One of the most used interview questions is “What are your stengths?”
This is closely followed, of course, by the inevitable, pointless, question about weaknesses.
These stock questions reveal little about candidates, who are mostly well-rehearsed and trot out equally stock answers… How many times have you heard that your candidate is “a perfectionist” or “a workaholic”?
We should be more interested in exploring the potential “overplayed strengths” of our candidates – the characteristics and behaviours that become exaggerated when they are stressed, tired or overworked. We don’t usually see these behaviours in interviews – and individuals are not always aware of them themselves. It’s not known as “the dark side” of personality for nothing!
We’ve all met, and worked with, people whose initial charm turns into manipulative behaviour, their confidence becomes arrogance or their enthusiasm becomes volatility (or panic) when the going gets tough. And you’ll have known some who just don’t recognise that their behaviour changes in any way. This is when strengths become weaknesses; when positive, productive behaviour turns into negative, potentially destructive behaviour. This is when bosses become toxic and when productivity flies out of the window.
Most of us have at least one or two potential derailing characteristics – some have a few more – they don’t make us bad people! But being aware of them and the warning signs can make the difference between a good appointment and a roller-coaster ride for your business.
Dealing with derailers
So how do we unearth these potential derailers? Well, we can change the way we ask our interview questions for a start. Instead of a simple strengths and weaknesses question, focus on behaviour – ask your candidates about times of pressure they have experienced. What were the circumstances, how did they deal with it, how did it effect (and how did they manage) their relationships with staff, colleagues, customers and their boss? Look for the clues and follow up rigorously – as you should in all your interview questions.
To help pinpoint the specific areas to look for, consider using one of the personality questionnaires that identifies overplayed strengths. The Hogan Development Survey, for example, is one of the best known psychometric tools available and examines 11 possible derailers. While not specifically focussed on derailers, Saville Consulting’s Wave and Dimensions from Talent Q are occupational personality questionnaires that provide some insight into this crucial area. There are many other psychological exercises available which focus on issues such as resilience and potential triggers for stress.
Before you make that final recruitment decision, consider making a small investment in the appropriate questionnaires with feedback and interpretation from an experienced assessor. The process can raise awareness of potential issues with candidates as well as the employer. Most importantly, it can help you make an informed decision and minimise the risk of unexpected, and unwanted, behaviour in your new appointee.