5 Insider Hiring Tips From a Professional Interviewer

I’ve done hundreds of hiring interviews, and I’ve learned the hard way how to do it well.  Let me save you a few decades and share 5 tips that will make your hiring interviews much more successful.  The tips are:

  1. Hire the specialist, not the generalist
  2. Look for hard data, not spin
  3. Determine the candidate’s career trajectory
  4. Look for resourcefulness
  5. Get to the bottom of the candidate’s weaknesses

Tip #1: Hire the specialist, not the generalist

Whenever I’m looking to fill a role, I’m looking for someone with ‘dirt under the fingernails.’

That means I want someone who has hands-on experience in a role.  I avoid people who know a little bit of everything, and are specialists at nothing.

I always feel concerned when someone has experience ‘supervising.’  I picture this person sitting in an office somewhere chatting with people and checking out Facebook.  They may be waving their arms, but they aren’t directing the choir.

I want to hear them say things like, “I got my forklift ticket and built a system to structure the warehouse so that we were able to get 20% more product out the door over previous years.”

I want someone who has specialized in something.  Anything.

Tip #2: Look for hard data, not spin

Before an interview begins, I always tell the candidate that I’m going to interrupt them.  To do this nicely, I say something like this:

“We only have a short time and I want you to talk about the parts of your career most relevant to the job, so sometimes I’m going to be interrupting because I want you to get your best information on the table.  I’m going to help you do that.”

My point here is that I want the candidate talking about actual data.  I don’t want to give them an opportunity to ramble about things that aren’t relevant.

It’s easy for a candidate to talk in general terms about the workplace and the job and the people they worked with.  I’m not interested in that.  I’m looking for real data about what they achieved.

For example:

“I sold $1.5 million into Kentucky for two years running.  That’s double what we sold before I took the job.”

“I won our company’s Most Valuable Player award twice in seven years.”

These are actual data points.

If you don’t interrupt your candidate and press for real data, they will sit and spin for 30 minutes or an hour, and you will have learned nothing meaningful.

Tip #3: Determine the candidate’s career trajectory

I’m really looking for the answer for one main thing throughout the interview process: what has the candidate’s career trajectory been?  Has the person been on an upward, flat, or downward trajectory?

  1. Downward: Some telltale signs that the person’s career is in decline is seeing a history of multiple firings, layoffs, or restructurings.  If you were going to restructure, who would you lose?  Your star players?  Or your weakest performers?  Other indications are poor ratings from past bosses, or candidates who are looking for more ‘work/life balance’ because their last job was too demanding.  Be careful not to hire someone in decline.
  2. Flat: Signs of a flat career trajectory include never being promoted, never receiving pay raises, not improving skillsets through classes or conferences attended, and ‘satisfactory’ ratings from past bosses.
  3. Upward: These people are easy to spot.  Signs of a person on the rise are increasing levels of responsibility, increased pay, and being poached from job to job.  Often people with an upward trajectory don’t even know they’re on one.  It’s up to you to find out.

Tip #4: Look for resourcefulness

Intelligence and knowledge are good, but they’re overrated.  What I really want to find are people who are resourceful.  That means that they’ve met difficult situations and overcome them.  They’ve worked for challenging people and made it work.

People who lack resourcefulness will give lengthy explanations of why things didn’t work out.  The boss was difficult, the project was impossible, the economy wasn’t right, and on and on.

I want people come against a wall and scale it rather than turning around and going home.

Tip #5: Get to the bottom of the candidate’s weaknesses

Candidates hate talking about areas of weakness, but this is something that I want to know about.  I use many different questions to uncover weakness including:

  • What are some things that you don’t want to do more of?
  • When you’ve had an exhausting day, what were you doing on that day?
  • What areas for improvement have come up in performance reviews for you?

I always begin by saying something like, “We all have areas of weakness.  I’m not asking this question to discover whether or not you have any, but to discover whether or not you have self-awareness.”  This usually gets them talking.

In summary:

Not all candidates are great, and it’s your job to determine who is and who isn’t.  Use these insider hiring tips to sort out the great from the not-so-great:

  1. Hire the specialist, not the generalist
  2. Look for hard data, not spin
  3. Determine the candidate’s career trajectory
  4. Look for resourcefulness
  5. Get to the bottom of the candidate’s weaknesses

Additional  resources

Thanks for reading this article on 5 insider hiring tips from a professional interviewer.  Below are additional resources from Professional Leadership Institute, the global provider of online human resources and leadership tools:


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