This post originally appeared on the Human Capital Institute blog and has been cited elsewhere.  Here it is, updated with the most critical thought for CEOs.

1- Shut up and listen:  Every moment you speak is a moment your interviewee is silent.  Unless you are interviewing someone who will be working for you as a mime, you aren’t learning anything while you’re talking.

2- Ask SPIN questions: Help your interviewee learn more about the position and company–while you’re learning more about them–by asking them value-centric questions.  Try using what sales guru Neil Rackham, author of SPIN Selling and many other books on business communication, calls ‘Implication’ and ‘Need-payoff’ questions.  “What if you got this position and could do anything within reason to make it a success?”  “Here’s a recurring problem (describe it); how many kinds of adverse impact on our business can you identify? This gives the candidate an opportunity to ‘dig in’ and actually sell themselves on the job opportunity, while giving you a view into their thinking and problem solving processes.

3 – Stick to a plan: Remember that an interview is a form of assessment.  If every interview follows a different path, they will not result in accurate or reasonable comparisons between candidates. Not only do you need to ask the same questions of each interviewee, you need to interpret their answers in the same way.  Furthermore,  if you don’t isolate the key message points and stay focused on them, it is all the more likely that the candidate’s physical characteristics, gender, race, nationality, style of dress, etc. will creep into the assessment–and before you know it you will be adrift in unconscious biases that can lead to future trouble.

4 – Pick a team player: Consider using an assessment that is designed to measure teaming characteristics.  Hiring has always been focused primarily on the characteristics of the individual candidates. Ironically, how well they will perform on the team doesn’t come to the fore until after the hire–and isn’t recognized as a failing until after the ‘bad hire’ has done plenty of damage.  You can’t really ask people how they ‘team’ and expect a reliable answer, so you need a way to predict how they will behave.

5 – Take the high road: Even when you’re having a tough day, remember that you are making decisions of critical importance to your organization.  You have direct influence on building and maintaining a human infrastructure that will determine the success or failure of the entire organization.  Take a deep breath, ask for a second opinion if you’re unsure, and always keep learning.

And for CEOs:

Remember, you are picking someone who will be teaming with you.  Do you know what your teaming characteristics are?  Don’t fight them: they’ve gotten you this far so don’t mess with success.  Just make sure the person you’re bringing in will be three things: Coherent, a Role complementary to yours, and someone with the kind of teaming characteristics that spell success on your team.  You’re building your human infrastructure so you may as well build from your own specs!


There’s a long tradition of having ‘yes-men’ around to do your bidding.  Had two conversations this week from which I’ve learned that (a) ‘yes-men’ are still alive and well and working in huge, successful (at the moment) companies, and (b) CEOs are realizing that, in the long run, they stifle innovation.

Conversation 1 was saddening, though enlightening.  A clearly, painfully diffuse person reporting to a CEO with a definite tendency to be rigid was praised as ‘the best person I ever hired.’  Well, okay, rigid people like diffuse people – they are the original ‘yes-men.’  But you’d think he’d want to use hard data.  Actually, even if he did, I’d be suspicious.  I bet he does enough work to cover Mr. Yes’s backside.  Well, you can’t help everyone.

Conversation 2 was uplifting and enlightening.  A head of state (not in the US) was speaking to the CEO of a vendor and bemoaning his inability to find the right people for key positions.  He wanted integrity, productivity, and obedience.  I laughed with delight as the CEO related this.  These are the words of a Founder/Vision Mover.  This head of state is totally coherent and wants obedience yes – to his Vision, not his whims!  That’s just the basic respect due him.  But they hire by resume so they are probably attracting diffuse ‘yes-men’ who’ve never produced on their own.  Here’s one that can be helped.

Conclusion: ‘Yes-men’ may flatter your ego, but they will obscure your Vision.  Better a nice loud “no” every so often rather than being blind to the promises of the future!

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