As Courtenay has alluded to, we just finished a fresh round of interviewing prospects for the II shipping manager position that will be vacated by the aforementioned come August. Luckily it was fairly painless. Most of the submitted resumes were rejected for various reasons. Two candidates were left standing. The first had a terrible phone interview. When I asked him to describe his work history, the applicant answered “uhmmmm”. Good one. The phone call was so bad that the applicant took it upon himself to drive 5 hours to sit for a face-to-face interview, an inconvenience for both parties but agreed upon by Greg himself. I’d point out Greg’s idiotic track record of recent hires vs. Chuck hires but I don’t want to bore you with the lowly details. Needless to say, none have survived. When the candidate showed up in jeans and a t-shirt that read “Genius By Birth, Slacker By Choice” I reaffirmed the words terrible and idiotic.

The second candidate had an impeccable resume and his initial interview with Greg went well. Mind you, Greg’s interviews go something like this…

Greg: “Blah, blah, blah stuff about me”.

Interviewee: blink, blink.

Greg: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah-blah-blah something about me.”

Interviewee: blink, blink-blink-blink.

Greg put it on me to ask the real questions.

So, without further ado, here are my favorite interview questions:

  1. When faced with a problem where you don’t have the immediate solution are you more likely to…
    • A. Come up with a solution that solves the problem
    • B. Ask for help
  2. Things are dead quiet. What do you do? (Followed immediately by…)
  3. What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not working?
  4. Given a fixed amount of time and tasks A, B, C, D, are you more likely to…
    • Go from A to D
    • Go through the tasks in a manner you see to be the most appropriate
  5. How have you dealt with difficult customers in the past? And difficult bosses?

Five simple questions that get to the bottom of every candidate. Let me tell you why.

The first question is a bit of a trick question. What I want to hear is something along the lines of “both”. First, I don’t want an employee that dictates policy on the fly. I overheard an employee on the phone once say “Okay, but if you’re not going to give us your CVV2 security code on the back of your card, then we’re going to have to charge you 50 cents”. True, we do get a charge from merchant services every time we run a credit card without that information, but this employee 1) had no right to extort private information from the card holder, 2) violate the terms of our merchant services agreement, and 3) create new policy. Severe reprimand when you take matters into your own hand.

But I also don’t want an employee who exclusively seeks help on every piddly thing that confronts them. I want an employee who shows at least a modicum of intuition. Intuition is probably one of the hardest traits to detect in a candidate but, worse, it’s the hardest to develop in an employee. If they don’t get it off the bat, they never will.

The true answer to the first question is “both”. I want an employee who will try his or her damnedest to solve the problem, yet seek help when they’ve reached the end of the line. It sounds simple but you would be surprised to how elusive those candidates are. When you find one they’re usually keepers for years.

Questions 2 and 3 go together. For question 2, I don’t necessarily expect to hear answers such as “clean”, “stock”, etc. but if those typical answers are used then I look for the true answers in question 3. What a candidate does in their spare time will indicate what they will do in their slow time at work. In the case of II, if a candidate answers “I like to practice yo-yoing, hackysacking, juggling, surfing the Net” etc, I know that cleaning and stocking or whatever work-oriented tasks are not high on their list of things to do during the dead time. However, if I hear “home renovation, gardening, homebrewing” I know I’m looking at a “doer”…not a slacker.

Question 4 is another trick question. I usually follow up with a request for an explanation. However, my experience tells me that the candidate that goes through steps A through D directly ends up being the better employee. The reason being is that over time I prefer an employee that does all the steps in whatever manner they see fit, but the new hire is someone who needs to go from A to D specifically so they can master the entire system.

Finally, question 5 juxtaposes difficult customers with difficult bosses. I have the “Smile, they can hear it” philosophy when it comes to customers. It’s kind of like “the customer is always right” but it gives you a bit of wiggle room. At the end of a long, arduous phone conversation where you’ve come to the conclusion that the customer is wrong at least you can tell them what an idiot they are when you’re saying it with a smile. It usually comes out as (BIG SMILE) “well I’m sorry your son Jimmy cracked his yo-yo in half, but we have a huge selection of others to choose from”. You say that with a smile and 2 seconds later they’re giving you their credit card information.

Putting up with customer BS is the same as putting up with boss BS. Smile. Say “Yes, sir” or “No, ma’am”.

The answers for both should be as close to a mirror image as possible.

So, that’s it. The top secret list of 5 questions Chuck will ask to see if you’re employee material for the world’s largest independent distributor of yo-yos in the world. Take them for what they’re worth but I can attest that those candidates that answer correctly will be GREAT employees.