What Part of the Four-Question Interview Don’t You Understand?

As I said in my last article, most interviewers end up measuring candidates’ interviewing skills ? not their ability to do the job ? during an interview. They think that a person with the right skills and experiences and some clever answers to their questions is a strong candidate. But interviewing is as much about recruiting as it is about determining competency. The four-question interview we advocate gets the candidate excited about the job. It indicates that the company has high standards, it validates the candidate by letting him or her describe the details of accomplishments, and it demonstrates that the hiring manager is a person with vision, strong leadership and high standards. Only four questions are needed to determine competency. The questions are easy, but it’s the answers that really matter. In fact, three of the questions are essentially the same. They follow this simple form: Doing – Doing – Doing – Thinking. Doing I Get the trend of individual accomplishments. Ask the candidate to describe 2-3 major accomplishments over the past 5-10 years. From this you’ll be able to determine motivation, initiative, talent, decision-making, and the ability to achieve results. Doing II Get the trend of team accomplishments. Ask the candidate to describe 2-3 major team accomplishments over the past 5-10 years. From this you’ll be able to determine the ability to persuade, manage, and motivate others, and the actual role the candidate had. Have the candidate draw an organization chart for each job during the questions. This will uncover span of control, the types of people the candidate works with, and the ability to lead a group to accomplish results. Doing III Anchor each performance objective. Get a specific example of a major accomplishment that compares to each of the top 5-6 major objectives required in the job. This is why knowing job requirements is critical to an accurate interview. From this question you’ll know if the previous accomplishments are comparable to the real needs of the job, and if the process used to achieve these results are appropriate and consistent with the company culture. Thinking Ask the candidate how they would solve or address each of the performance objectives. Get into a give-and-take discussion. This will demonstrate how the candidate will solve job-specific issues and problems. This gets at visualization skills. We discovered that candidates who can anticipate the needs of the job before starting have a higher likelihood of accomplishing the task. The key to the “Doing” questions is to get specific details about the results achieved, and actual examples of the process used to achieve these results. It takes about 10 minutes to paint a word picture of each accomplishment. It’s the process of pulling the information from the candidate that makes this technique so powerful. What you’ll discover is that many candidates who are initially weaker interviews shine with this type of approach to interviewing. An equal number of candidates who sound impressive in the beginning show their true lack of substance when they are required to substantiate their fa?ade of performance. The “Thinking” question provides an opportunity for realistic, job-related, problem-solving. We’ve discovered that it’s the combination of the Doing and Thinking that’s the real predictor of on-the-job success. While the thinking skills are critical, some interviewers overvalue them, without considering what the candidate has actually accomplished. Success requires a track record of personal growth consistent with the needs of the job, a track record of team leadership consistent with the needs of the job, a series of accomplishments comparable to the needs of the job, and an ability to visualize and anticipate the needs of job. When you put this together with a true understanding of the performance requirements of the position, you’ll be able to accurately measure job competency with only four questions. When you get every else on the interviewing team to do the same thing, you’ll have fundamentally altered how you hire top people in your company. Hiring top people is the goal; interviewing is just a tool used to achieve the goal. When you use the interview to recruit the candidate and assess competency at the same time, you’ve just elevated yourself into a higher level of sophistication and professionalism. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).

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9 Comments on “What Part of the Four-Question Interview Don’t You Understand?

  1. Please don?t get me wrong?I find this forum a source of great information on interviewing but in this case the theory put into practice may not return the results you expect. In the context of IT recruiting I?m not interested in the candidates 5 to 10 year history of accomplishments. I?m most interested in what he did yesterday. As well, the questions themselves still only imply to the candidate that he needs to put on a good performance during the interview?.If the candidate is contemporary in his interviewing approach he has rehearsed these questions already. We have been asking these questions for years.

    We have also been telling recruiters to ask open-ended questions for many years. We assume that this is going to return lots of meaningful data. Yes, it does return data?.too much data!!?.hmmm?. let me see now?. 2 to 3 examples in each case (accomplishments) plus lets start drawing those org charts?.at 3 hours each, we should be able to get two interviews in today. That will give us another couple of hours to sort out the 2 dissertations.

    A number of ?closed? questions in the context of a hypothesis is far more effective. The hypothesis takes the candidate outside the work setting to a place he/she has never been before. The closed questions solicit a true, on-the-spot, reaction from the candidate as opposed to a rambling story based on a rehearsed script.

    If you are a recruiter in the IT business and you don?t know the technology, then I suggest you find a way to get up to speed. The closed questioning approach is only effective if your questions are meaningful and that requires that you understand the job the applicant will be asked to do. The open-ended questions are certainly effective in testing communication skills/soft skills but as you relinquish control to the applicant in this manner be prepared to push your calendar way, way back.

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  2. Readers should understand that Lou’s article is an extremely abbreviated version of POWER Hiring, which is a 1/2 day course on interviewing, recruiting and hiring. Bruce McIsaac may have misunderstood the concepts due to the brevity of the presentation. I have been using Lou’s techniques for some time now, and find them to be extremely effective. Org charts can be done in a minute or two, and the interviewer needs to keep the interviewee on target if he/she starts to wander. Asking for most recent significant accomplishments is important, but more important is the trend of increasing responsibility that is shown by getting to their employment accomplishments over the past 3 – 5 – 10 years. Then you see if you have a candidate who has plateaued (sp?) or who is continuing to grow. If you want top performers, you first have to define top performance. Then match the candidate’s past record (with the under-standing you will be checking references in -depth)with the performance requirements of the position. Weak candidates can very seldom produce a string of “stories” of top performance, and that becomes obvious in the POWER Hiring process. For more information, I suggest readers check the http://www.powerhiring.com website – there are some outstanding tools there for everyone – from recruiters to personnel managers to candidates.
    Happy recruiting!!

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  3. I wanted to provide some additional insight on the concepts outlined in Lou?s article. I have some important first hand observations as a professional colleague who not only uses Lou?s POWER Hiring, but has taught them to corporate clients and has personally teamed with Lou in completing complex search assignments.

    I have been a professional recruiter for over 30 years and have spent time in senior HR capacities in the early part of my career and with the later half spent as a consultant. I?ve looked at many interview systems, questions and methods and believe that Lou?s is the best I?ve seen, particularly with regard to the ease of teaching and implementing this across organizations.

    I will also add that I used these principles in my exclusive IT practice and they work nicely within this field. Do you need to know the terminology and understand the field? Yes you do, but I see clients making mistakes every day by focusing on IT skills, rather than performance. Does every C++ developer code equally? Does every IT Project Manager manage projects the same way, or produce equal results? The obvious answer is no. Yet you might interview several candidates that all have the ?skills?, i.e., they have done similar jobs, but performance can and usually does vary greatly.

    First, it is important to understand that as far as a predictor of a candidate?s future performance, there isn?t any better or more accurate predictor than past performance! Therefore, to really understand how a candidate can be expected to perform, you must first define what superior performance in the job in question would look like. Once you have defined that, you can use these four questions to predict with much great certainty how the candidate will perform in that role.

    I am VERY much interested in what the candidate has done over the span of their career. We are looking for a trend of whether the candidate is still on an upward growth trend or has plateaued. Time doesn?t allow me to list all of the positive things that come with understanding a candidate?s entire work history; I know that it is very important.

    As to hypothesis approach. Lou?s fourth question is a question of this type. It asks the candidate to speak to job specific performance measurements and tell the interviewer how they would accomplish this pre-determined objective. This will quickly tell you just how this candidate will approach the job on day one and over the first period of employment. I would much rather discuss issues that relate to success on the job rather than some abject aspect of their thought process. If a performance aspect of the job requires a candidate to think on their feet, for example in front of clients, then that can be built into the Performance Profile and Lou?s questions get at that in a real-time, specific, job related way, not some hypothetical situation.

    POWER Hiring when properly used does not produce rambling stories. The drill-down or peel the onion technique applied to these four questions keeps the interview focused and very relevant.

    Org charts take all of 2 to 5 minutes to get if done correctly.

    In fact, I want the candidate to talk to me about their job; I want them to talk about aspects of their work history that they are most comfortable and knowledgeable about. What better way to see how they relate to the actual job that needs to be done, not some hypothetical subject that may not relate to actual job performance.

    Finally, POWER Hiring and its principles take a good half-day workshop to begin to transfer some of that knowledge and how things work together. If I can answer anyone?s questions about Lou or POWER Hiring I would be happy to do so.

    Carl Bradford, President
    Bradford Consulting Companies
    carlb@bradfordconsulting.com

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  4. This is an interesting discussion because everyone is a little bit right — but in a different way. Adler’s four-part interview technique is helpful because it organizes past experience and teaches a few probing techniques. If your interviews are not structured or your interview techniques are weak, Adler’s program can be very helpful. …Now the flip side. Interviews — ANY KIND of interviews — are just SELF-REPORTED STORIES. That means they depend on 1) interviewer skills to get data, 2) interviewee ability to answer the questions, and 3) interviewer interpretations about what he or she heard. Count on about 5 to 10% predictive accuracy from interview data. They are like a bicycle — better than walking, but way short of a motorcar. End of story on interviews. …..Moving on to the “organization” part. Every job requires four things: cognitive ability, planning ability, interpersonal skills, and motivations. The task of the recruiter is to learn details about each requirement, then use the most accurate way to measure each one. The FQ technique teaches how to get a maximum amount of SELF-REPORTED data in each area; but whether that data is accurate, “too much”, “too little”, or “just right” for the job won’t be learned until 6-9 months after hiring. Knowing the “target” requires prior investigative work (e.g., some kind of job analysis) and better measurement tools (e.g., cases, tests, simulations, etc.). Moral of the story…the FQI technique is a high-powered interviewing application that reduces error, but still shares all the weaknesses of any interview technique.

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  5. Carl sounds very passionate about Adlers’ FQI. One thing, though. Past performance is not, as one would believe, the most accurate tool available. For example, how do you reconcile the universal “promote a good technician and get a bad manager” stories? In all probability, these people all had good “past performance” — even better, their performance was not self reported, it was observed on the job. Can interview data be more accurate than observed data?

    Assuming what you hear during an interview is true (a BIG assumption), past performance can help you identify some general traits and trends…Good to know, but not an exhaustive measure. Past performance can also tell you something about potential “problem children”…also good to know and something to avoid. And, past performance can tell you something about future success when the future job is IDENTICAL to the past job. Interview data can also more accurate if the recruiter specializes in one or two positions where he or she knows the jobs “cold” (i.e., they don’t need a detailed spec sheet). That’s about it.

    On the other hand, past performance data drops in accuracy when the future job is different; when the applicant “fibs”; when the recuiter fails to probe; when data is misinterpreted or overlooked; when the recruiter is somewhat unfamiliar with future job requirements; and, if general attitudes, interests and motivations are important to future job performance.

    Interviews have a place in screening and data clarification, but you will ALWAYS get more accurate data by putting the applicant in a “slice of the job” and watching them perform. This can include completing validated cases, simulations or tests…it all depends on what is critical.

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  6. It is an eliminatory mistake to enter an interview with the idea that personality sets and behavior are static and that performance in the future can be measured by looking at the past..

    Personalities and performance change quicker than the technology itself in the IT world. You are prejudging a candidate by accessing his present condition based on history. History provides only a very small window of understanding into the present applicant condition.

    Your interviewing techniques need to keep pace with the changing human condition in the context of a very dynamic IT environment.

    As a recruiter I am looking for ?original thoughts? that can be applied to the applicant screening process.
    The linear process as described in the brief article (I do understand this has been taken from a larger piece) keeps me pretty much in the box. I?ll never appreciate the dynamics of the human spirit from inside that box.

    I am not an interviewing machine, I am a human being, interviewing another very complicated human being. A simple, canned approach will just not do.

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  7. There are a few points here that need some clarification. For one thing, it’s true that personality and behavior are not perfectly “static”, but they are, however, very, very stable. Can you imagine a world where one could never anticipate how another person would react or perform? If a recruiter does not have current performance data, historical data is the only alternative source of information. It also seems to me that, if a recruiter believes performance or behavior is unstable, they could just hire anyone who applied.

    Incidentally, there are not any “quick techniques or “original thoughts” on recruiting — the only choice will be whether a recruiter wants to work harder or not. I suggest every serious recruiter go to Amazon,com and buy “Applied Psychology in Human Resource Management by Wayne F. Cascio. Hopefully, that will end the “quick fix” recruiting syndrome.

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  8. One of the amazing things about almost all “on-line” discussion lists is that discussions are too often based on small parts of a total picture — and debates then start over missing pieces. Individual criticize a piece without knowing the whole. The original critique of Lou Adler’s Four Question Interview focused on the questions (“we’ve asked these questions for years.”) — but it’s not the questions that matter as much as it is the answers — and a trained POWER Hiring interviewer who knows how to use the four question interview CORRECTLY. Like Carl Bradford, I’m a passionate devotee of the POWER Hiring process.

    Now Dr. Williams responds with comments that are very valid but show a misunderstanding of the POWER Hiring process. Dr. Williams says that past performance is not necessarily the best predictor of future performance, especially if the job is different. He must have missed Adler’s description of the fourth question in the interview because this is where the issue of “future objectives” is addressed directly. Plus Dr. Williams argues from one side — he misses the obvious that a track record of poor performance could hardly be used as a basis for the person’s ability to do a new job at a high level. Dr. Williams excellent call of a “slice of the job,” a simulation, is definitely used in the POWER Hiring process.

    A thorough understanding of the job, through a Performance Profile, is critical to the POWER Hiring process. So is the probing that Dr. Williams calls for. And the probing must be good enough to detect fibs. Learning the POWER Hiring interview process teaches this.

    The best techiniques, whether it’s POWER Hiring or those suggested by Dr. Williams, will still not work in the hands of someone who doesn’t apply them correctly. The complete POWER Hiring system works only with both understanding and practice.

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  9. Sorry to disagree, but just responding to a question about “future objectives” is not a simulation…it is a hypothetical response to a hypothetical question — it has about the same predictive validity as behavioral interviewing. Being asked to pilot a flight simulator is a simulation…real time observation of real time data …not a “what would you do if..” question.

    Of course, one can always make the assumption that bad past performance might not have anything to do with future performance in a different job –but I would not want to bet my money on it.

    As I said before, I think Adler’s system is a good tool for interviewers who do not have either a systematic approach or an effective probing process. Nevertheless, if PH is as good as its defenders claim it to be, thousands of selection scientists are going to be very surprised that they were totally wrong about interview effectiveness.

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