Just as directing a film is largely about choosing the correct cast and crew, hiring is the single most important step to ensure that your organization surpasses its goals and thrives over the long term. Nonetheless, many hiring managers treat the interview process and its all-important prep as a chore. Some even put it off until forced, and then often make poor choices that only have to be replaced a short while later.

Employees are your most important asset. If you don't believe that with all of your heart and soul, you will fail. Employees do all of the real work in any organization. They are the public face of your business, day in and day out. They are the lifeblood of every organization. Without them, there is just you, and you can't do what needs to be done alone.

If you hate interviewing and prepping for interviews, imagine what it's like for the person on the other side of your desk. They have a limited amount of time to guess what you want to see and hear and to dazzle you - and that's after they've made it past resume-screening software (which turns away better than 95% of applicants), any headhunters you may work with, and your HR department.

Of course prep for the interview; you should have a set of questions sitting in a file folder at all times, so that you are ready whenever you need to hire someone. And you know the best place to get those questions?

From the people who already do the job.

Let's face it: They probably know the requirements better than you do. You can ask the basics, too, if you want, all of the "What did you do there?" and "What is your greatest strength?" stuff, but know that any applicant that's gotten as far as your desk has already rehearsed the answers to those tired words a hundred times before. You will learn exactly nothing that isn't already the story they've told on their resume.

So: Get 5 - 10 questions from employees that already do the job that you're hiring for. Next, ask the things that matter long-term:

  • What kind of corporate culture are you looking for? 
  • What do you find is the best way to network? 
  • What do you do to relieve stress? 
  • Would you rather stay in one position for a long period of time with regular raises, or move up quickly with no change in compensation? 
  • Are you interviewing with a competitor? What made you come to us? 

These are questions that help define whether or not the candidate is a match for your culture (or at least the culture of the team that they will likely join). Listen carefully to the responses and think not just about what the candidate says, but how they say it.

There are two questions that you will want to ask at the end of every interview, unless you're already sure that the candidate is a "no":

  • You win the lottery tomorrow - $164 million after taxes. What do you do? 
  • Tomorrow morning, you find out that you have 6 months to live. What do you do? 

There are, of course, no right or wrong answers to either question, but the applicant's answers and how they answer are revealing. Let's take question one and break it down:
  • If the candidate hesitates for an extended period, doesn't answer, or sounds like they are saying what you want to hear, don't hire them. If you hire them and something goes wrong, they will either fail to tell you until you find out on your own, hide it from you, or blame someone else. Trust me on this one. 
  • If the applicant says they want to take care of their family and/or friends or give money to charity, and they are applying for a customer service or tech support role, they will likely be a good fit for that role, even if they add other things to the list. 
  • If they say that they will quit working and travel, they will likely be a short-term employee. This in and of itself is not always a bad thing, but it depends on whether or not that is your plan for the position. 
  • If they say that they would likely start their own company doing X, they may be a potential team lead or manager. 
  • Anyone who says lots of different things is likely never to be satisfied in any role. For them, the grass will always be greener elsewhere. 

You can probably figure out the rest.

Question 2 is a different circumstance. Rather than fulfillment of a dream, it presents an opportunity to see what your applicant's priorities are when faced with the grimmest of all realities: Death. Most if not all of your applicants will not have given this question any thought, ever. In fact, some may actively resist answering. If they do, or have a great deal of difficulty answering, they will likely never rise to a higher position. If, however, they are able to accept the question at face value, think it through, and present a cogent answer, they will likely be good planners who are capable of acting on their own without as much supervision as candidates who have no answer. They may even explain their answers to you as they figure them out. Bear in mind that they are probably explaining these answers to themselves, as well as to you.

Any candidate that asks why you asked either question is dead in the water. If they're that suspicious of your motives before they've even had a chance to see how devious you really are, you'll only have to replace them at some point, anyway. Why not choose someone better from the start?

Second Interview
For the second interview - if the applicant is good enough to earn one - invite employees in the department to which the candidate will be assigned to ask the questions. You should do this whether the person that you hire will be their co-worker or their manager. Do not tell them in advance what you think of an applicant; let them make up their own minds. Give each person who volunteers a copy of the applicant's resume.

After they are done speaking with the applicant, sit with them alone somewhere quiet and ask them what they think. Then listen. Then thank them for their input. Do not at any point try to persuade them to think differently or lead them to think what you think.

This process serves several important functions:
  • Knowledge. Remember, these employees do this job every day. Who better to kick the applicant's tires? 
  • Rapport. Your applicant will ask questions of potential team members that they might hesitate to ask you. This way, they can get a clear picture of what your corporate culture really is - rather than what you'd like to think it is - and whether or not they are likely to be happy there. 
  • Ownership. Whether co-worker or manager, each employee has a stake in every new hire, since they will depend on the new person for some kind of support. 
  • Buy-in. Because they were an active part of the decision-making process, your employees will more readily accept any potential hire - even if it's not the one they picked. (You, of course, always make the final choice. Never present your employees' thoughts, to them or to anyone else, as anything more than recommendations.)

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