Today I was chatting with a buddy about about the kinds of interview questions I ask candidates. I shared some of my favorites with him, but after we hung up -- it occurred to me that interviewing candidates is really only half the battle when it comes to brokering a happy client / candidate marriage.
The other half is making sure that you understand what makes the client tick: Who they are as a company, what keeps them up at night, and so on. So without divulging too many trade secrets, I will share the ONE question I ask of every single client whenever I take a search assignment. Ready? Here goes ...
were a person, how would you
describe them to a friend?
You'd be surprised at some of the answers I get. Most HR people think it's a stupid question, and many grow annoyed at my insistence that they answer it.
But: The answer will help me target the right candidates, as well as vividly describe the role and the culture to them. Both matter.
Notice I didn't ask "If your COMPANY were a person ..." That's because the answer would be different depending on the number of people and departments you talk to on the inside. A company's "brand," on the other hand, is how it positions itself to the outside world.
The best run companies (like REI) have a very strong sense of self due to the alignment of their brand, their product and service selection, their customers, their staff, and their operating model. Nothing's outta whack, and everyone pulls in the same direction.
Stuff only gets outta whack when companies pretend to be something they're not (or try to be too many things) -- which leads them to buy the wrong inventory, say the wrong things, hire the wrong people, promote the wrong people, and extend into businesses and categories that are not adjacent to their core.
Another consideration: I'm a bit of a character -- and during the search, I will be the voice of your company in the marketplace. In a sense, you are hiring an actor when you hire me to handle a VP-level search. Am I the right person to play the part? Or are you a straight-laced bank in need of a reserved Hugh Grant-type to represent you? That's not me.
I'm more like Dennis Miller. Candidates who like Dennis Miller are likely to like me -- and, by proxy, your company. I'm okay with being Dennis Miller. He's not the best looking guy in the room, but he's quick with the quip -- and that goes a long way on the phone.
My point is this: Now more than ever, authenticity matters. Companies need to know who they are so they can attract the best people -- as employees, customers, vendors, and investors.