PrincePerelson & Associates

Recruiting Top Leaders: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

The average employee changes jobs pretty frequently – every 4.3 years for men and 4 years for women according to a 2018 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These statistics clearly indicate that employers should expect turnover amongst their leadership as well, even under the best circumstances.

Unfortunately, replacing a top-performing manager with a less experienced or poor-performing one can have disastrous effects on productivity and attrition. Job interviews have long been used to identify candidates who possess leadership skills. However, like many hiring tools, these interviews can be ineffective if interviewers do not ask the right questions.

Changing Your Approach

Verifying an applicant’s technical skills and education can be a straightforward task. However, ensuring they have the leadership qualities and traits presents a unique challenge. If you have experience interviewing job candidates, you may be familiar with the typical questions such as, “Tell me about a time that you exhibited leadership?” or “How would you describe your leadership style?”

These questions have their place, but they are often predictable. You may have asked them enough that the answer no longer surprises you. Likewise, your candidate is probably expecting them and has their answer ready. They will have a story prepared to tell you about when they took the lead on a project. To determine if they can lead and inspire others on a daily basis, you need to explore their motivations and experiences deeper.

The Right Questions

The questions you ask should require your candidate to reveal their management style and leadership qualifications by sharing experiences in their recent past with management situations. Candidates may have to think a minute about these questions but should not struggle to answer them if they have held a leadership position in the past.

1. What was the most challenging leadership position you’ve had? How did you overcome those challenges?

When a project goes sideways, as it often will, the responsibility for solving the issues falls first and foremost to the team leader. How this individual reacts to this source of conflict will determine whether they can turn it around into a success or whether it will be allowed to fester and become a source of contention within the organization. In their response, does your candidate blame others for problems, do they back away from the challenge and defer to someone else, or do they take the helm and find a solution that everyone can get behind? Business problems must be handled calmly and logically. Leaders that react emotionally may stir up contentious feelings while struggling to address potential fallout.

2. What do you enjoy most about managing other individuals?

Not every talented individual makes a great leader. While some people enjoy taking charge, others loathe dealing with the problems that arise and would rather work independently. Candidates who thrive on working with others and solving problems should quickly explain why they prefer to be at the head of a group.

3. How do you handle situations where employees disagree with your decisions?

Most employers seek out a diverse pool of employees who bring unique perspectives. From time to time, ideas and opinions are bound to clash. Does the candidate see the employee’s opinion as a threat or an opportunity when it happens? Leaders should carefully consider all relevant thoughts and opinions while being confident enough to make binding decisions. There is a delicate balance between ensuring employees feel involved and taking ownership of team decisions. Effectively managing differences of opinion supports healthy communication and collaboration.

4. When have you come up with a unique solution to a problem? What resources did you use?

As a business owner, you have solved many problems for which there was no prescribed answer. These types of issues arise at all levels of an organization. When a situation calls for a new response, will your candidate be able to handle it? Leaders who can evaluate the situation and are willing to try something new can innovate creative solutions. Be cautious of those who eagerly jump on an idea without considering the implications. Acting hastily can lead to unforeseen problems.

5. Tell me about the last time you had to let an employee go.

Making tough decisions such as letting an employee go comes with management roles. How a candidate arrived at their decision can tell you a lot about their expectations and thought processes. Are they understanding of employee circumstances? Do they jump to conclusions or rush to judgment? Managers can win the respect and trust of their employees by displaying empathy and allowing some flexibility when needed.

Choosing the Best Candidate

When recruiting for a leadership position, asking the right questions is only the first part of the equation. How you interpret their answers and interactions will often determine whether or not you identify the best candidate to lead your team.

Remember, applicants may be nervous walking into the interview. Responses to questions may be slow incoming. Pay attention to why they are taking their time to answer. Are responses thoughtful, or are they vague? Answers can be ambiguous when an applicant has little to say.

Your ideal candidate should look the part of a leader. Of course, no one look is the right one – height, weight, gender, and age should all be irrelevant characteristics. However, the way individuals carry themselves and how they speak can make them appear confident or insecure. If they act like a leader, employees are more likely to follow their direction.

Applicants for leadership positions will have a list of past experiences and current skills. Can they apply those skills to the job you are interviewing them to fill? If they do not see the connection between what they know and what you are asking for, their skills will do little to benefit them or you. Ask how they plan to contribute to your organization to determine if they see the connection.

Managers and leaders have a notable responsibility to keep business operations moving forward. Recruiting the best people for these positions can make a significant difference in your ability to meet your goals and maintain customer loyalty. For help hiring the best for your organization, contact PrincePerelson’s recruiting experts – with offices in Salt Lake City and Utah County. We have been helping companies along the Wasatch Front hire high caliber employees since 1992.