Archive for July, 2010

52 Interview Questions

Over the years I found myself becoming more frustrated with the interview process.  As I mentioned here last week, the interview is a game that both particpants understand very well.  The questions and answers are pretty much rote.  “Tell me about yourself.”  What are your career goals?”  “Why do you want to work here.”  Tell me about your greatest professional achievement.”  Blah, blah, blah.   Nobody ever had a bad experience, the candidates are nearly always likeable and they can hardly wait to start.

So, what’s wrong?  I have found that too often once the interview was over, I really had no idea if the person could actually perform.  Could she solve a problem?  How does he think?  What’s she like under pressure? 

Then I read How Would You Move Mount Fuji? by William Poundstone.  He looked at the interview techniques at Microsoft, which receives over 12,000 resumes a month.  They figured out that they needed to really understand how people think and solve problems.  They devised questions to learn that.  The point is that the answer is not necessarily right or wrong.  What is really important is how did the person go about solving the problem?  That display of critical thinking was usually pretty accurate in telling the interviewer how the candidate would perform at Microsoft.

So, inspired by that I devised 52 of my own questions.  Some are more advertising centric, which I used in  my Incredibly Successful Career at the intergalactic agency.  Most of the questions can be used anywhere.  Hopefully they will inspire you to come up with your own.  Either way, these kinds of questions are sure to spark an interesting and revealing conversation.  You do want to know how candidates think, don’t you?

Fifty-Two Questions

 The Premise:  The most useful skills are curiosity, problem solving, thinking, intuition, honesty, team building and relationship building (both internally and with clients.)  In other words:  leadership.

Interviews must be able to give you a decent, albeit imperfect, sense of those qualities.  Whether among existing employees or potential employees there must be some definitive sense of the abilities of these people.  Our success is predicated upon having people who can think and solve problems.  These are people who inspire, instruct, inform and confidently lead their team and their clients while solving business problems.

 These questions can provide some insight as to the problem-solving and thus,  leadership potential of candidates.

 1.  Tell me something that might surprise me about you.

 2. What are you most proud of personally and professionally?

3.  What law would you change?  Why?

4.  What is the greatest invention/innovation of the past 100 years? Why?

5.  Why or why not?

6.  What do you want most right now?

7.  Which state in the United States would you eliminate?  Explain why.

8.  How do people dream who are blind from birth?

9.  How would you convince someone to donate blood?

10.  How should music be sold?

11.  Which of your qualities do you most want in the U.S. president?

12.  Tell me about your best vacation ever.

13.  What qualities did your best boss have?

14.  What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

15.  Whose job would you find most rewarding?

16.  What do you do worst?

17.  What scares you?

18.  What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the world?

19.  Would you rather lead the parade or be in the parade?

20.  What does work/life balance mean to you?

21.  Would you prefer to work four days for a little less money, or five days for more-money?

22.  How would you sell a great idea that is off strategy?

23.  How would you convince a client to go beyond the budget for a great idea?

24.  Your creative team is always late, always over budget and always has killer ideas.  What should you do?

25.  What are you doing to improve?

26.  Name three guests you would love to see speak at a company meeting.

27.  What are the five best books you ever read?

28.  Who would you add to Mt. Rushmore?  Why?

29.  Describe the perfect client.

30.  How do you become invaluable to a client?

31.  What should you do to improve work?

32.  What invention do you wish you created?

33.  What was the best gift you ever received?  That you gave?

34.  If you received $1 million, what would you do with the money?

35.  You made a mistake that cost several thousand dollars.  What should you do?

36.  The client just called and said that the phone number in their ad is wrong and they won’t pay for the ad.  How would you resolve this?

37.  You day-to-day client contact is a jerk.  How can you improve the situation?

38.  Your company has a chance to get a new account that represents millions of dollars in revenues and more money for all employees.  It has a reputation as being abusive to agencies.  If the agency does not get this client, there will probably be layoffs.  If you were the CEO what would you do?

39.  Would you rather work in a company with a roster of really interesting clients, a great reputation, make lots of money AND have to work 70-80 hour weeks; OR a company that has solid clients that are incredibly profitable and you can work 40-50 hours a week?

40.  You have to hire a new creative director.  One candidate is an established CD who has worked on many high-profile, award-winning campaigns. Everywhere he has gone the agency has picked up new business and gained increased stature.  But he is also known as an insufferable prima donna.  The other candidate is a great guy, never been a CD, done some good things…nothing flashy.  He supposedly has great potential.  But he isn’t well known and probably won’t get you any new business right away.  Who would you hire?

41.  What do integrated communications mean to you?

42.  Many say that traditional advertising is a dinosaur and becoming less relevant in today’s business world.  What do you think?

43.  Describe your dream house.

44.  Do you read the directions or dive in?

45.  What is a favorite guilty pleasure of yours? (Keep it clean)

46.  What’s the greatest event you ever attended?

47.  When has your intuition served you best?

48.  What is the single most important thing you have learned?

49.  What is the nicest thing you’ve ever done for someone else?

50.  Describe a time you managed up.

51.  What do you love about technology?  What do you dislike?

52.  Write your epitaph. (One paragraph)


Saturday Shallow

Some of you may see this as profound.  Others will find this shallow.  Thus it appears here.  Love Chart Porn..always has provocative stuff.  Shout out to Hillary who saw it first.

Lessons Learned: Hire Wisely

You may have heard that the economy is in the dumps.  Companies are doing more with less, than ever before.  Well, except the Federal government which has conveniently cut payroll by having contractors do the work…at even higher cost than when people were on the payroll.

But I digress.  Whether you are hiring contract work or employees, the related costs of having people do work are way more than just the salary.   There is the time factor of training, supervising and communicating with them that makes it even more critical that you get it right in the first place.

During my ISC I was fortunate to hire way more good people than bad.  And the few mistakes I made were great learning for future interviews and hires.  In today’s economy you just cannot make mistakes.  Yes, you can hire friends and “nice people” and skimp on the references, but you may have to pay the piper later.

So,  here are some things I found over the years that really helped when it came to hiring wisely. 

  • Hire people who are smart.  Duh.  I guess you could choose to hire dolts but why would you?  It stands to reason that the more robust their thinking power the better the solutions that person can bring to every problem.  And trust me, you want problem solvers.
  • Hire people who are simplifiers.  People who can get to the heart of a situation by stripping away extraneous stuff and find the solution are way more productive because they quickly get to the heart of the issue.
  • Hire people willing to commit themselves.  Work is hard, that’s why it’s not called play.  Commitment to work has nothing to do with the quantity of hours or robotic diligence.  It is about a sense of personal satisfaction that comes from a job well done which is way different than working for accolades or tangible rewards.  It’s about working smart.
  • Hire people who are different.  Don’t hire someone who acts and talks and thinks just like you.  You already have your own point of view.  Find people who have their own unique take on things.
  • Hire people who show signs of entrepreneurship.  Look for signs of independence and gaps in your interviewee’s history.  I always found the best interviews were the conversations about the missing years on a resume.  That time was often the most instructive about the prospective hire.   Every company needs some entrepreneurs who think about ways the business challenges affect their job.  And no has a better understanding of the realities of the job than the individual doing it.  Thus, no one has more motivation to make progress than the emerging entrepreneur.
  • Hire original thinkers.  Don’t get me wrong, not every job requires original thinking.  (See the next bullet.)  But you do need people who have unique ideas.  Innovation is the heartbeat of growth and growth is the engine for a successful and profitable organization.  People who bring insight and fresh thinking to problems are gold.  Ask candidates questions that will inform your decision.  For example:  What state would you eliminate and why?  The candidate has 50 choices so there is a lot of room for original thinking.
  • Hire soldiers as well as captains.  I once told a person:  “You are a great player, but you’re not a coach.”  You need to find and value the soldiers as well as the leaders and future leaders.  People who get shit done are often more valuable than people who come up with grand ideas.  The soldiers are the ones who make sure the ideas actually work.  And not all soldiers make great officers.  Know the difference.
  • Listen to the prospect.   You need a right-brainer.  The candidate tells you how much she loves lists, matrices and research.  Don’t hire that person just because she is smart.  You need to match talents with the job.  If you put a left-brainer in a right brain position, that person will fail.  And you will have wasted a lot of time and money. 

The job interview is a bit of a dance.  There a lot of pre-programmed questions and answers.  Here are a few questions guaranteed to give you almost no insight.  (What they really thought in parenthesis)  “Why do you want to work here?”  (“I need a fucking job.”)  “Tell me about why you left your last company.”  (My boss was an asshole and he fired me for no good reason.”)  “What are your career goals?” (“Career? I’m just doing this so I can finance my next road trip.”)      “Tell me your greatest professional achievement.” (“I won the karaoke contest at the company Christmas party.”)  “What are you best at?” (” I do great interviews…the rest not so much.”)

So, when it comes to hiring wisely you have a choice.   You can be unclear about what you really need, ask lame questions and find yourself frustrated in a few months.  Or you can work really hard at making sure the candidate will be an asset.

I want this dog

This dog is awesome.  Although I would also teach it to get a job, buy the beer and buy better beer.  But this is an excellent start.  What has your dog done for you lately?

Lessons Learned

While preparing for an upcoming class I’ll be teaching on leadership and relationships, I came across another masterpiece from my Incredibly Succesful Career (ISC).  This was written in 1999. Just think about all that has occurred since we ended the last millennium.

I wrote this to my business unit at the intergalactic agency.  It was titled “My Goals.”  It was a reflective piece at the time and actually still is.  As I wrote in the preamble:  “I demand these of myself and hope for these in others.  Whether these attributes actually exist in each of us is not the point.  The point is we should all aspire to them.”

I thought I’d share them with you.  Some of these I read or stole and others I’ve developed over many years of trial and error. I’ve added a few along the way, as well.   The point is they all still apply — even in this millennium.  Enjoy.

Jan’s Goals

1.  Create a balanced team that produces consistent, high-quality ideas.
–  Attract the best people at every position.
–  Understand each job in the company, and its value to you and the company.
–  Treat each person and every job function with respect.
–  Create quality at every level, in every product detail.

2.  Create an environment that fosters personal and professional growth.
–  Decentralize authority. Give good people the responsibility to get the job done and the authority to do the job well —  then get out of the way.
–  Recognize and accommodate individual growth.
–  Know the difference between someone doing something wrong, versus that person doing something differently than you would do it.
–  Communicate everything with your people.  By providing full disclosure of good news and bad, you are saying, “I trust you.”  Your openness and honesty will be rewarded by their desire to help solve problems.

3.  Create an environment that’s honest, productive, friendly and fun.
–  Match people’s strengths with their jobs.
–  Respect the personal rights of your colleagues.
–  Be tolerant of others’ personalities and their quirks.
–  Judge success by the quality of the work, not by where the work was done or by how long the work took to complete.
–  Avoid politics.
–  Eliminate gossip.

4.  Grow fast enough to compete with the best firms and slow enough to integrate and manage the growth.
–  Grow the business fast enough to match the growth of talented people.
–  Grow coherently: keep the entrepreneurial qualities that got you here.
–  Know that growth is inspiring to your best people and encourage them to seek out profitable growth opportunities.

5.  Build a reputation for great ideas, great results.
–  Publicize your innovation to feed the pipeline for future great employees.
–  Promote your best examples in every possible venue.  Your prospective new clients and customers should know you as problem solvers and great thinkers.
–  Your peers should know you as winners.  Make the public aware of your business practices, your results and your unique skills.
–  Own your point of difference and make it your competitive advantage.

6.  Reward your people for their success.
–  Provide salaries that compete with the best in the business allowing for differences in talent, experience and geography.
–  Provide bonuses that incentivize and reward significant contributions to your fame and fortune.
–  Be known as the company that takes care of its people and rewards them.  Make it hard for competitors to steal your best and brightest.
–  Demand as much of yourselves as you do of your subordinates and colleagues.

The Fun Theory

The folks at Volkswagen created The Fun Theory website to prove that solving problems can be emotionally and intellectually rewarding.  The epic Piano Stairs absolutely proved that trudging up some stairs can be a total blast. 

Thanks to John Jones for sending me this follow-up video that shows how going down stairs can be even more fun.  The point here is less about getting to and from subways and a whole lot more about innovation, creativity and the joy of solving problems.  BP should spend some time with The Fun Theory.  Bravo VW.

Border Crossing

I’ve recently become a fan of Ed Stein, the political cartoonist via the peeps at Political Irony.   His cartoons and commentary are always well done and on point.  This post on the immigration issue is a great example of Ed’s wisdom.    We need way more Ed Stein and way less Glenn Beck.