If your interview questions are predictable, the answers will be, too. Consider these unorthodox methods for finding new talent to help grow your business.
Most business owners and HR managers can tell their fair share of stories about candidates who seemed perfect in interviews but turned out to be very difficult to work with.
What they don’t realize is that they’re asking the same interview questions that recruiters have been using for years while expecting that their hiring decisions will be better than average. The questions are predictable, and so are the answers: Everyone's got something prepared for the “how did you handle a big challenge?” question, but very few people will answer it in a meaningful way. If employers want to improve their hiring decisions, it’s time to consider unorthodox ways of recruiting, interviewing and retaining talent.
It’s easy to stay within your comfort zone when you’re hiring—people naturally have an easier time relating to others who come from a similar background. But hiring a homogenous group of employees will eventually give your business a huge disadvantage. Statistically speaking, teams that are more diverse tend to make better decisions and have a higher shareholder value. According to a recent MIT study, diversity can increase a company’s value by almost 41 percent. Odds are good that your customer base will also be diverse—you need your team to be able to relate to them. And in case of a pivot or other unforeseen challenges, having a more diverse breadth of perspectives can help you figure out new solutions faster. Strive to recruit a diverse team, because it can literally make your business more valuable.
Sometimes you discover the best talent not when you’re interviewing, but when you’re a customer. The salesperson who contacts you about her company’s product and convinces you to sign up on a cold call, the IT guy who can instantly solve your problems, or the blogger whose website you love to read—if you’ve had a great experience with their skills, then you essentially got to test them out as a potential employee without making a job offer. I wound up meeting my future co-founder and CMO this way: I was so impressed with his work that I asked him to join me. If you see someone whose skills really impress you, consider giving them your contact info, telling them you’re looking for someone just like them, and see what happens.
Just as you’re not in a position to see a romantic interest’s faults on the first few dates, so are you in no position to gauge a candidate’s weaknesses in the first or even second interview.
Throw Them Off Balance
If you do the unexpected in an interview (within the bounds of professional demeanor, of course), you’ll be able to observe how the applicant reacts when they’re thrown a curveball. Arrange beforehand with someone else in your company to come into your office and interrupt the interview. How does the interviewee respond? Do they introduce themselves professionally, or get agitated or upset? Your ideal candidate will respond with warmth and charisma to an unexpected interruption by a potential future coworker.
Another good tactic is to ask them a question that’s completely out of left field, like what their favorite dessert is or where they would travel if given unlimited time but only $2,000. I sometimes ask what their favorite game is and why. The answer isn't as important as their ability to creatively improvise in an unexpected situation, which is vital for any business. Be wary of any interviewee who gets defensive and wants to know why you’re asking the question.
Give Points for "I Don't Know"
In many interviews, candidates who are asked technical questions often don’t know all the answers, but they answer as if they do with the hope that they can fool the interviewer. Most of the time it’s obvious if they don’t actually know what they’re talking about—and in any case, a new team member who admits the limits of his or her own knowledge and is willing to learn more is much more valuable than someone who lies about their own expertise without being able to back it up. Unless what the candidate admits to not knowing is a big red flag (i.e., not knowing a skill that should be a core competency for the job), give them extra points for honesty.
Second Guess Your Gut Instinct
Relationships and hiring decisions both fall under the dangerous spell of the honeymoon period. Just as you’re not in a position to see a romantic interest’s faults on the first few dates, so are you in no position to gauge a candidate’s weaknesses in the first or even second interview. There’s an open position you need to fill, a candidate who seems like a decent fit, and your subconscious, already stressed out from all the duties of running a company, has a natural bias toward filling that position as soon as possible. It’s only afterward that you’ll be able to see the problems your subconscious gut feeling was masking.
Think of it this way—if your gut tells you that the person is the perfect fit for the job, and you’re right, then following up on their references and interviewing a few more candidates should only confirm that feeling. If you’re wrong, investing a little extra effort before extending a job offer could save you a huge headache down the road.
Traditional recruiting practices are easy for candidates to anticipate, which also makes it easy to prepare canned answers that mask actual flaws. It's going to take more than just asking, "What's your biggest weakness?" to get a realistic picture of a candidate's abilities. By changing the focus of traditional hiring techniques when finding new talent, you'll be giving your company a wide array of different perspectives to solve problems, with each prospective employee having to improvise at some level. Always follow up on their references and make your hiring decisions carefully, and you should be on your way to building an amazing team.
Author: Jared Brown is also a freelance developer and a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).