Dr. Seuss’ classic book is fun to read and also helps us understand how important it is to refrain from making judgments until we’ve asked enough questions to know the truth. Throughout the book, Sam-I-Am tries to convince the narrator to taste green eggs and ham. Sam-I-Am keeps asking questions until the narrator finally tries green eggs and ham, which he loves. It teaches us to be persistent and continue searching until we are satisfied that we know the truth.
This persistence in pursuing the truth is something we must strive for when we hire employees. In the book, we want to know if the narrator will like or dislike the unusual food offered. In recruiting, we want to know the truth about our candidates. Unfortunately, we often allow our judgments to influence our hiring decisions without asking the right questions to learn the truth.
I find many hiring managers prejudge a candidate based on what is on a resume. For example, the school where a candidate earned a degree may be perceived as inferior. As humans, we form opinions and ideas about things based on our experience. However, this poses a problem because it can cause a great candidate to be overlooked. This is why it’s so critical to be aware of our internal biases and to be willing to learn more the candidate’s story.
How do you learn your candidate’s story? The most common way is through an interview. Yet, many interviews are poorly done even though they are the most important piece of the hiring process. Often interviewers rely on traditional questions like: “Tell me about yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where do you see yourself in five years?” Savvy candidates have researched the “correct” answers, and tell us what we want to hear just like the narrator who confidently states over and over that he does not like green eggs and ham.
But, Sam-I-Am is determined to know the truth. We think we’ve found a way to get the truth by asking behavioral-based questions like, “Tell me about a time when you solved a problem.” Sounds better, right? Wrong. We’ve just told our candidate we want to hear about success. But, what about those times they didn’t even attempt to solve the problem? What about the times they failed? We’ll never know the answers to those questions.
Here are a few tips for asking the right questions in your quest to reveal the truth about your candidates.
Know What You Want to Learn About Your Candidate.
This seems obvious, right? However, asking a question because you found it on a list of great interview questions fails to give you the information you need to make a good hiring decision. Your questions need to have a purpose—to discover how the candidate will perform on the job. Take some time to define what knowledge, skills, abilities, and mindsets both successful and unsuccessful employees possess. When you understand the difference between success and failure, it will be easier for you to identify whether your potential candidates are right for your business.
Pay Attention to Nonverbal Clues.
When you interview, be alert and watch for small clues that give you greater insights into your candidates. For example, a client wanted employees who could keep up with their fast-paced work environment and was constantly disappointed when people they hired were unable to keep pace. I asked if candidates kept pace with them as they walked to the interview location. Light bulbs went on. The candidates who failed often lagged behind.
Look Beyond the Words.
Watch facial expressions, the tone of voice, word choice, and body language to make sure it matches the words. An answer to a question is more than the words spoken. Communication has many aspects and you want to factor in each of them. People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for. When you interview people for your business, be aware of your own biases. Making good people decisions is hard work and it takes time, self-awareness, and clarity to get it right.
People are more than their credentials and their work history. When you ask the right questions, you learn their story and can make an informed decision about the candidate. You might be surprised to find your perfect candidate earned a degree from a school you dislike, just like our narrator learned he loved green eggs and ham.