By Louis Rovner, Ph.D.

Be it the famous 1886 novel or Huckleberry Hound cartoon version, Dr. Jekyll takes a swig of his special tonic and changes from an amiable physician into a loathsome, evil menace—Mr. Hyde—who scours the countryside looking for hapless victims. Author Robert Louis Stevenson felt that this Jekyll-Hyde transformation told us something about the basic nature of man. Little did he know he would also be describing all-too-many job seekers in the 21st century.

We have all interviewed a job candidate who seemed, when we first talked to them, to be a relatively nice person who would make a pleasant and productive addition to our company. Once hired, however, this person was somehow transformed into a lazy, spiteful jerk who did little else but make errors, irritate customers and generally cause trouble for us.

What happened? Did they drink some of Dr. Jekyll’s potion between the interview and start date? Probably not. It’s more likely that we didn’t take sufficient time and effort in the interview to make sure the candidate resembled people who were already successful members of the company.

Corporate culture
Whether you’re considering bringing John or Jane Smith in as an executive of your company or hiring a new administrative assistant (or anything in between), perhaps the most important thing is to determine if the person matches up well with your company’s unique corporate culture. If the person does, they’ll integrate easily into your company and instantly become a contributing member. If not, they’ll be at odds with you from the very beginning and will hurt the company. Even a history of good performance at other jobs won’t change this simple fact.

How then can we conduct an interview to determine this very important cultural match? An essential part of the process comes long before the interview begins. You have to take a careful look at your company and define exactly what your culture is. Begin by asking questions like, “Is our focus primarily internal (do we measure our success by happy employees) or is it primarily external (do we measure our success by satisfied customers)? Do we empower our people and give them plenty of authority, or do we have clear lines of authority that define the ways in which things are done? Is our company in an early, entrepreneurial stage, or are we well established? What kind of customers do we prefer to deal with? Are major decisions reached by consensus or are they made unilaterally by a senior executive?” These questions will help give you a clearer picture of your company’s culture.

The right attitude
The most important aspect of the interview is your attitude. Remember, you’re going to have to live with your decision for some time to come. The best way for you to prepare (attitude-wise) for the interview is to envision yourself as a Broadway producer. In the same way that the producer has intimate knowledge of the type of talent they need for their show, you now know the cultural match you’re seeking. The producer will conduct auditions, asking applicants to sing and dance for him, and will then decide if their style of singing and dancing is right for his show. Your interview should also be an audition. You know exactly what you need from an employee; let the person show you that he has (or doesn’t have) what you need.

Make sure your candidate talks about 95 percent of the time. You learn nothing about this person while you are talking. Be certain all of your questions are open-ended (questions that cannot be answered with only one or two words). Prepare your interview one or two days in advance. Think about what you want to know and then develop questions to get that information. Write your questions on an interview form and leave plenty of room for your notes. Possibly include various staffers in on the meeting both to allow them to gain a perspective on how the person might fit in as a co-worker—be sure to ask for their impressions—as well as to ask additional questions from your list. In this way, you can observe, listen closely to the candidate’s answers and not have to be thinking of your next question. Ask follow-up questions to clarify vague answers. You may even split up your interviewing process to include a brief introductory meeting and second and even third meetings with different members of your staff to make sure all questions are asked. This also will give you a chance to poll your workplace for opinions. Ultimately, though, the decision belongs to the boss—you.

Tabulate the scores
Finally, evaluate the candidate’s responses with a numerical rating system. If an answer is excellent, give it 3 points. If it’s average, give it 2 points. And if it’s unacceptable, give it one point. This will give you a better indication of the person’s match with your company than will your gut feelings, since it forces you to be objective. It also helps you to compare multiple candidates side-by-side at some later time.

Following the above steps will keep any personnel personality or work-related conflicts to a minimum in any office. If you know your company’s culture, if you have the right attitude going into the interview and if you ask the right questions, you’ll never again have to worry about Mr. Hyde lurking down the hallway.

About the author
Dr. Louis Rovner, a business psychologist based in Sherman Oaks, Calif., is an expert in interviewing techniques, employee retention and organizational culture. He may be reached at (818) 380-0048 or email: http://[email protected].


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