Interviewing The Knowledge Worker — A Guide for Practitioners

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My younger brother emailed me recently. He was preparing to hire two new employees in his department and was soliciting advice from his family on interview questions. He works for a state government agency which requires questions be prepared upfront and asked of each candidate. Given that constraint, he wanted to have the best questions possible. My response was longer than he expected, but he valued it.

The introductory paragraph of that email sums up how I feel about the interview process:

Have I ever told you how much I hate interviewing? You will talk to several individuals of similar but varying backgrounds. You will have at most an hour to spend with them to determine if they can do a job and do that job well as a member of your team. Then you will need to reach a consensus with the other members of your interviewing team, which candidate is best suited for that job. Fun.

After answering his email, I started thinking more about the challenging task of finding the right employees in complex, dynamic business environments. So I created this series of articles on interviewing. In these five articles, I dig deeper into five important topics on interviewing and share some approached I’ve used to get the right people in the door.

  1. It All Starts With a Job Description — In the first article, I look at job descriptions and show how I apply my business analysis training to get at the job requirements and set the stage for finding people who can perform.
  2. On The Problem of Resumes — Resumes. You’ll see a lot of them. You’ll see good ones. You’ll see bad ones. I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve looked at over the years. But I can tell you how I approach them and what I look for to separate the wheat from the chaff.
  3. Asking the Right Questions — The candidate is in front of you and you can ask anything you want (well, almost anything) to determine if this is the person to hire. What to ask? I answer my brother’s question and show you how to turn a great job description into a great set of questions to assess your candidates. I also provide some advice on what to look for in the answers.
  4. Can You Juggle? — “Tell me about a time….” You know those questions. They are the signature of the behavioral interview, which is a key component of most job interviews. But is the behavioral interview the best approach? Many years ago, I read a passage in a book that changed the way I hired developers and has profoundly influenced how I interview today. I share that insight and give some guidance on how to apply the technique in the 21st century.
  5. Making the Decision — The interviews are over. Now you have to decide. Who do you hire? Do you hire anyone? How do you combine the feedback of the many people who took part in the process? How do you compare the performance of the candidates across all the dimensions you are considering and identify the best hire? Over the years, I’ve developed a simple and flexible framework that lets me identify the distinctions between the candidates that make a difference and focuses discussion where it needs to be to build consensus.

As the title of this series implies, I deal primarily with knowledge workers — people who solve complex problems or develop new products or services in their fields of expertise. My thoughts about and advice on interviewing focuses on finding the right person to solve your complex problems. If you’re someone who hires knowledge workers or are in any way involved in hiring knowledge workers, I wrote this for you. So let me know what you think. 

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