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Celebrating 50 years of Building High Performance Corporate Teams - 1971 to 2021

As mentioned in our last post, we are examining the search-evaluation-hiring-retention process, and sharing almost half a century of Executive Search insights by answering the following 6 questions:

  1. Who am I REALLY looking for?
  2. Where am I going to find them?
  3. How am I going to evaluate them?
  4. How am I actually going to hire them?
  5. How am I going to successfully “on-board” them?
  6. How am I going to retain them?

This post deals with the third question – How am I going to evaluate them? Once you have identified a number of candidates who appear to be qualified (at least on paper), you need to evaluate them – rigourously, impartially, and uniformly. Evaluation will usually include telephone screening, face-to-face interviews and reference checks. It may also include psychometric assessments; criminal background, credit and education checks; social media checks; and employment testing (cognitive ability, aptitude, performance, and medical, to name a few). For simplicity, we will only be considering the interview here.

The Theory

There is a lot of advice available on what to look for in a face to face interview. Warren Buffet says: “Look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

A 2012 Forbes Magazine article stated: “The only three true job interview questions are ‘Can you do the job?’ ‘Will you love the job?’ and ‘Can we tolerate working with you?’” Clearly these 3 deal with Ability, Motivation, and Fit.

We like to evaluate candidates on the basis of Education (the technical competence for the job), Experience (proven success in similar roles), and Fit (how they will get along in the new corporate environment). As we said before, “fit” is tricky, and you can’t just rely on “gut feel”.

Getting Past “Gut Feel”

Getting past relying on “gut feel” requires you to have a carefully thought-out interview, and a system for scoring. We recommend behavior-based interviews, customized to the position in question. Behaviour-based questions provide the best predictions of future behaviours (in relatively similar circumstances) because our behaviours are based on our underlying character traits, which don’t change much over time.

Thus, the question “Describe a time when you led a significant change in your organization” is much better than the hypothetical question “How would you lead a significant change in your organization?” And since behavior-based questions require the candidate to describe his/her actions in an actual past event, the answers can actually be verified in reference checks if necessary.

As you can see, much preparation needs to take place before the first interview.


Before you start interviewing candidates you need to do 4 things:

  1. Identify the top factors you are looking for (performance outcomes and character traits).
  2. Give each factor a relative weighting, recognizing that some will be more important than others.
  3. Develop one behavioural interview question for each factor (e.g. “Describe a time when you led a significant change in your organization”).
  4. Build a 1 to 5 point scoring grid for each question – i.e. what does “terrible”, “poor”, “average”, “good” and “outstanding” actually look like for each factor?


Now you are ready to “go live” with your selected candidates, using the following approach:

  1. Use the same set of questions for each candidate.
  2. Probe their answers to each question based on the STAR technique (What was the Situation? What was their Task? What did they do (Action)? What was the Result?)
  3. Listen to their answers to determine recency, significance, consistency, and success.
  4. Score each candidate’s answers using the 1 to 5 scale, multiplied by the weighting factor.
  5. Add up your weighted scores for the five top traits after each interview, to get a Total Score for each candidate.

And Presto – “gut feel” is replaced by a numeric score!

Using this approach, you will be able to confidently and defensibly identify the most appropriate candidate for the position.

If all of this sounds too complicated, remember that help is just a phone call away!