Interviewing People: What's your Secret Sauce

Interviewing People: What’s your secret sauce?

While conducting an interview last week, I was taken aback a bit when the person I was meeting told me, “I have met many recruiters and hiring managers during my summer-long search.  They all ask the same vanilla questions: ‘What was your last job?  What are you looking for?  Why are you looking?’ You are very different; you made me think, and you questioned my answers. At one point, I was wondering what I had done to offend you, and then you explained that you were just probing me to see how I would react. You asked ethics questions. You probed my friendship with my former employer. You told me that you did this on purpose to test my reasoning, logic, and mettle.”


These comments prompted me to write this blog. Interviewing people effectively is not easy. How do you connect enough to know what you’ve got? Do you know what you want? Are you able to get past the surface stuff and dig deeper? It’s not about making a friend (although that is important). It’s not about being nice. It’s about figuring out: does this person fit the problem we are trying to solve? It’s about figuring out: will this person will be able to fit into our culture?  It’s about figuring out: will this person’s experience sync with the challenges we are facing?


What is this person’s secret sauce?  What things will they struggle with? These questions are vital, and the best interviewers I know really probe people. They dig deep to uncover how the candidate has gotten to where they are. Good interviewers dig to see how that candidate has accomplished their results, to understand how they lead, how they create a place where things get done. Good interviewers dig to try to figure out: can this person’s style work for my company? Will it be sustainable?


The neat part about probing in this way is that it bonds people to you.  It helps people know you really care, and it helps you break through to meet a real person, with a real life, looking for a real place where they can shine. Many times, I discover that the person I’m meeting is not the solution to my problem—and the way I do that is by digging deeper. Better to know now than later.