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Over the last 23 years, Pre-Check has had a great number of applicants, several of which had very colorful histories. Our interviews are designed to identify the best hires that meet our culture and are able to perform the duties of the job. A key success factor for us is to not only to better understand the initial answer that the job seeker provides but to learn how the potential hire will react in an actual work environment.
For instance, we have a question termed ‘the Kobayashi Maru,’ which is named after the “Star Trek” saga. In this instance, Starfleet Academy cadet, James T. Kirk, was the only candidate to successfully pass a stressful exercise where there was a no-win scenario. In this question, the most creative job seekers provide solutions that involve redefining the problem which includes a test of their character. In our specific question, we ask a multi-faceted question, where there are no absolute correct answers. This allows us not only to gather some insight into the applicant’s reasoning and rationalization but, also as important, to understand how the applicant deals with stress. An unnerving reaction is a potential sign that they are perhaps not the best person to meet deadlines or answer challenging questions when asked by our clients.
Pre-Check provides incredible results when performing background checks. This is our reality because we believe that we are in the integrity business. Thus, a key question that we always ask is, “Would you please provide us your definition of integrity?” (As you read this question, you may wish to take a moment to provide your own answer). While integrity has been defined by having the proper adherence to moral and ethical principles, the reply that I have often heard is, “What you do when no one else is looking.”
We prefer group interviews in which 3 of us work from a pre-approved script and have specific questions. The team that interviews is the department manager, our director of operations and the company president. Our goals are to work to make the applicant know that we respect them, we value their time, and we seek to put at ease. However, we are certain to ask very specific and challenging questions. Having the 3 of us at the same time allows us to hear the responses to the questions and make decisions based on the same data points that the applicant has provided. This saves time and reduces ambiguity because each of us has heard the same response to the questions that were asked.
Other questions we ask are, “What motivates you in your job, how do you show initiative, and could you describe a situation where your work has been criticized?” Again, the intent is to listen closely to the reply, learn the answer to the question, and understand what their cognitive skills and reasoning may be. Sometimes we’ll find a candidate who has a pre-rehearsed list of responses. When that occurs, we will challenge them in order to receive a more genuine reply.
Often simple questions are the best. “When is it appropriate to lie?” Almost every interviewee immediately answers, “Never.” So if this is the case, and your Aunt May were to ask you how she looks when she has a polka dot blouse and striped skirt, would you tell her the truth? Do you believe that the President of the United States, when in negotiations with a hostile government, should always be forthcoming with the truth? What about in 1938 Nazi Germany, would you tell the Gestapo that you were hiding a refugee in the basement? Ultimately, there are actual times when it is appropriate to lie.
At some point applicants may become valued employees, so we seek to make a positive connection with the candidate. Enthusiasm, being open and honest and making sure that they understand the duties of the job are critical factors of success. We seek to earn their trust, answer questions, explain salary and benefits, make sure that they understand our company culture, and work as a team. I often explain that there is a relaxed atmosphere, where laughter frequently flows out from the offices.
Naturally, one of our last questions is, “Since we are a background screening company, is there anything about your past that we should know about?” A number of years ago, I received this reply:
“Well, not too long ago I was celebrating my birthday with a group of friends at a downtown hotel. One of my best friend’s boyfriend approached me and asked if I wanted to have a (sexually explicit) drink. I was shocked, hurt, and I became very upset. I left the party, rushed to my car and sped down the exit ramp where I side-swiped a police car. I couldn’t give the police officer my driver’s license because I did not have any auto insurance.”
At that point, my mind shut down, and to myself, I said, “Next!”
We all know that the success of your organization largely depends on you hiring the best person for a position. One of the crucial stages in the hiring process is conducting meaningful interviews. As one of my clients tells me, “It is too expensive to hire a dud.” As Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great, “They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”