“If you continue to do what you always have done, You will continue to get what you have always gotten.”
You have an interview scheduled for this afternoon. You prepare by scanning the resume for two or three minutes before the person comes into your office. You’re not worried because you will know if this is the right person.
The candidate walks into your office, strides across the room, looks you in the eye, and with a firm handshake introduces herself. Nice start you’re thinking. She is upbeat, outgoing and can obviously create an impression with a prospect. You start thinking; I wonder what it is going to take to get this gal.
But let’s not jump to a conclusion too quickly, so you pull out your pen and say, “So sell me this pen.” Reject the first statement out of her mouth, and see how she handles objections. And most important, see if she knows how to ask for the order.
This, all too familiar scenario, plays out daily when sales managers are making critical sales rep hiring decisions. And many of the mistakes made are caused by one of the greatest myths associated with choosing people, the belief that interview behavior is a good predictor of job performance. This is just one of the many interviewing myths that lower your probability of making good hiring decisions.
Interviewing myths have been perpetuated through the years for a number of reasons. The first, and I believe the scariest, is that most interviewers are driven by ego. There is a certain rush you get when you know you get to control the fate of the person sitting across the table. Not always a conscious thought, it does sneak into your subconscious during the process. This leads to interviewers playing games with candidates.
The second reason these myths continue to haunt is simply ignorance. So few people have been taught how to interview and choose people that the default is to do what was done to you or what you have always done.
As I was typing this article on a flight, the gentleman in the next seat leaned over and started asking me questions. He is the President of a medical imaging equipment company that is expanding rapidly. He told me he had built his company from scratch and was very proud of the people he had hired. He went on to tell me how he has been right about 80% of the time. I asked him how much more money he would have in his pocket right now if his percentage was even higher?
You see, although he was naturally quite good at choosing people, no one had ever taught him a specific process that would help him get even better. And, think about the people who are NOT naturally good at it (most of your management team). How much would a proven process help them?
Let’s look at four very common interviewing myths and see how they might be sabotaging your ability to choose great people.
MYTH #1 INTERVIEW BEHAVIOR EQUALS JOB PERFORMANCE
How often do you walk into an interview thinking, “I’ll know it when I see it!”? Down deep, don’t you believe you’re good at reading people? Tell the truth. Because if you do, your walking into a mine field. Believing how a person acts in an interview predicts how they will act on the job is a recipe for disaster. Interview behavior is as contrived as can be.
Let me show you how this works. Energy level is an example of a requirement important for good sales reps. Everyone wants to hire sales reps who are upbeat and outgoing. So, energy level gets special emphasis during the interview. But, don’t you think every candidate today is coached to be upbeat, to try to take control of the interview, to look you in the eye and so forth. Will that energy in the interview translate to energy and more importantly success on the job? A question I like to ask my clients is, “Are you hiring talent or are you hiring interview behavior?”
Selling to committees is another skill required of many sales reps. So, many interviewers have the candidate interview in front of three or four people at the same time to see how they handle themselves. Heck, if they can’t sell to a committee in an interview, how are they going to sell to a committee in the field? The problem here and the reason this is not an effective technique, is you can’t be certain how they handle the interview committee is how they will handle the prospect committee. You are just guessing.
A sales rep who has sold to committees is familiar with the process and knows the rules of the game. But, an interview is a situation they don’t face very often and has rules that are far less clear than a sales situation. The interview situation doesn’t translate well to the real world.
Here’s another example. You want closers, so how better to determine if they can close than to see if they close you in the interview. Throw a couple of objections at them, “I like your background Mary but frankly I don’t think you know enough about our marketplace.” Does she ask for the order at the end of the interview? The candidate is going to try to figure which game you are playing and since they don’t play this game often they may guess wrong. Then what?
The interview is not familiar ground, for you or the candidate. You are both guessing at what the rules are. And neither of you have prepared as you normally would for a sales call. It is a terrible assumption to think the person handles sales calls the way they are handling the interview.
Many people are nervous in an interview, mostly because they don’t know what to expect. This differs from a sales call, where most sales people are not nervous because they know what to expect. You can prepare for a sales call but how do you prepare for an interview? It’s much too difficult to determine during an interview if what you are seeing is natural behavior or just an act. Think of an interview as “prom night”, everyone is going to be on their best behavior. When you ask the candidate if they know how to close, do you really expect them to say, “No? But if you hire me I will try real hard.”
The best way to determine if the person has sufficient energy, can sell to a committee or close, is to find out how they have done it in past situations that most closely resemble your environment. Then explore as many examples as possible and look for patterns. Their past behavior is proof of how they handle these situations and is definitely the best predictor of what they will do when they come to work for you.
MYTH # 2 OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS ARE BEST
Most of what you read or hear about interviewing tells you to ask open-ended questions. The reason given is open-ended questions gets the person talking. But, what good does it do you to get them talking if what they are talking about doesn’t give you information that helps you predict whether or not they will be successful on your job? Having a candidate talk for the sake of talking is a waste of your time.
Here are three reasons open-ended questions are not your best option:
First: You lose control of the interview. Controlling an interview simply means controlling the agenda. If you ask, “So tell me about using technology to sell” the candidate now chooses the direction and composition of the conversation. The candidate should only have the option of telling you exactly what they did and how they did it. An open-ended question gives them the option to tell just about anything they want.
Second: Answers to open-ended questions may not give you quality information. If the person answers the previous question with an in-depth discussion of how a company can implement a sales-force automation system, although it will sound impressive, they really haven’t given you information about their sales practices. You need specific answers about what the person actually did. Are they giving you theory, opinion or conjecture?
Third: Open-ended questions put the candidate under tremendous pressure. When you ask about using technology to sell, the person’s thought process includes a quick and concentrated scan of the options they think will sound good to you. This just puts the person under undue stress and, gives them the opportunity to give you the “book” answer. Are you getting real information or just what they think you want to hear?
How do you fix open-ended questions, ask closed-ended questions. This means questions that have only one answer. Instead of, “Tell me about using technology to sell.” instead ask “How did you use your SFA system to shorten your sales cycle?” By focusing your questions, you will get the information you need, better information and also make it easier for the person to answer by eliminating the guesswork.
MYTH # 3 GUT-FEEL MAKES GREAT DECISIONS
You certainly wouldn’t ignore your gut-feel. When you don’t feel right about a person, you pass. And, if you hit it off with someone quickly, you start formulating the offer in your head. The longer you spend in the business world and the more successful you are, the better your instincts and feelings get. Your instincts are certainly valuable and never to be ignored but if you supplement them with proven process and objective data, your decisions will improve.
When your gut-feel radar goes off, either positive or negative, ask yourself, “What did the person do or say to make me feel this way?” Then probe the event that triggered the feeling. When the person makes a strong, positive first impression, rather than assuming they know how to establish rapport with a prospect, ask for examples of how they have established rapport with prospects in the past. This approach gives you the information to confirm or reject your feeling. Try to always have objective data available to support your decisions.
MYTH #4 YOU SHOULD EVALUATE CANDIDATES AGAINST EACH OTHER
A candidate comes in to see you and you really like him but, you think you should see some other candidates first. A typical thought is, “I wonder if there is another person out there who might be better?” There is! But, how long will it take you to find that person? And, once you find them, don’t you have to repeat the same question? How much longer will that take? Where does the game end?
I am not advocating making rush decisions or making your decisions in a vacuum. But, if you have a good profile, have asked good questions in the interview and evaluated properly, you only need to compare candidates against your standard, not against each other. Too often, you interview three candidates and choose the best of the three. But, what if the best of the three still doesn’t meet your requirements? You end up hiring the best of the worst.
Deciding who you are going to put out on the street to represent your organization in a sales role is never an easy decision. These decisions are going to affect your financial as well as your mental health and should never be taken lightly. A solid structured process void of games, gimmicks and tricks will definitely improve your probability of making good decisions.
You can learn more about my Selecting Winners process at www.SelectingWinners.com