I gave a pretty interesting interview last week. In this interview, I tried a new technique that could be called 3-dimensional interviewing. You should know up front that I made a big interviewing mistake a few years ago and suffered tried to make it work for about eight months before finally concluding that I had to let an employee go. As a result of this experience, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and trying different interviewing techniques to hopefully avoid such a mistake in the future. Obviously, it’s impossible to be a perfect interviewer, but there are ways we can all be better. I’m interested to know what you think about this one…
The individual (Mr. X) who came into our office to interview was set up for success. He interviewed well with someone else who was responsible for evaluating his soft business skills. My task this time was to verify the soft skills and to validate his technical skill claims. When someone says that they are proficient in certain technical skills, it’s often hard to get a good feel for their level of proficiency without having them do some work, right?
Well, maybe not…
After a few really normal questions, I asked him to define his skill in three different programming languages. He replied, “I’m proficient in those and use them frequently.” I said, “All right, great. How about you grab that orange marker at the end of the table and head up to the whiteboard.” The look of confidence on his face waned as he approached the front of the room. One would think I broke a cardinal rule of interviewing – I made the interviewee stand up. He proceeded to the white board with the dry erase marker in-hand and removed the orange cap.
I said, “Mr. X, you said that you are proficient in CSS coding. Would you please write on the board the code you would use to…” I won’t go into details and bore you, but I picked a couple of the most simple and common things that a beginning programmer would do in CSS. Mr. X started to write a few characters on the board and then tried to ask me leading questions while he was writing, in hopes of getting some guidance. I replied to his questions, “No worries, there are many ways to do what I’ve asked you to do. Just show me your favorite way to do it.” He finally admitted, “I…uh…am really good at looking up the details in Google. I really have done this before.” Smiling, I said, “Don’t worry, you’re proficient in other skills, right? Let’s give those a try.” For the sake of your time, I’ll let you guess what happened next.
While at breakfast yesterday, I shared this experience with a friend who just figured out that he made a hiring mistake by hiring Mrs. W to be a finance team manager. In his interview with Mrs. W, he asked about her skills in Microsoft Excel. She said, “I have used a variety of software like Excel and am really good with computers.” This seemed like a good reply, and based on her experience, proficiency in Excel could just about be assumed. Obviously, it’s not safe to assume that anything is true in an interview. In a meeting this week, my friend discovered that his new finance manager didn’t know how to write a formula in Excel. Oops!
What if my friend had approached his traditional 2-dimensional interview with Mrs. W with a 3-dimensional approach? What if he asked her to grab a marker and go to the whiteboard? Rather than accepting that she was comfortable in Excel, what if he said, “Let’s say you have three numbers stacked on top of each other in a spreadsheet. Please write a formula on the board that you would use to add them up? Ok, and if you wanted to average them? Without deleting the numbers, what would you do if you wanted to not show the three rows in which those numbers appear? Can you explain what the Goal Seek function does?”
It would probably take a maximum of two minutes to ask and get replies to all of these questions. Had my friend asked questions like this he would have been able to quickly evaluate the level of Excel expertise that Mrs. W possessed.
So what about the next interview you give? As anyone would recommend, take a few minutes to prepare before the interview. You’re going to have to think about the things that are absolute requirements and the areas in which you’d like to challenge someone. If Excel is a required skill, maybe you’d like to use the above questions as a starting point. If hand washing is a requirement (LOL) invite the individual to walk to a nearby sink and show you their normal hand-washing technique.
Consider asking a question like, “How would your best friend describe you?” After you get a reply, say, “Cool, what’s her phone number? Let’s see how close you are with the speakerphone.”
Yes, I know this is all somewhat bold. But why not use techniques like this? After all, you’re making a decision to pay someone thousands of dollars to help you grow your company.
Ever conduct a 3-dimensional interview? Did your interviewee pass with flying colors or did he or she crumble under the pressure as Mr. X? Let us know what happened…