Interview With Suzanne Kelly — 1

Today’s hiring tip is a bit different from our usual tips. We have a wonderful and very capable guest on the Hiring Tips podcast, Suzanne Kelly.

For over twenty years, Suzanne has been working with leaders, management teams and business owners to help them bring the best possible people on board.

Suzanne’s area of expertise is in reference checks. If you do not use reference checks or you’re only doing cursory reference checks, give these shows a listen. This is the first of three shows with Suzanne.

Suzanne can be reached at:


What Have You Done to Become More Effective?

When it comes to improving one’s craft as a salesperson, or as someone doing collections, as an administrator, office manager or even as a waitress, what are the possibilities?

Well, some folks do essentially nothing. They wait for their current employer to give them additional training.

And there are some when they go through this additional training, don’t really take advantage of it. Their intention to improve their skill isn’t really there. This individual isn’t aspiring to become more effective. They are fine on “getting by.”

And then we have the person who does utilize this additional training to get better at what they do. They look forward to this training and are very focused on getting the most out of it.

But there’s one last category here. This is the person who doesn’t wait for the company’s additional training. They are reading books, taking online courses, signing up for night classes at local colleges with one burning desire in mind. To become more effective. To get better at what they do.

This individual may also be looking to learn new skills. To take on new and more rewarding positions in the workplace.

They may take this pro-active approach to more training to have more leverage when asking for a raise.

They may want to be more effective because they care about making the company overall more effective.

They may just have it in their bones to always be learning how to do things better, to be more productive, to be more successful.

Your applicant falls somewhere in this spectrum of just getting by to continually working on ways to improve their skills.

Asking the question, “what have you done to be become more effective?” along with some digging, should let you know where.

And that’s a nice nugget of insight into the person in front of you.

How Much Money Are You Making?

I should mention right at the beginning that in some areas an employer cannot ask an applicant about their current or former salary. So, please check first in your area to ensure there are no restrictions on this. Otherwise, it’s a very good tip, so here we go.

If the amount of money you’re offering isn’t anywhere near what an applicant needs to come on board, then going through the entire hiring process will of course be a waste of time for both parties.

How does one determine this and how soon in the process should one bring it up?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to bring it up very early on. You could even bring it up in a telephone interview. A simple question is:

“How much money are you making?”

Some applicants fudge their earnings, so it might be helpful to add ahead of time, “we do want to offer a fair salary to everyone but we know some might pad their earnings a bit, so we should tell you upfront we do check references and salary history.”

And then:

“How much money are you making?”

If you decide to ask this question on the phone and their salary needs are in the ballpark of what you can offer, this is good to know early on. However, the phone interview is not a good place to negotiate salary.

Okay, the amount of money the person needs is not close to what you’re offering. The main point of this tip is not to consume valuable hiring time only to find out he’s not a viable candidate.

However, what if YOU are so confident in your ability to promote your company, promote the position and promote all of the exciting possibilities of working with you that the salary the applicant needs can be shifted down?

I can’t argue with confidence. If you feel you can sell your side of things to bring about a compromise in the salary, go for it. But if you’re not confident — and I’m not judging here — it’s probably a better use of your time to talk to applicants that are in your salary offering range.

What Motivates You To Come Into Work?

An interesting question.

What motivates us to come into work?

Some of us, perhaps many of us, come to work each day to get a paycheck. We’re happy to be employed; we’re grateful for the opportunity; but we need the funds to live and take care of ourselves and possibly others. And that’s our primary reason for coming to work each day.

And of course there’s nothing wrong with that. Survival is a fact of life. But is there something more?

Some of us love what we do and that we are providing a helpful service or product to others.

Some of us love to be challenged by our work.

Some of us place great importance on the friendships that evolve in a workplace and we look forward to seeing our friends each day.

Some of us are curious as to what each day will bring. What will I learn that’s new today? Will I meet a very interesting person? Will I be asked to do something I’ve never done before?

The question “what motivates you to come into work?” could produce some very interesting answers.

You could also go as far as asking the applicant, “What kind of work situation would excite you about coming into work each day?”

I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know when I say the more motivated your staff are to deliver great service and work hard to help the business succeed, the more successful the business will be.

So, asking about motivation is one way to find out just what kind of employee you’ll have.

The applicant may give you a “practiced” response, but you’ll know by just observing how they answer. Do they have a sparkle in their eyes? Are they displaying some genuine passion when they answer?

Let’s find out.

The 80/20 Rule and the Hiring Interview

The 80/20 rule has had various applications in business. Some examples:

80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. In other words, 20% of your customers end up, over time, providing 80% of your revenue.

80% of your results in marketing comes from 20% of the methods used. If your promotion uses five different methods, it’s not unusual for one of the five methods to generate the most income.

80% of your sales are produced by 20% of your salesforce. I’ve seen this quite often.

These are of course not hard and fast rules. But sometimes this 80/20 rule does pan out. So how could this be applied to the hiring interview?

I would suggest you, the interviewer, spend 20% of the interview time talking and let your applicant use 80% of the time.

The problem is: some interviewers like to editorialize or comment in depth on an applicant’s answers. While that can be valuable in establishing rapport, you’re really there to find out as much as you can from the person who soon may be a part of your team.

If you ask an open-ended question such as “tell me about a very difficult project you had to deal with” and your applicant seems to only partially respond, ask for more details. Ask additional questions regarding this difficult project:

“On this project, how would you gauge the help you received from co-workers and your supervisor?”

“How would you approach a difficult project like this in the future?”

And of course ask for more details on these additional questions if you feel the applicant could be more forthcoming.

Back to the main point of this tip. Focus your time in the interview on acquiring insights into your prospective employee. The more time you allocate to the applicant, the more you’re going to find out. That’s pretty simple math, right?

Demanding Manager?

It’s probably not a stretch to say we’ve all worked with a demanding manager at some point. Perhaps several. From a hiring perspective, it would be good to know how an applicant dealt with this kind of thing.

A starting point could be:

“Frank, describe the most demanding manager you’ve worked with and how you dealt with this.”

Some applicants may be a bit reserved in fully communicating on this. They may be hesitant to speak unkindly about previous managers. So you might need to add:

“Frank, please give me the full scoop here. I am aware that some people can be very demanding, and in some cases overly so. I’m mainly interested in how this affected you and how you dealt with this kind of situation.”

Your applicant answers and gives you some details. If you feel he’s holding back, urge her to give you a couple of specific instances of how the manager was demanding and what he did each time.

There are probably a few different ways to deal with very demanding managers:

• Avoid them.

• Placate them.

• Go a little crazy inside but try to do everything the manager demands, no matter what.

• Go over their head and lodge a complaint.

See if you can zero in on how your applicant dealt with a demanding manager. And if they felt their approach was wrong or got them in trouble, see if they would revise their approach going forward.

If I haven’t said it before — about 100 times — the more you know about someone BEFORE you hire them, the better your hiring decision will be. Knowing how an applicant dealt with very demanding managers should give you some good insights into your applicant. Even if your team hasn’t anyone like that.

If You Didn’t Have To Work At All…

This is an interesting question to ask an applicant:

“If you didn’t have to work at all, what would you do?”

You could break this down into two different scenarios. I’m sure you can come up with others, but here are two:

“Frank, you have money coming in every month for the rest of your life, enough to cover all of your bills and and some good extra spending money, and you don’t have to work, what would you do?”

“Frank, you have 10 million dollars in the bank and you don’t have to work, what would you do?”

You may have to stress to the applicant that they really do NOT have to work. No financial stress. What would they do?

You might get answers like:

“Write a book.”

“Do some humanitarian work.”

“Start a company.”

“Travel the world.”

“I’d likely get bored, so I’d get a job regardless of being financially secure.”

“Learn to paint, play the piano, take acting lessons.”

I’m not sure there are any right or wrong answers here, but I’d like to hear that the applicant wants to be productive in some way.

If they’ve got 10 million in the bank and they want to donate it all to charitable causes and then go back to work, that sounds interesting.

If they have a passion to start a company of their own and they can tell you what this company would do and how they’d get it off the ground, that’s also an interesting answer.

I haven’t anything against traveling around the world or reading every romance novel ever written. And if someone wants to be a famous actor and this is their chance, I guess that’s okay, too.

But if they want to be productive, and this is their chance to be productive in a way they get to choose, that sounds better to me.

How your applicant answers might give you a clue to how productive they may be with you.

Will They Ask For Advice?

When I was five years old, I reached up to touch the stove curious what was up there. I screamed in pain when my fingers were scorched, and I realized that was probably not worth repeating.

The physical universe has a way of teaching us a lesson here and there.

Our parents were also around to advise us along the way. Some of us heeded their advice; some of us not so much.

And when we got into the workplace, we did our best to learn on the job. We kept our eyes open and paid attention to what seemed to work.

But what if we got into situations we didn’t know how to deal with? Did we hope for the best and do whatever came to mind? Or did we ask for advice?

Advice is a curious thing. When should one ask? How often? Is it a sign of weakness to ask for advice? Do we not ask because we don’t want to bother our co-workers or supervisor?

In interviewing prospective employees, finding out how they operate with regards to advice could be revealing.

Here is how it could go:

“Frank, when is it a good time to ask for advice?”

Frank answers and then:

“Good to know, Frank. Let’s say your supervisor is getting a bit irritated about how often you’re asking for advice, but you really need to know how to handle a particular situation, what do you do?”

Frank may say he’ll stop asking if his supervisor is getting irritated. Or he may say he’ll risk his supervisor throwing the stapler at him, that getting the work task done right is more important to him.

If you’re hiring for a position that is very detail oriented and you need someone who knows these details cold, then you’ll probably want someone with no issues asking for advice. Ideally he’s well trained ahead of time, but you can also encourage a newly hired employee to ask away and not worry about asking too often.

Discussing this kind of thing with applicants can turn up some interesting viewpoints. And depending on the position you want filled, what you learn can be very helpful in making a decision.

How Do You Plan Your Day?

Now that’s a simple, direct question to ask.

Some may answer they don’t really plan the day at all. They let things come to them. They’re easy-going. They take the approach that whatever’s important will present itself at the right time. They either went to Woodstock or wished they had. Okay, scratch that last remark.

It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker that someone doesn’t plan out their day, but from a work perspective, a decent grip on time management is almost always a plus.

So let’s move on to the applicant that does plan out their day. Do they separate the important from the not-so-important and then focus on getting the important things done?

Do they review the activities of the previous day?

And with that in mind, do they keep a running record of key things that need to be completed? Or do they leave yesterday’s incomplete activities in yesterday and just start with a fresh slate each day?

Do they plan their day in writing or do they just keep a mental record of things?

Some positions handle a great deal of varied activity; some handle the same few tasks throughout the day. The more activities the person needs to carry out directly or supervise, the more likely the qualities of a “good planner” would be beneficial.

This one question can branch off into a nice discussion for you. You can learn a fair amount from an applicant in how they plan out their day.

Take The Interview Out of the Office

It goes without saying that the purpose of the hiring interview is to find out if your applicant is the right person for your company and for the position you need filled.

Your standard interview is going to take place in the office and you’ll learn all kinds of things about your applicant in that setting. But let’s go a step further and take the interview out of the office and see what else we can find out.

Take the applicant for a walk around your business. Introduce her to some of your staff and ask her some of your interview questions along the way. See how she interacts with your staff. You might even ask a couple of your staff ahead of time to use this brief intro to “challenge” the applicant. Here are a couple of examples:

One of your staff could say, “you’re not seriously considering working here?!” The applicant will likely take that in jest but observing their reaction could be interesting. Or an employee could speak directly to you (the person taking the applicant for the walk-around), “you know, we’re fully staffed in this area. We really do not need any excess personnel.” Again, observing how your applicant reacts to this could be interesting.

You could also take your applicant out to a nearby restaurant and conduct the interview there. Something as small as how the applicant treats the waitress could be revealing.

How your applicant interacts with others outside of the routine interview environment could give you some insights you might not otherwise obtain. Try it out a few times and see how it works for you.

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