose) time training them, that’s ideal, right?

And of course it is.

But you are always hiring a person, not a set of skills. I realize that may sound a bit flaky, but have you ever had an employee who was great at what he did, but was also rough on the other employees? Who perhaps caused upsets from time to time with customers? Who didn’t respect their supervisor (or the boss)?

And you often considered what life would be like WITHOUT this person there? Would things go smoother? Would productivity overall be improved or was this person’s contributions to the bottom line so vital that he just had to be there?

And did you enjoy the stress of trying to figure this out?

I think you know what I mean.

Ideally you have the best of both worlds. You have a highly skilled employee who not only gets along with everyone, they bring out the best of those around him.

When you’re in the hiring process and you sense the person with great skills ALSO may bring a negative influence to your team, take a pause. Can you hang in there and keep looking for that more ideal individual? If you can, you may save yourself a ton of heartache and difficulty down the road.

I realize this is not always an easy call to make. Sometimes the position just needs filling. I’m just looking to add a bit of perspective that may help you with these decisions.

Can They Adapt?

Here’a two definitions of the word adapt:

“To gradually change your behavior and attitudes in order to be successful in a new situation.”


“To change something to make it suitable for a different purpose.”

In the first definition the person is changing something about himself. In the second definition he is changing something in the environment.

Either way, being able to adapt to changing conditions in the workplace is a trait worth looking for.

You could ask a very basic question of the applicant:

What does it mean to be able to adapt in the workplace?

A follow-up question could be:

In your last few positions, give me a couple of examples of how you adapted to changes in the workplace.

And one more:

In your last few positions, give me a couple of examples of how you adapted the workplace to make it function better.

Of course, feel free to drill down some if the applicant gives only partial answers.

How your applicant can adapt and how he can adapt things around him are worthwhile subjects to address in the interview.

Reference Checks — Some Dos and Some Don’ts

I am not an attorney and this tip is not to be construed as legal advice. But a few pointers can be offered here.

The laws concerning reference checks vary from state to state.

Depending on when you are reading this, there are some states without any restrictions on what you can ask or disclose on reference checks. Well, there are the obvious subjects to avoid: race, religion, age and other subjects that are considered a protected class.

In a number of states, you can only ask or disclose information on job performance.

In some states, you can ask or disclose information on:

• Job performance
• Reasons for termination or separation
• Knowledge, qualifications, skills, or abilities

HR people generally know the rules and the laws involved with checking references. This tip is mainly for business owners who want to be involved with the hiring process.

One obvious recommendation for business owners is to find out what your state’s specific laws are on reference checks and act accordingly.

Another recommendation is to ask your applicant for their permission and to get the contact information of those they want you to speak to. If they are still employed at Company X and you call them for a reference check, you may get them fired.

Job performance is by far the most allowed subject for discussion from state to state, so here are some possible questions:

How would you rate (applicant’s) job performance at your company?

How would you rate (applicant’s) (insert quality here: ability to work with other employees, communication skills, ability to solve problems, etc.)?

In terms of job performance, what do you feel (applicant) could most improve upon?

What would you say (applicant’s) top contribution was for your company?

Again, I want to say this tip is not offered as legal advice. If you’re a business owner and you want to do reference checks AND you have an HR department, get with them to make sure you’re staying on the right side of the law. If you don’t have an HR department, or your HR people have any uncertainties on this subject, then get some legal advice.

When you know exactly what you can (and can’t) do with regards to references and your particular location, then roll up your sleeves and get some really good questions asked and answered.

Remember our motto:

The more you know about someone BEFORE you hire them, the better your hiring decision will be.

[This tip was inspired by a post by FitsSmallBusiness.com]

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