How to Hire People Who Can Survive the Worst Parts of Your Company 

What’s the worst part about working at your company? Is it a lack of growth and development opportunities? Or perhaps impossible deadlines? Or ambiguous and chaotic organizational structures? 

If you want to ensure that any new hires are going to succeed, you need to assess their ability to survive and thrive amidst these negative aspects. If your company tends to assign projects with unrealistic deadlines, you owe it to yourself to hire people that can handle that without cracking under the pressure. If most employees face competing priorities daily, you certainly don’t want to hire someone who can’t handle working amid ambiguity.

Of course, in an ideal world you would fix all of your organization’s negative aspects. But let’s be honest: The typical talent executive does not have the political wherewithal to snap their fingers and make those changes. So you’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt, and that means hiring people who can handle these tough situations.

As we know from the “Hiring For Attitude” research, a lack of technical skills accounts for only 11% of hiring failures, while attitudes drive 89% of hiring failures. And given that qualities like handling impossible deadlines or surviving chaotic organizational structures are decidedly attitudes rather than skills, your hiring managers and recruiters need to build attitudinal criteria into the hiring process.

What to Ask…

How do you actually assess whether someone can handle impossible deadlines, for example? Simply ask the question, “Could you tell me about a time you faced an impossible deadline?” or, “Could you tell me about a time your boss gave you an impossible deadline?”

If you want to hire people who can survive in chaotic and ambiguous environments, you could ask, “Could you tell me about a time you faced competing priorities?” 

To hire someone who can thrive without being handed growth and development opportunities, you could ask candidates, “Could you tell me about a time when your company wasn’t providing robust opportunities for growth and development?”

You’ll notice that each of these questions simply takes a negative aspect of a company and turns it into a question of the form, “Could you tell me about a time you [faced that negative situation]?”

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…and What Not to Ask

You’ll also notice that none of these questions give away the “right” answer. In the report “Six Words That Ruin Behavioral Interview Questions,” we discovered that most interview questions have phrases at the end of them that ruin the questions’ effectiveness. These phrases include, “How did you solve it?,” “How did you overcome that?,” and, “How did you successfully come through that?”

Let’s take the interview question, “Could you tell me about a time you faced an impossible deadline?” Without those phrases added to the end of the question, the candidate could tell about how they froze or panicked when they got an impossible deadline. Or you may hear that they considered every deadline they received to be impossible. Or they may reveal deep-seated anger toward the boss who assigned those deadlines.

But now let’s imagine we add one of those phrases to the end of the question; “Could you tell me about a time you faced an impossible deadline and how you overcame that?” We’ve now clearly told the candidate that we only want to hear about the occasions where they actually hit the deadline, no matter how rare those occasions were. We’ve completely lost the opportunity to hear about their failures and struggles because we literally told the candidate to only share their successes.

Listen, no company is perfect; every organization has some warts. While I’d love for everyone to fix those problems, most of the time it’s just not immediately realistic (at least not in the next few months). What you can do, however, is hire people who don’t crack under those imperfections. And that’s as simple as hiring for a select few attitudes.

Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include Hiring For Attitude, Hundred Percenters, HARD Goals, and Managing Narcissists, Blamers, Dramatics and More. Mark’s groundbreaking leadership studies have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and U.S. News & World Report. Mark has also appeared on CNN, NPR, CBS News Sunday Morning, and ABC’s 20/20. He’s trained leaders at the United Nations, Harvard Business School, Microsoft, Mastercard, and hundreds more.

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