5 Ways Top CEOs Screen Job Candidates

September 17, 2015

The success of Alexander the Great – arguably the world’s most successful conqueror – is partly because Aristotle – one of history’s greatest minds – tutored him. Of course, Aristotle was successful partly because he was tutored by the great Plato, who himself was tutored by the great Socrates.

The point is, if you want to be the best, it helps to learn from the best. And the same rule certainly applies to business, as often one of the best ways to get better at something is to hear how someone who is really successful does it.

With that in mind, we recently ran a series on LinkedIn entitled “How I Hire,” where we encouraged top leaders to blog about their hiring process. The point was to give professionals insight into what some of business’s best minds look for in talent.

Quite a few truly unique tactics came out of these series, and here five of them, in no particular order:

1. Offer a candidate a job in another department to test how focused they are.

Robert Herjavec is most famous for being on Shark Tank, but he’s also the CEO of the $125 million technology company the Herjavec Group. One of the keys to Herjavec’s success is hiring fast-paced employees who, above all else, are focused.

To ensure he’s getting “laser-focused” people, during the interview he offers candidates a different role within the company. If they express interest, he knows they aren’t a good fit.

Here he explains the tactic, in his own words:

“For example, if I’m interviewing for a sales role, I ask about the individual’s primary motivators. Then I let them know there is an opening in our marketing team and ask if they would be interested in learning more. To me, someone in sales needs to be laser focused on achieving their target and driving for that number. It’s not the same person that I would hire to work on our marketing or communications team. If you waver in your approach and express interest in the second role, you’re not the person for my team.”

2. Find out if the candidate can learn and implement feedback by putting them on the spot.

Eva Moskowitz is the CEO and founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, which seeks to improve New York City’s public education system by building first-class charter schools. Obviously, to make that happen, Markowitz has to hire lots of great teachers to staff these schools.

While hiring, Markowitz wants teachers who are learners themselves and will improve over time. To find that out, she has all teaching candidates teach a class, get feedback, and then teach another; with the real being how much they incorporate the feedback.

Here she describes the technique in her own words:

“One of the best tests, in my view, is when we put applicants in front of a bunch of kids, which we often do with prospective teachers. We have them plan a lesson and teach it to a class, and of course we expect them to set a high bar because we believe children are capable of outstanding work. We hope the candidate will also insist on 100 percent participation from the class. After the lesson, we give feedback and ask to have part of it done again. The benchmark is not how good the first or second attempt is, but how much improvement there is.

That’s the true measure of learning, and if it doesn’t happen, the kids will know. And they’ll tell us. We have the class give feedback, and they’re probably the best hiring committee there is. They know who can cut it and who can’t.”

3. Call the references candidates don’t put on their resume.

Kevin Chou is the CEO and co-founder of Kabam, a multimillion-dollar company that primarily makes video games for social media sites and smart phones. When he’s hiring, he puts little stock on “front door references” – the ones candidates put on their resume – and a lot on “back door references” – the ones Kabam finds on their own.

Why? Here’s his reasoning:

“When hiring, good employers seek back-door references that tell the real story about the candidate. Your daily interaction with everyone around you, including those junior to you, may affect landing that dream job down the road. The most successful people establish and maintain enduring relationships.”

4. Learn about an applicant’s self-awareness with one interview question.

Stanley McChrystal has worked as the co-founder and partner at the McChyrstal Group, a consulting firm, since 2011. Before that, he was a general in the United States Army, where he commanded the US troops in Afghanistan.

In other words, some of the hires he’s made have had life-and-death consequences.

So what does he look for in a candidate? Well, he admits he has “no secret formula,” but he always asks candidates this one question: What would someone who doesn’t like you have to say about you?

What does he look for in the answer? Here’s his answer, in his own words:

“I’ve come to feel that the content of the response is less important than how it is delivered. Articulating how you think others perceive you conveys a self-awareness, thoughtfulness, and empathy for others that are essential to being a good team member.

Heightened self-awareness is the key to success in today’s world — leaders can no longer afford to lead in a blissfully unaware vacuum. Your leadership behaviors — and those of the people you hire — have a direct impact upon your company’s finances, effectiveness, and internal culture. Leading without self-awareness is not an option — the stakes in business, military, and government are simply too high.”

5. Hire travelers because they know the value of vacation.

Dara Khosrowshahi is the longtime CEO of Expedia, so it makes sense he would want to hire travelers. But, as he wrote in his blog, he hires travelers not because he runs a travel company, but because “travel teaches you and transforms you in tremendous ways that translate into smarter leaders and more passionate employees.”

To find out if a candidate truly is a traveler, he asks three questions during job interviews:

  • What was your best trip? Why?
  • What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you on a vacation and how did you handle it?
  • What is an essential travel packing item or strategy for you?

Fundamentally, Khosrowshahi believes travelers are generally more resilient, more willing to get out of their comfort zone, more curious and have a more empathetic worldview. He also likes travelers, interestingly enough, because they know the importance of vacation.

Why is that so important? Here’s his answer:

“I particularly want to highlight the remarkable traits of people who recognize the value of vacation. Our own Vacation Deprivation Study has shown that more than 80 percent of people who use their vacation days say it contributes to their overall happiness. They understand the significance of recharging away from work, which in turn makes them more willing to invest in the job when they are there. We are constantly working on getting more efficient in everything we do, every process, every service. I want people who believe working smart, not just working long. We mean it when we say that we work hard, play hard.”

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*Image from The Hollywood Reporter

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