David Sandler wrote an interesting book on sales called You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar. His underlying point was that the skills and techniques you learn from reading his book, or any book for that matter, need to be consistently reinforced through continued training and practice.
The process is the same for anything else you want to master. You didn’t become a leader in your field overnight, and you will lose your standing as an expert over time if you don’t keep practicing and developing your skill sets. Interviewing works along the same principles.
Here is where recreational golf and the art of interviewing cross paths. Both you have to practice at constantly, and neither will you ever be perfect at. For you serious golfers out there, you know what I am talking about. When I work on my golf game religiously, my handicap goes down; I get progressively better.
My game doesn’t change dramatically; rather, it develops as I become more comfortable with my swing or make a change in my grip.
Neither activity is something you do very often. Most of us play a round or two a week, which is just enough for us to maintain our level of golfing incompetence. How often do you interview someone for a job: once a week, once a month, or just a few times a year? How could you possibly get any better at the task?
Let us explore a few techniques to help you practice your interviewing skills. As a once-in-a-while golfer, especially one who has not played in months, your first approach might be to hit the driving range a few times before going out on a big golf outing. For an interview, look at your notes from your last round of interviews, pick up your favorite book on how to interview, and review the critical chapters.
Try enhancing your approach by finding ways to practice when you are not playing. When I am serious about golf, I practice in the backyard, I practice at the range, and I take lessons.
As a serious businessperson, practice by asking questions of your staff; they don’t have to be interview questions, just good questions that challenge the other person to come up with a good response. Ask good follow-up questions, too, since not doing that is one of the more common mistakes interviewers make. Don’t let superficial answers stand on their own; dig deep and you will find out something you weren’t expecting. Role play with peers, bosses, or subordinates; yeah, it’s cheesy, but the repetition helps. Practice picking up on small details by listening carefully and then asking the person to clarify their response. Once again, most of us struggle to listen to anyone else for real, and not understanding what people really mean gets in the way of making informed decisions, so practice listening.
Be a student of the game and read more articles like this one. Make sure interviewing books, like the one we are about to release in August, make up a significant percentage of the business books you read. Take notes; grab one, two, or three of the best ideas from each book; and practice them.
Begin developing profiles and benchmarks for the positions you hire for the most. When establishing guidelines, think about these two things: What do I expect from someone in that role? Quantify and be specific. Also, ask yourself, how do the best and worst performers consistently behave? Write down your findings as you think of them or when a situation comes up, like when Sally does a really good job of solving a customer’s problem. Oobserve how she did it and what qualities about her stood out the most when she accomplished the task of providing total customer satisfaction. Keep a file with notes to help you create or expand on a good profile.
As you think of the profiles for positions you must interview for, think about good interview questions that are relevant and could help you discover the right qualities in someone. I know you can just go to the store or to my website and get these questions, but that’s not the point. The point is to practice, to internalize these techniques; once you have your own material, use outside resources to refine what you have. Get feedback from other leaders in your company. You will be helping them become better interviewers by making them think about this stuff, just like you would be helping a friend on the course by suggesting a simple swing correction.
The last thought has to do with the end game here. What a difference an ace makes when you are playing well. However, if you are like me and play bogey golf, an eagle feels great, but makes less of a difference to my overall score. The idea is to get lots of pars, some birdies, and an occasional eagle. In hiring, the idea is to get enough good hires and some great ones once in a while. I once had boss who told me, “All it takes is hiring one great person, and that person will make a huge impact on your business.” The only part I think he forgot, and only because he didn’t make many terrible hires, is that you still need to make a lot of pretty good hires, too.
Having lots of good people and a few superstars can really create a situation where the business unit is successful more often than it is not. Often, that business unit will be a top-performing unit compared to its counterparts and, more importantly, compared to its competitors.
This article is dedicated to Allen Batts for giving me this idea to begin with and to Kevin McCurdy, a mentor who has always pushed me to do better.
golf image from 123rf