3 Interviewing Techniques for Finding Conscious Leaders

November 15, 2017

5:00 pm

Hiring is one of the most complex—and crucial—elements of running a business, and that only becomes more evident as companies grow. After all, the best employers are looking for talented individuals who can not only execute day-to-day tasks and bring new ideas and strategic thinking to the table, but also fit into the company culture and uphold its core values. You know, the conscious leaders who can take their organizations to the next level. Finding them is by no means an easy task, and yet it can be a major difference-maker in a company’s success.

My company WebPT has been around for nearly 10 years now, and during that time, we’ve hired more than 300 people. While not every hire has been a win, and we’re still learning and adapting our hiring process as we grow, and we’ve managed to maintain a very high employee retention rate (approximately 96 percent). So, I know we’re doing something right. No one makes the perfect decision with every single hire, but there are several ways to ensure you have a higher ratio of wins than losses––and it starts with having a solid process in place. Here are three steps to get you started:

Adopt a Layered Interview Approach

People frequently ask me exactly how we’ve maintained such a close-knit culture as we’ve grown to hundreds of employees (and tens of thousands of customers), and while it’s a combination of several things, it ultimately comes down to a steadfast commitment to our core values—and hiring for culture first. We have a set of eight team commitments that serve as our North Star—and as a guidepost for identifying potential new hires who share the same values we do. These commitments very much shape each layer of our hiring process. After all, you can teach skills, but you can’t teach cultural fit.

Before the Interview

It’s important to have the criteria, goals and expectations of the position before you even begin the interview process. This will shape the questions that will be asked during the interview. This goes beyond the job description. It’s the vision for the position –– what is this person expected to do in his or her role? The interview needs to be as in depth as possible. In essence, the goal is to peel back the layers to get to the true person that will be showing up to work on day 1 and if they align with the vision you’ve mapped for that role. Once the vision and goals are established, divide up the areas for questioning amongst your team and get them involved in the interview process. This could be based on chronological order or areas of expertise.

Get Everyone Involved

Dividing the questions amongst the team will ensure you cover more ground and eliminate overlap with each interview. The goal of the questioning is to find patterns. As an example, our applicants typically begin their interview journey by speaking with our in-house recruiter, who vets their qualifications and gets a feel for who they are through the lens of our culture commitments. If they progress on, they’ll complete an interview with a hiring manager, then meet the team with whom they’d potentially be working.

The team meeting is vitally important, as these are the people who will be in the trenches with the candidate day in and day out; so, it’s essential everyone gels. To break free from the artificial bonds that a structured, in-office interview can sometime create, we usually hold this team meeting over a happy hour or some other activity outside the office. We’ve found that when candidates are in a more relaxed state, we’re able to see a more accurate representation of their character. If everyone on the team gives the thumbs up, then the candidate will usually meet with the VP to whom they will report. Then, if everything goes well, they’ll receive an offer letter.

Trust Your Team

Putting these interview layers in place has helped us ensure we make wise hiring decisions, and this has been critical, because as we’ve expanded, I can no longer oversee every single new hire. If you’re a founder, let this be a reality check: as you grow, you may find it’s simply no longer feasible for you to personally vet every candidate, but if you have the right layers in place, lean on your core values and entrust your team to make the right decisions, you’ll be on the right path to building a strong team.

Focus on the Responses not the Questions

It’s easy to get hung up on which questions to ask during an interview, and while you do want to put thought into your questions, what’s more important is how the candidate answers them. If you listen closely, you’ll be able to gain key insights to their personality. For example, we’re all about embracing a “we” rather than “me” mentality, and it’s important we find collaborative team players. If an applicant tends to only respond to questions by talking about individual achievements and fails to recognize others who may have helped in the process, that’s a red flag for us.

Practice Big Listening

You can also gauge a lot about a person’s default mindset by how he or she frames his or her answers. Optimistic people tend to be more direct and lighthearted when discussing failures or career steps, while pessimists are more likely to tint their answers with bitterness or regret. So practice “big listening” when interviewing, paying attention to phrasing, facial expressions, and body language. You’ll learn a lot.

Look for Experiences

In formulating queries, consider how you are asking the question. A question like, “How do you approach difficulty with a colleague?” will elicit a much different response than, “Give me an example of a time you experienced conflict with a colleague. What happened? How did you fix it?” The latter type of question requires critical thought and thus will give you a window into the person’s problem-solving skills and personality. Plus, it’s a lot harder for a candidate to come up with a false story when you ask for a specific instance.

Ask Experiential Questions

Questions must be experiential in nature to determine whether a particular candidate aligns with your core values. Generally, we’ll ask for an example of how he or she demonstrated one of our values in the past. A personal favorite of mine is our value of doing “más with menos.” To that end, we’re looking for candidates who can recount how they’ve been resourceful in their careers. I’m also a fan of asking a question that relates to our core value of accountability (i.e., “owning up”), because the answers to those types of questions often shed light on the candidate’s EQ (emotional intelligence). If a prospective team member can humbly provide examples of when he or she has exemplified our core values, it’s a big reassurance that they’ll fit in culturally.

You also want the interviewee to speak more than interviewer. We’ll generally use statements like, “Tell me more” or “Can you give me a specific example?” to draw more out of them.

These are just a few of the methods that have helped us recruit, interview, onboard, and retain some of the best talent in the tech biz. As far as I’m concerned, the most important thing you can do is pinpoint the values that are most important to your company and the type of culture you want to form; then, shape your hiring process accordingly. Trust me, it’s worth the time investment. After all, it’s much more costly to continually replace subpar employees than it is to retain great ones.

Read more about building a culture at your company on TechCo

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Heidi Jannenga PT, DPT, ATC/L, is the president and co-founder of WebPT, a four-time Inc. 5000 honoree and the leading software solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi leads WebPT’s product vision, company culture, and branding efforts, while advocating for the physical therapy profession on a national scale. She's an APTA member, belonging to both the private practice and sports medicine sections, and she's a member of the PT-PAC Board of Trustees.