Talent is the most mysterious of the wastes of business. It’s impossible to measure because unlike the others, it’s not about having too much of something. It’s about not having enough ideas and enthusiasm because the wrong person was hired or the right person wasn’t listened to.
The root of talent waste happens during the hiring process. Hiring the right person opens up new ideas and opportunities, while the wrong hire can waste time and effort while squandering much needed potential.
At hiring time, you get a stack of resumes and they all blur together. Some stick out, for better or worse. But how to tell the others apart? And how to find what you actually need? Some interview questions reveal more than others. The right questions can cut down on wasted talent by finding the right person to hire in the first place:
“You work for this company. I’m a big Lead, and I give you 20 seconds to pitch me. Go.”
This not only puts the pressure on, but shows how much homework they’ve done. How keen are they? How well can they improvise? Pay attention to the details of their response; do they recite your slogans back to you or have they shown the initiative to learn the nuances of your brand?
“Tell me about the best relationship you’ve had with a co-worker. What about the worst?”
Team dynamics are as important as employee skill sets. You’re looking for people who will forge productive and meaningful professional relationships. A synergistic team builds each other up and brings out the best in each other, while talent waste can stem from feeling unsupported or unvalued at work, halting ideas in their tracks.
It’s also illuminating to hear about their worst. Almost everyone has had a negative experience at one point, but the illuminating part is hearing how honest they are about it and how they speak of the other party.
“Let’s find something complex which you’re passionate about but I don’t know at all. In 2 minutes or less I need you to explain it to me so I understand.”
The topic is immaterial: the key here is that they can break it down quickly so that you understand it, and in an engaging way that draws you in. This is critical for evaluating communication and people skills. We all have passions, but those of us who can communicate and connect spread them to others.
If they’re working for you on complex problems you want them to be able to break it down quickly, but also communicate the value of it in a way that gets other people excited.
“I give you $50,000 to make your own business from scratch. What do you do with it?”
This question gives you the best insight if you give them some time. Let them think on it, perhaps even jot some notes. The best answers here are specific, so try not to cut them off.
You’re testing their creativity, their interests, and their entrepreneurial spirit. You’ll also get a taste of their business IQ by thinking about how successful their venture could be.
“I hire you, and a year from now you’re thinking that taking this job was the best thing you ever did. What happened in that year to make you think that?”
Ideally, you’re looking for someone who has already thought through what they want to contribute for the company. The more specific their answer is, the more ambitions they probably have.
This question will also inform you about their values and goals. A year from now, do they want to be focused on closing big commissions, or are they excited about developing an exciting new product? Consider if their answer team oriented or personal, and how it fits with your existing dynamic.
“Would you have asked any different questions, or done anything differently, in this interview?”
This may be uncomfortable, so be gentle. You’re trying to get at a number of things here. How assertive are they in speaking their mind to authority? Action-focused people with strong voices push achievement to the next level better than “yes men.”
You’re also giving them the chance to tell you the thing about themselves that they wished you asked about. It’s a bit like asking a cook his favourite recipe; you’re opening the conversation to a lot of things, but expect it to be a little rehearsed.
An anecdote as the last word. I interviewed someone years ago, and it was a good interview but she was up against very stiff competition. As we concluded I asked her if she had any questions for me, and she did: “Could you please tell me what I could have done better, so that if I don’t get it I can learn for next time?” I hired her on the spot.