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Judging Character In a Job Interview

  • 1.  Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 05-09-2019 04:17 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 05-09-2019 04:17 PM
    There have been a few discussions here about job interviews, most recently about how to handle interview questions concerning salary expectations. I'd like to get a discussion going that might be useful for interviewers and interviewees. Specifically, what personal characteristics should employers look for and how can they determine those in an interview?

    During my long career I have interviewed and hired hundreds of engineers at all levels. My most successful hires were those who turned out to be people centered rather than self centered. It's not easy to get to that in an interview. 

    In the attached article, the CEO of Charles Schwab shares his way of getting a read on character. While most interviews aren't done over breakfast, his ideas are worth considering. 

    I'm interested in your responses. 

    Charles Schwab CEO reveals how he tests job candidates by taking them to breakfast, having restaurant mess up their order
    TheBlaze remove preview
    Charles Schwab CEO reveals how he tests job candidates by taking them to breakfast, having restaurant mess up their order
    A great way to test out someone's character is to observe how they react when things don't go according to plan. Charles Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger created a breakfast interview to do just that.
    View this on TheBlaze >

    Bevin Beaudet P.E.,M.ASCE
    Bevin A. Beaudet, P.E., LLC.
    West Palm Beach FL

  • 2.  RE: Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 05-09-2019 05:11 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 05-09-2019 05:10 PM
    Very cool article Bevin! I'm skeptical the Charles Schwab CEO does that 100% of the time but the point is not lost on me.

    I almost always try to share a meal with a potential candidate and try to spend a considerable amount of time with them before or during the actual interview. I also don't like to script my interview questions. I try to get the interviewee to laugh at some point and tell me about some life event they cherish - If the conversation doesn't flow well from those two things, it tells me a lot about how we will work together. I also try to have them meet with many department heads. The dept. heads usually will flush out technical concerns and I ask the Dept. heads to give the candidate an A, B, or F rating (C and D candidates likely didn't make it this far anyway - LOL). I figure we're going to end up sharing meals, traveling, attending networking events and conferences with the person, sharing in life events (marriages, kids, deaths, grief, etc.) and dealing with conflict together therefore, I better get a quick sense of the "fit" and see if I enjoy them as a person in addition to matching skill sets.

    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management

  • 3.  RE: Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 05-09-2019 09:42 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 05-09-2019 09:41 PM
    Great reply, Jesse. You really got to the heart of the matter and your interview method should be emulated by others.   I want to give an unfortunate example of how many HR departments can throw a wrench into such open and spontaneous interviews. This is particularly true in some government agencies. 

    When I was Director of Utilities for Palm Beach County, Florida, County  HR required scripted questions to be submitted and approved in advance of interviews. Even worse, the questions had to be scored and the scores turned in. This left little room for spontaneity in an interview.  Our executive team would ask the most important scripted questions, but also ask the kinds of questions you described. After the interviews we would score (rig) the scripted questions so the candidates would come out in our preferred order.  (I hope the statute of limitations has lapsed).  

    This worked fine for executive hires, but the lower level supervisors, who did most of the hiring, were stuck with the bureaucratic baloney method. 

    Does anyone from government agencies relate to this?  What can we do as professionals to educate our HR departments to allow less structured interviews?

    Bevin Beaudet P.E.,M.ASCE
    Bevin A. Beaudet, P.E., LLC.
    West Palm Beach FL

  • 4.  RE: Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 05-10-2019 08:38 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 05-10-2019 08:38 AM
    Another interview idea: Use a mostly behavioral approach instead of a hypothetical approach.

    For example, assume persistence is a desired quality.

    Hypothetical approach: You describe a very difficult hypothetical situation to the candidate and ask him or her how they would persist to resolve it.

    Behavioral approach: You ask the candidate to give an example of how he or she successfully persisted in a difficult situation.

    Of course, the unscrupulous candidate could "make up" a situation. Your follow-up questions would eventually reveal the truth.

    Concrete, historic examples reveal much more than hypothetical projections. Knowing what someone did do is much more valuable than what someone says they would do.

    Stu Walesh PhD, PE
    Consultant - Teacher - Author

  • 5.  RE: Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 05-11-2019 09:46 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 05-11-2019 09:45 AM
    Bevin, Jesse and Stuart,

    How informative to hear some prospectives from the other side of the job search barricades! Here are some of my first reactions as a self-centered job seeker who tends to brain-freeze when confronted with an unexpected question:

    - A quick spontaneous reaction to an unexpected behavioral 'what would you do if.." question is a great gauge of someone's aptitude for the job … if the job is that of a firefighter or emergency responder. These questions do come up regularly. My honest response to most of these would be - I'd need to sit on this for a couple of hours/days/weeks.  Not that I haven't learned to give some better-than-nothing responses.

    - Specific 'give and example of' question is valid and comes up a lot. My main takeaway from the interview process is to have a couple of very specific examples from previous projects on the tip of my tongue. They will come up.

    - The point about a personal fit of an interviewee and the hiring person is very interesting. It's very natural to want to work with someone you like. Yet, it's also an inadvertent source of biases discussed in some of the earlier posts. One is more likely to click with someone from a similar cultural or socio-economic background. For example, two people who follow baseball or golf are more likely to strike an informal conversation than if one of them is into embroidery.

    - Someone who is personable and charming while being evaluated during an interview would likely be better at dealing with clients or managing people, but not necessarily at calculating whether a bridge would fall. As a hiring decision-maker, would you hire an unpleasant person with superior technical skills?

    - Having said this, evaluating and selecting someone from a brief interview is even harder than being evaluated, so good luck!

    Natalya Sokolovskaya P.E.,M.ASCE
    Wynnewood PA

  • 6.  RE: Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 05-11-2019 06:45 PM
    You asked the question, "Would you hire an unpleasant person with superior technical skills?"  I follow Dave Ramsey's ideal that unpleasant people make things unpleasant for everyone around them.  If unpleasant behavior manifested in an interview process, I would definitely not hire them.  Technical skills, I can help someone learn.  Pleasantness, they need to learn on their own because it is not easy to teach.

    Hire only pleasant people, and you are much less likely to have to hire replacements for your existing people.  As Dave states, "Thoroughbreds hang around with Thoroughbreds."  By the way, unpleasantness can manifest a lot of ways during a person's employment.  My least favorite form of unpleasantness is gossip or whining.  People that have those characteristics need to be trimmed as quickly as possible, hopefully during the interview process, regardless of their technical skill level.  Nothing brings company moral down more than someone always commenting on how green the grass is somewhere else, or how someone else's behavior is impacting their life.  

    Crazy breeds crazy, and no one wants to deal with that at work.  Same goes with lazy, gossiping, nastiness, arrogance, and disrespect.

    Dwayne Culp, Ph.D., Ph.D.,M.ASCE
    Culp Engineering, LLC
    Rosenberg TX

  • 7.  RE: Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 05-13-2019 10:04 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 05-13-2019 10:03 AM
    Dwayne and Neil,
    Thank you for your insightful replies to my questions. I remember how challenging it was to ask relevant questions and make candidate recommendations when I took part in team interviews.

    Natalya Sokolovskaya P.E.,M.ASCE
    Wynnewood PA

  • 8.  RE: Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 05-13-2019 07:40 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 05-13-2019 07:39 AM

    In my hiring experience, I adapted an implied stress-response test that is specific to our profession: after informing the candidate that the technical test he/she is about to go through is applicable to all candidates, I present a long list of common sense Structural Engineering questions, short questions that require swift judgment (what load combination is most likely to govern certain stress at certain point). And some are out if the ordinary (such as: what string of a tennis racket is most likely to break? What's the most likely line of tear of a sausage in frying pan? And why?). The objective is to measure not just common sense, good judgement, thinking out of the box, but also the ability to handle the stress of a long list of quick questions, especially when some of them look silly (even though structurally relevant).

    Those who did not freeze and did not get frustrated were my choice, even if they were frank about their inability to answer all questions. In the end, I was blessed with wonderful team members who collectively were the star team of the firm.

    Neil Kazen, M.Eng., M.Sc., P.Eng.
    Retired Structural Engineering Manager, Transportation Division, SNC-Lavalin
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada

  • 9.  RE: Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 05-13-2019 10:29 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 05-13-2019 10:29 AM
    To answer Natalya's question, I absolutely would not hire an unpleasant person even if they were the absolute best in the world at their task. We may work in a technical arena, where the numbers can be fairly discrete, but we ultimately do business with people. It's the person I hire, I can train skills gaps.

    There are local architects that I refuse to work with because they are grumps, egotistical, or treated me poorly in past interactions.

    So when I ask someone in an interview to tell me about something they cherish, I don't care what it is, it could be golf, knitting, a birth of a child, a vacation, music, books, anything is fine. What I'm looking for is that they can explain something with passion. I want to see their eyes light up...I'll follow up with curiosity questions about their topic by saying something like "That's awesome! I tried "_____" once and I couldn't get "____" to work for me. How did you learn "___".  I'm looking for them to explain technical aspects of it to me and get a feel for how they address problems. We all have things we are passionate about and when we are passionate about something we tend to enjoy talking about it and to push ourselves to learn the details of our passion about even when we didn't understand or got frustrated. It doesn't have to stay strictly in the engineering domain nor should it. These types of questions really get the conversation going and tell me a lot about a person.

    I too have participated in the structured group interviews where candidates are "recommended" to a senior hiring manager that make the ultimate decision based on per-approved questions, particularly in the higher ed context (both as a interviewer and an interviewee) and find that strategy to be lacking and highly inadequate. Every system can be gamed, and it's widely known that job descriptions can be tailored towards favored candidates, and in some cases the hiring manager can override the committee recommendation anyhow. What a waste of everyone's time!

    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management

  • 10.  RE: Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 05-11-2019 02:39 PM
    Salary issues can make hiring difficult.  My former employer published the salary range for the position with the job notice.  When asked for expectations, some candidates expressed willingness to come in at/near the bottom to get their foot in the door, so to speak (my take on it, not specifically what they said).  Candidates with experience expected to come in at least at their current income level if not more.  Unfortunately, the employer was reluctant to hire anyone much above the bottom of the range, and we lost good candidates that way.  Candidates are unlikely to take a pay cut to change jobs, and may be insulted by an offer well below what they asked for.

    Salary aside, always felt work history was more important than college grades.  For recent graduates with little or no professional experience, my biases (stereotype alert!) ran as follows:

    ·         Farm kids:  Know what work is, have a sense of the practical, understand deadlines (in farming you have windows for getting things done), and perhaps some business sense from being in a family business.

    ·         Construction work:  Know what real work is, practical sense of what it takes to get things done.

    ·         COOP or similar experience:  Professional exposure in a work environment.

    ·         Military experience

    ·         ANY job:  Whether it be flipping burgers or stocking shelves, have experienced a work environment.

    ·         Extracurricular activities:  School, church, community, etc. – shows productive motivation and experience working with others.

    Of course these need to be fleshed out by encouraging discussion of what they did and what they learned from it. 

    A problem I had was how to rate people who had been out of the workforce for a while.  Usually due to family situations or circumstances beyond their control.  Wonder how others handle that.

    Donald Stursma P.E.,M.ASCE
    Pella IA

  • 11.  RE: Judging Character In a Job Interview

    Posted 06-09-2019 05:37 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 06-09-2019 07:21 PM
    Interesting perspectives so far.

    I am fond of noting the following equation for trust (it is NOT original):

                      Trust = (Integrity, Reliability, Competence).

    So, to select "Integrity" as one characteristic to test during an interview,
    ask the candidate if they can recall a time when they realized they had made a mistake
    during a project, and ask how they made it right.


    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880