July 13, 2019

An Important, but Underutilized Values-based Interview Question

Values-based interviewing suddenly seems all the rage.

The idea here is that you ask questions around important personal values that will contribute to success on the job or that are aligned with the culture at your company. For example, teamwork/collaboration might be important aspects of the job or your company and so you might ask candidates to provide some examples and stories around how they have successfully collaborated.

While suddenly popular, asking candidates about how s/he has demonstrated certain values or capabilities is not a new idea. Analyzing the requirements of the job, including the context/culture the job is done in, and constructing assessments and interviews around those elements has been around since the field of Industrial Psychology came into existence. But fads and fashions are always waxing and waning and values-based interviewing, for better or worse, is apparently on the rise.

I am often asked to help my clients get ready for big interviews. I have collected many lists of questions and scan articles on how to prep for interviews all the time. None of these lists or articles have ever included what I think is one of the most telling values-based interview question of all: What capability did you target to improve on over the last year and what was your specific strategy for getting better?

Why is this such an important question? Most interviewers are primarily focused on whether the person can do the job at hand. While understandable, it is also short-sighted. What they really want, is someone who can do the job today and grow with the job and the organization as both evolve.

A company signals a couple things by asking about a candidate's personal development strategy. First, the world is changing fast...you are either continuously improving or falling behind...and we, decidedly, are looking for the former. Second, ongoing development is not only expected but it is primarily your responsibility. Someone who can articulate their strategy is clearly already imbued with that awareness.

My belief is that companies should be looking for people who are more conscious about their development: people who not only set an objective, but devise a conscious and realistic strategy for getting there.

Just asking how a candidate developed over the last year is not the same and is not enough. That approach will likely result in something like, "Uh, well, we had to work through some tough challenges last year." While true, almost everybody gets more experienced (a word that almost always means "scarred" and sometimes means "smarter") by working through different scenarios and learning what works and what doesn't.

All learning is good, but that kind of on-the-job learning is often episodic as opposed to strategic. I think it says a lot when you find a potential employee who is constantly evaluating his/her game and identifying the areas s/he needs to work on.

Inquiring about the specifics of a candidate's approach will probably yield "I listen to podcasts." Or "I try to read a lot." This is again better than nothing, but it also has a "look what I found" quality to it.

My belief is that companies should be looking for people who are more conscious about their development: people who not only set an objective, but devise a conscious and realistic strategy for getting there.

What someone is working on, in my view, is a bit less important. There are many capabilities one might want to develop, for a host of different reasons. What would interest me about what a candidate targeted is how they chose the item they wanted to improve on. What are the key short- and long term outcomes they are trying to achieve and how did they think this new skill might affect those outcomes? That in my view is thinking strategically about one's development.

In terms of how they set out to develop the new skill, a telling answer would be the deployment of multiple approaches, simultaneously. The reason for this is that behavior change is extraordinarily difficult for most adults: reading or attending a training class is not likely to have lasting impact.

An impressive answer would touch on, yes, what they are reading and what training programs they have targeted, but would also include something about 1) leveraging the relationships around them for mirrors and feedback, 2) benchmarking through conference attendance, but especially through peer networks and peer support groups, 3) having a coach, 4) maintaining their physical and mental well being, and 5) setting aside regular blocks of time to reflect on progress. Strategic breadth like this shows an understanding of the reality of behavior change and the need for a multi-pronged strategy to ensure success.

The widespread maintenance of individual growth strategies has benefits on multiple fronts. Individuals benefit by ensuring they have skill sets that make them employable as the technology and market environment shifts. Minimizing the costs of turnover with employees who can grow and adapt as the company responds to changing markets has important productivity and cost implications for organizations. And finally, when employees know they can't just be loyal, show up, and do their job and, thus, keep an eye on the skills and capabilities needed in the future, the resulting employment stability has real benefits to families, communities, and local economies.

In our interviews, let's start inquiring about how candidates approach personal development as often as we ask "tell me about yourself," so that not having a development strategy is as unthinkable as going to work in your birthday suit.

Learn more about consultant, coach, and facilitator Dennis Adsit at www.adsuminsights.com

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