The company in our shared office were recently in the process of hiring a new salesman. As the interview process wore on and potential candidates came and went, I asked the person hiring, what he was looking for in his candidate. He said “the guy should have a flair for sales,” experience in the industry, be independent, driven and have a little bit of technical knowledge – though not essential. As I witnessed the array of potential employee’s coming in for interviews and noted how they interacted with people in the office prior to and after the interview, my brain shot back to an idea I’ve puzzled over for a while. An alternative method for hiring.
Is it a yay, or is it a neigh
I strongly believe the traditional hiring process – submit an initial application, get invited for an initial interview, maybe a few follow ups, and then a yay or neigh – is flawed. You just can’t get a proper sense of the person you’re hiring through a series of questions, in a false environment where neither the interviewer or interviewee is truly themselves. As an interviewee you’re trying to put your best foot forward the whole time. Your head is a mix of ongoing calculations: what does this person want to hear as an answer to that question. This is especially true for first time jobs or high pressure applications where there is a lot on the line.
Finding the right type of person
James Clear (author of Micro Habits), writes about how your habits shape your identity. His method for establishing new habits is based on the premise that you need to become the type of person whose habits reflect their personality.
That’s a difficult one to wrap your head around. Here’s an example to illustrate: if you want to establish healthy eating habits, think to yourself, who is the type of person who eats healthily? They’re probably someone who only buys healthy groceries.
Your outlook has changed from outcomes-based – I want to eat healthily – to systems-based – I only buy healthy groceries.
The same principle should apply in hiring. Who is the type of person who will succeed in the role, and how do I, as the interviewer, peel back the false layers and uncover who that person is.
Peeling back the layers
This is what I think: you put them in unusual situations and note their responses. I would design the interview process so that, through careful observation and precisely planned situations and interactions, the characteristics you’re looking for in a person are revealed.
What would this process look like?
First, the same way a company identifies an ideal customer profile, I’d create an ideal employee profile.
Some questions I’d ask myself in this process (Assume we’re hiring a salesperson):
- What is the purpose of hiring this employee? To grow revenue.
- Will the employee operate mostly supervised or mostly by themselves? Mostly by themselves.
- Will the employee work mostly with people, or will they be mostly in the background? People interactions are very important.
- Will the employee be more free-willed or more conscientious? A good balance of both.
Here are some personality traits that match up with those specific questions:
- Drive and motivation for success.
- Introverted or extroverted. Agreeableness. Modesty (Yes, modesty). Perceptiveness. Resilience. Persistence.
- Conscientiousness. Inquisitiveness.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor the comprehensive guide to hiring a salesperson. It is just an illustrative example.
So, how do we go about uncovering those traits. Is it a case of; “What is your work ethic like?” Fuck no. No non-self-deprecating person is going to answer that with “Meh – its okay”.
So, what then?
See how they respond to situations, not questions
I would design certain situations where the person has to make quick, instinct-based reactions to things they are presented with.
For example: take them for a drive, let them drive the car, and without being obvious you are watching them, see what their interaction with the homeless person at the traffic light is like. Do they drive aggressively or conservatively? Do they take an orange light, or wait for the next green? Ask them to make a quick turn, acting as if you made a mistake with the directions, and see how they change lanes. Did they act first and then check for traffic, or did they check and only go when it was safe? These are all small examples which illustrate micro-traits of people.
Another example could be if they come into the office to answer a few inevitable interview questions. Did they great the cleaner on the way in? How did they treat the security guard who made them sign in to office block? Were they eager to meet other people in the office, or did they put their head down and make a bee-line for the interview room?
During the interview, was there an effort made to really listen and understand what you were saying, or was it listening only so they could respond.
Criticize something they have listed as a skill harshly. “Interesting that you list you were deputy head boy in high school – have you not achieved much since then? Why would you include something like that on your CV?” What is their gut reaction, do they brush off the small attack, take it personally, or talk their way around it?
Turns out, he’s a dick
In case you were wondering, the sales person they ended up hiring turned out to be a real dick. A complete lack of perceptiveness and an inherent arrogance meant he never really listened to the people he was trying to sell to. He was so focused on putting his solution onto them, that he never considered really listening to the problem they needed him to solve. Pity they didn’t put him in a room with some strangers and see if he reverted to talking about himself as a first port of call. They might have picked up the arrogance that rendered him incapable of being really successful as a salesperson, maybe?
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