I could tell right away from the tone of his voice that the vice president of engineering wasn’t happy. He practically growled at me. He had just finished interviewing a job candidate named Anand, who I had directed his way, and was calling me to say he was going pass.
Candidates are too often screened out because they don’t fit a particular pattern; one survey found as many as 75% of résumés don’t make it past applicant tracking systems. The VP thought Anand had the right skills and experience but found Anand’s questions annoying. His assessment that Anand was a “bad fit” was really code for “I don’t want to feel uncomfortable.”
Leaders need to build teams that can both define the right questions and then discover new answers. Here are the types of questions the VP might’ve asked — and the ones you should ask — if you want to avoid screening out perfectly good candidates based on the wrong criteria.
Questions that uncover capabilities, not just experience. Are you asking questions that get to someone’s capabilities or are you seeking confirming data that someone has done exactly what you have already scoped? Unfortunately, an estimated 77% of all jobs (60% in the U.S. and 80% worldwide) require little to no creativity, decision-making or independent judgment.
Questions that assess whether they can co-create on a team. Teams need to figure out new terrain together. You want to find people who can play together, filling in the gaps between pre-defined roles to get the work done.
Questions that uncover the kinds of things they love to work on. If you’re hiring for innovation, you need to ask what this person authentically brings to work. Ideas, after all, are not invented and grown in a vacuum; they grow and evolve by connecting previously separate elements.
It’s easy to forget that the job of a leader isn’t to know all the answers but to create the conditions by which the entire team gets to learn and innovate.
Nilofer Merchant’s latest book is “The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World.”