Defining Your Candidate’s Functional Preferences

Mar 1, 2008

If you are concerned about the long-term viability of the employment relationship and subsequently, your relationship with the client, you must be prepared to properly match candidate functional preferences with the employer’s predominant operating/management style. No other factor in the workplace has a greater impact on the ultimate success or failure of the employment relationship than the interface between the employee and their immediate supervisor.

Remember…most job failures are not the result of an inability to do the job. Rather, they are the result of well-intentioned people having an inability to work effectively together.

Although most people are somewhat flexible, they nevertheless have a predominant or preferred functional style. Their greatest success is generally realized when they are functioning within that style. Therefore, it is in everyone’s best interest if you can identify that preference during your interview and matching process.

Gaining answers to the following questions should help both you and your candidate form a clearer understanding of their preferred functional preferences:

In what type of work environment are you most productive? With what type of co-workers are you most productive?

Work environment includes everything that is external to the actual work that needs to be performed such as location, facilities, access to personal resources, privacy, and co-workers, to name just a few. Seek specific examples as to how these factors have influenced the candidate’s productivity, particularly where it involves their co-workers.

With what type of manager do you work best? Give me some specific examples of this and explain why this works for you.

This may be one of the most important questions you can ask your candidate. Gaining their candid response is essential to your understanding on how to make a proper match with one of your clients. Remember, people go to work for people and not for companies.

In what manner do you prefer to receive direction from your manager?

Knowing what to do and how to do it is essential for successful performance on the job. Some employees want this spelled out in detail with all contingencies covered, while others prefer only that the work objective be clarified, from which point they can determine how best to achieve it. Whether the candidate is a process- or project-oriented worker generally begins to emerge with this answer.

In what manner do you prefer to receive performance feed-back from your manager?

All employees need to know how they are doing on the job. While some need the almost continuous feedback of their managers for motivation and direction, others prefer to provide their own feedback by comparing their work against clearly defined performance standards. Some employees prefer to see anything pertain-ing to their performance spelled out in written form, while others need only verbal cues from their managers in order to know how they are performing on the job.

How have you handled conflicts with your co-workers? With your manager?

Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable and many times unavoidable. How the employee handles these conflicts is a major key to understanding their functional preferences. Once again, seek examples of specifically what happened, why it happened, how they handled it, what the results were, how they felt about the results and if they had to do it all over again, what if anything would they have done differently? Pay particular attention to whether they continually affix blame to others for the conflicts. This may be an indication of an “externalist” mentality where the problem is always someone or something other than himself or herself. This type of person continually takes on the position of a victim and thereby can become an emotional toxin to both management and co-workers.

How do you deal with interruptions during your work-day? How do you organize your time?

Gaining specific examples in this area will help you determine whether the employee is just busy or really productive. Everyone has interruptions during their workday. Some people actually encourage interruptions as they use them as an excuse to avoid their real work. For others, it may be simply an inability to say no. However, what’s most important is what they do when interruptions occur. Generally speaking, the more organized worker can get back on task quickly after an interruption, while a poorly organized worker will lose additional time trying to get back on track. Remember, it’s not how many hours they work in a given day as much as it is how productive they are during those hours.

What do you expect from your manager on a day-to-day basis? From your co-workers?

Expectations must be in line with reality or frustration and discontent will be the result. Try to determine how they set their expectations of others and what they base them on. Determine whether they are realistic under the given circumstances, and how they react when those expectations are not met.

What actions or mannerisms of co-workers and management irritate or frustrate you and how do you handle it?

Here we are looking for specific examples of things that really trigger a negative response in the candidate. Although most people can adjust to the minor idiosyncrasies of others, there may be certain actions or mannerisms of others that cannot be tolerated over the long-term. These need to be identified and considered carefully before matching candidates to your clients’ requirements.

How would you characterize the pace at which you work?

As always, ask for specific examples to support the description of their pace. Pace is a subjective term. One person may define their pace as rapid and unrelenting, while someone else who observes them could view it as slow and intermittent. Remember, pace is defined through the “eyes of the beholder,” so seek specific behavioral examples from the candidate to support their characterization. Then, and most critically, match the candidate’s preferred working pace to an appropriate employment environment.

Talent, skills, and abilities are essential for successful performance on the job. However, just as important is the proper match between a candidate’s functional preferences and the manager’s preferred operating style. Gaining the answers to the above listed questions will help ensure you can perform that match effectively.

As always, if you have questions or comments about this article or wish to receive my input on any other topic related to this business, just let me know. Your calls and emails are most welcome.

Recipient of the 2006 “Harold B. Nelson Award”, Terry Petra is one of our industry’s leading trainers and consultants. He has successfully conducted in-house programs for hundreds of search, placement, temporary staffing firms, and industry groups across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, England, and South Africa. To learn more about his training products and services, including “PETRA ON CALL” and “BUSINESS VALUATION” visit his website at Terry can be reached at (651) 738-8561 or

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