One of the best things about the comments on my Vistage blog post is that they are getting my juices flowing. I've already stated I don't like assessments, that I prefer auditions. See Creating Auditions for Senior Managers for more details.
The question about current industry standard for cultural fit got me thinking. I don't much care about current industry standards. By the time practices get to be industry standards, they are old. What you need are practices that work for you. And what you really need to know is if this candidate will work in your organization and if this candidate is what he or she appears to be—is this candidate authentic?
We crave authenticity. That's why Chris Christie is so popular as the governor of New Jersey. Even if you don't like his politics, he's real. He's consistent. You know what he's going to do. He's going to keep the people of New Jersey uppermost in his thoughts, deeds, and actions, consistent with his political beliefs. Joe Biden, as Vice President, has the same kind of authenticity, although many of us can't wait to hear what's going to come out of his mouth. His authenticity is that he's a real guy. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and he speaks his mind. He's consistent.
Authenticity is part of you want to learn about your candidates.
So, how do you learn this? Often with meta-questions. Meta-questions are these:
- What else should I ask you?
- Is there something else I should know?
You ask these at the end of an interview. I like to start asking these at the end of a phone screen. I also like to ask them at the end of lunch or dinner, when the candidate is more relaxed with me. They are not trick questions. We have built rapport. When we are in person, the candidate has met a number of my colleagues and a number of his or her potential colleagues.
Candidates will tell you amazing things about themselves. In phone screens, I have learned a lot about management candidates, including reasons why they were concerned about their ability to manage.
In in-person interviews, I have learned even more, especially if you have served alcohol with dinner. Their guard is down. Their authentic selves come to the fore. They are tired after a few hours of interviewing. They feel as if they can trust you—at least, they feel as if they can trust me. They can.
I've always been a cheap date, so I rarely have more than a few sips of wine. When interviewing, I explain that I don't drink much, but they are welcome to do so. Since I'm only five feet tall, and we're almost always out with a few people, we get a bottle of wine for the table. The other men generally have a drink or a beer before dinner. I pass on that. I save my meta-question for the end of dinner, just before coffee. I ask for my decaf whatever, and after we've ordered coffee and/or dessert, I often ask, with a smile
Tell me what else we should know about you
We often hear great answers. One time, we heard about a challenge the candidate had overcome that had not arisen in the interview that was a perfect match for our organization. Another time, the candidate started talking about how he never let managers come to him with problems unless they already had one solution. I asked what if the managers were totally stuck. “I pay them big bucks to not be stuck.” Ohhh, okay. Not our guy.
I work hard to build rapport. I want to know the real person. I have let them know the real me. I am authentic with the candidate. In return, the candidate is authentic with me.
Meta-questions work at any level in the organization. I have found them especially useful with management candidates, because it is so difficult to create great auditions.
The best way to judge cultural fit is to spend time with the candidate. You can't do that if you give the candidate an assessment. You can do that if you craft great questions and listen to the answers. And, if you know your culture.
I have much more on these questions in Hiring Geeks That Fit.