The interview process varies from industry to industry and from organization to organization even within the same industry. While there are some differences, there are many commonalities. This week I attended a workshop in which we were asked to sit in assigned seats at round table. Each small group was instructed throughout the workshop to read a prompt and engage in conversations responsive to the prompts. I thought the topics of the prompts insightful dialogue in my group that might benefit folks outside of that space. The workshop inspired me to write this blog post.
One of the prompts asked those of us who have served as hiring managers in the past to explain to our colleagues what things were most important to us when we considered hiring a person for a vacant position. I told the group about being disappointed when candidates did the following:
- Expressed a greater interest in the city or region than the position itself. In general, those candidates also engage the community members who participated in the process in conversations related to a plethora of topics, none of which directly related to job description. As a hiring manager, I wanted to believe that the candidates in the process were passionate about the work and the opportunities to serve the community, especially the students, at a high level of professionalism and integrity.
- Failed to the requirements of the job when asked direct questions related to the position or when given opportunities to ask questions of community members. We talked about how a lack of commitment or passion for the tasks and responsibilities needed to successfully perform the job might influence hiring decisions. Even if the personalities and specific skill sets of the employees varied, the job description remained the same. The consensus was that there was generally a greater likelihood that a candidate without demonstrated passion, commitment, and purpose for a job would not have a high degree of job satisfaction or tolerance in the work environment.
Another question asked was what questions do you ask during an interview and why? I said that one of my favorite questions was not a question. It was a statement. I asked candidates to “Tell me about your favorite boss or supervisor.” Over the years, I have enjoyed watching candidates comb through their mental files to identify their best boss or supervisor. The candidates were asked to also explain how that person enhanced them personally and professionally. Most often, once a candidate has identified the favorite leader a smile emerges. The candidates described their favorite supervisors or bosses as supportive, flexible, considerate, respectful of their professional abilities, respectful of their personal lives, and encouraging. Sometimes the responses revealed other characteristics of the candidate or their prior work environment sometimes added to the considerations factored into making the ultimate hiring decision.
In discussing favorite bosses, I thought of my favorite bosses. There were two who came to mind. The first served as my division chief and he called me “Mrs. Thomas” most of time. He stood about 6’3.” His voice was somewhere between a tenor and a baritone when he sort of sang my name in long syllables when he acknowledged me: “/Mizzes Tom mus/.” He always wore suits with coordinated ties, cuff links, handkerchiefs, and polished shoes. He only governed with a few rules. The department proved to be an efficient and productive department. Less was more and most of the staff respected his mantras that reminded us that we “didn’t have to make a lot of noise to get the job done.” His leadership style promoted the use of analytical curiosities to learn and evaluate the facts of each case. His rules suited my style because I was permitted to work independently and demonstrate that I was capable of using good judgment in case management.
My reflective moment also reminded me of my most recent supervisor who led with kindness, composure, humor, and wisdom. Our relationship began with doubt and a lack of trust on my part. He never said if he had any expectations of me or opinions about me when he met me and I never asked. Despite my suspicions, I shared my frustrations with what felt to me like a stagnant professional journey. I told him about my confusion about my professional trek and my need for someone to tell me what I needed to do to better prepare myself for senior leadership. I don’t think he ever expected that type of brutal honesty, but he respected me for my willingness to allow him a peek into the staff member he would supervise for a determined period. In my mind, our relationship challenged me because I had coach him through some of his job responsibilities and provide intel about the culture of certain teams. I felt like the student and the teacher some days. I recognized that he had a level of maturity and experience in the field that benefited me if he understood things sooner than later. It behooved me to be an excellent follower focused on learning from a master. His mastery of many things became a model for excellence in servant leadership. He taught me that “Heroics have limits” which meant a few things: 1. There was only so much I could do to rectify any situation, 2. I should use my leave and take vacations because pace and recovery extend my life in many ways, and 3. I worked too much and didn’t have enough work-life balance.
Both of my favorite bosses encouraged me to be my authentic, transparent, opinionated self. Both of them got my wicked and often sarcastic humor. They protected the spaces during our meetings allowing me to share freely and to ask probing questions. Their leadership styles affirmed the qualities that others made character flaws. My favorite bosses were not intimidated by my presence, my professional development, or my determination. They also praised the compassion, empathy, and integrity that loomed in the midst of the loud social being that is me. They celebrated my growth and motivated me to build a network of mentors and partners in the local community and the professional community at large. I have had a some awful bosses, but these two men were awesome. I work very hard as a leader to be more like them. I can only hope that those under my leadership string together some favorable nouns to describe our relationship other than boss or supervisor.
Hearing candidates recite characteristics in their favorite bosses that promote positivity and productivity gifts me wisdom from their bosses who I may never meet. I hope that my audience will prepare well for interviews. The well-prepared candidate should be able to confidently communicate their passion for the work they purport to be the primary reason that they do the work they do every day. Furthermore, I hope that my audience will seize opportunities to evaluate the type of leader they prefer to lead their departments then apply that standard if they become a supervisor or boss.