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How to Make the Most of a 30 Minute Interview


Hiring good people is difficult, time consuming, and costly. If you’re in a constant cycle of hiring like most growing organizations, I don’t have to tell you about the time warp it can cause– but what about the cost?

The more interviews you do, the more you spend. The more of your time that’s absorbed in lengthy interviews the more likely you are to take shortcuts and make mistakes. According to Dr. John Sullivan the hiring process is getting even harder:

Aggressiveness, the need for counteroffers, higher rejection rates, and a renewed focus on recruiting the currently employed will all return to prominence.

What if I told you I could help you be more efficient with your time and get the information you need to make a decisions for next steps in about half the time you’re currently committing?  The advantage of reducing your hiring time will add to your bottom line, perhaps more than you realize.  A 2014 report from UrbanBound illustrated the time demands, and how costs can add up.  

Onboarding can be an extremely time-demanding project. It can cost up to 1/3 of an employee’s salary to onboard and train new hires, especially when that employee’s job description does not have to do with onboarding. Therefore, if a small company has a flawed onboarding plan, they risk having a bad retention percentage which can be extremely costly.

Considering this, it’s logical to believe organizations would be better off spending less, but more quality time during first interviews. So, how would one shorten the time commitment and reduce overall costs and give a better interview in the process? Consider my process for a 30 minute “first interview”, below.

The 30 Minute “First Interview Concept”

I know what you’re thinking… thirty minutes seems really short when you are trying to find a fabulous candidate, how do you make it worthwhile? You’re probably asking yourself:

  • What questions do I ask?  
  • How do I prioritize the questions?
  • If I run such a tight agenda, how will we connect?
  • What shirt should I wear to the interview?

Okay, maybe not that last one. But if you structure a simple agenda, prepare quality questions and are disciplined throughout your time in front of candidates I believe you can answer all of your questions after just a few interviews. Let’s start with time management.   

Managing The First 5 Minutes

If you’re going to pull off an effective interview in 30 minutes or less you have to be organized and efficient. You’ll want to start strong and there’s no better time than the first 5 minutes.

4 Things to Cover in the First 5 Minutes

  • Introduce yourself:  “Hi, I’m the Managing Partner of Revenue River Marketing. We’re growing quickly and I’m looking for the very best marketers in the country.”  
  • State your intent:  “We’re hiring for position XYZ and I’m looking for a specific type of candidate. I’d like to move quickly so we can both decide if there’s a good fit between us.”
  • Set the agenda:  “I’d like to spend 10 minutes asking you a few questions, then I’ll give you an equal amount of time to ask me anything you’d like.”
  • Confirm buy-in:  “How does that sound?”  (If they say anything other than ‘absolutely’ or ‘I’m ready’, I’d be concerned.  Anyone who just starts rambling clearly isn’t picking up on your goals)

The Next 10 Minutes: Getting Answers to Key Questions

If you’re going to get through enough quality questions in 10 minutes you’ll want to ensure you’re on point with your preparation.  You’ll want to prepare a set of direct questions and count on the candidate being perceptive enough to answer with brevity.  

I’ve noticed that observing how candidates handle the pace of this section can be very telling.  If the candidate decides to grandstand during replies to your questioning, it’s a clear disqualifier. 

Instead of interrupting to get through your questions efficiently I advise you let them go.  They’ll cost themselves the chance to answer the remainder of your questions, and likely a chance at employment with your organization.

Conversely, a good candidate understands that you’ll ask follow up questions if you want more detail. Some of our very best hires have quickly and artfully answered our most direct and pointed questions with quick-witted responses.

While I can’t provide the exact types of key questions you should ask for your own specific position, I can give you a sense of qualities you want to look for that are predominantly universal for any job.

5 Important Qualities To Question On

1) Coachability

Employees that aren’t coachable struggle to get through tough times, and those who are receptive to instruction improve quickly.

Hiring for coachability can help you find those individuals with the traits necessary to becoming long-term valuable members of your organization. – Derek Lauber, Lightbox Leadership

Example Question – what would you do if you found yourself struggling to meet your objectives after 90 days?

2) Transparency

You can substitute in the word “honesty” here. I love asking questions that allow the candidates the chance to prove their not honest.  A transparent work place is important in maintaining a positive culture, and you don’t want to let any bad seeds take root.

When one person is not aligned with the organization, it is significantly more likely that everyone below them will be out of line as well. – Jessica Miller-Merrell, glassdoor

Example Question – why shouldn’t I hire you? (please don’t tell me because sometimes you care too much) 

3) Desire

People that really want something for themselves work harder than people who just want to live a life of leisure so I look for people who are hungry.  These are the people you want in your organization, pure and simple.  

High potentials aren’t just high achievers. They are driven to succeed. Good, even very good, isn’t good enough. Not by any stretch. They are more than willing to go that extra mile and realize they may have to make sacrifices in their personal lives in order to advance.“Are You a High Potential?” by Douglas A. Ready, Jay A. Conger, and Linda Hill

Example Question – why is this position the direction you want to go with your career?

4) Organizational Skills

The modern workplace is a massive game of dealing with distractions– organization creates efficiency and that means better productivity.

Planning is a needed workplace skill, and it is particularly important as person advances into more supervisory or managerial roles. – Organizational Skills in the Workplace, by Rick Suttle

Example Question – how do you plan your day/week and what tools have you used to do so?

5) Humility

The best players on any team have humility– ego and selfishness can cause cancerous behavior that can destroy what you’ve built.

Humility is more than an important characteristic for leaders, but for employees as well. It is this trait which allows leaders and employees to work well individually and as a team. A humble employee is aware of his own limitations and is willing to accept – and give – help as needed. – John Baldoni, Harvard Business Review

Example Question – those are some impressive results, what do you owe that success to?

Additional Questions & Comments

You’ll also want to spend a couple minutes on some resume specific questions.  You should prepare a few direct questions about their resume you can mix in with the others.  Here’s a few questions I like to ask to see if I can get someone to complain, make excuses, or show inconsistencies for the character traits I’m targeting at this time.  

  • Question – why have you left so many positions after less than 2 years?
  • Question – how was your relationship with your boss at this job?
  • Question – which of these positions do you feel held your career back?

These can be clear indicators of disqualifiers for your role, so don’t shy away from them!

Giving Them 10 Minutes to Pass the “Test” 

Now it’s time for your candidate to impress you with their prepared questions. Your goal for this ten minute segment is to see how prepared the candidate is and how much they want this job in particular.  You want to know if they’re looking for ‘just any job’ they can find or if they’re truly interested in a career with your organization.  

Good candidates prepare well. They study your website, your bio, your team, and your offering.  They have a list of specific questions that demonstrate their understanding of your business, hopefully even some observations on how they believe they can add value.  Many candidates won’t realize how important this segment of the interview is and they’ll reveal something about themselves you missed previously.  The candidates that used active listening during the first five minutes will operate at the same pace you did and respect the agenda.    

Insight to Gain during Candidate Questioning

  • Did they study your website? Test them on it.
  • Do they understand what you do? Ask them questions about it.
  • Are they more interested in compensation or job duties?
  • Are they more interested in benefits and vacation or company growth trajectory?

Remaining 5 Minutes: Wrapping Up With Next Steps 

Finally, it’s time to close and establish next steps.  Something to remember during this initial interview is that the goal is not hire but to qualify for next steps. Each candidate is either ready for another interview or they’re being ruled out. You’re not hiring them today, so don’t overdo it. Just get through the critical questions you think need to be answered and wrap things up.

You likely won’t have exactly five minutes here but that’s OK. Let them know your plans for next steps and let them know your expectations for follow up.  If you’re used to telling them ‘you’ll be in touch’ I’d like to recommend you consider another approach.

Follow up should always be the responsibility of the candidate and never on the executive.  I’ve been surprised by some great interviews that were followed by poor follow up and their responsibility here allows them to demonstrate their skills further, one way or another.  

With Practice Comes Perfection

After you’ve went through this 30 minute interview script with a few candidates you’ll perfect the process and refine your style.  Once perfected, cutting your initial interview time in half with these concepts will save time and money while improving results during this step in the hiring process.

Start by spending a little more time setting up your own script and you’ll be sure to benefit once you’ve applied these tactics.

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10 Tips When Hiring for a Job You Know Nothing About


It will only be a matter of time before you are put in a position where you have to hire someone in an area where you lack expertise, or know absolutely nothing about it. Hiring is always a difficult task, fraught with risk. When you add the fact that it’s in an area where you may lack expertise, the risk is even higher.

In this case when I talk about hiring, I’m not limiting the action to bringing on employees. We confront this challenge everyday, as our clients must determine what company they will use to support their lead generation and lead management efforts. Our clients often lack expertise in this area (a major reason why they’re talking with us in the first place).

So, whether you’re looking to hire a new employee, outsource a function, or simply buy something from a vendor in an area where you lack sufficient knowledge, it’s important that you abide by a process that will maximize the probability of success. 

Over the years, I’ve made a number of hires in this area and supported clients as well.  Here are the 10 tips I’ve developed to increase the likelihood of success.

1) Focus on the Results

Bob Corlett, President of Staffing Advisors, often finds himself guiding his clients in areas where they lack expertise.  He often jokes that it’s easier to make a good hire when you lack expertise because the only thing you can fully understand are the results you desire and you don’t get lost on details and biases you may have about a position.

It’s no surprise that he calls his process The Results-Based Hiring Process. As he’s shared with me, the job description (whether you’re hiring an employee or looking to outsource a function) is even more critical when hiring in such a situation.  The problem with most job descriptions is that they’re heavy on tasks and light on results.  The key, Corlett says, “is to be completely clear on the results you need from the hire.”

2) Don’t Hire Someone New to the Task

This rule is from the CEO of UDR, Tom Toomey. He says, “I never hire someone new to me to do something that is new to them.”  I have to admit that when I heard him say this, I had a “hands to face” moment.  I quickly lost count the number of times I had violated this rule, and those hires never worked out.

When hiring in an area where you lack knowledge, it’s easy to confuse motivation or desire with competence. A few years ago, we were looking to significantly improve our execution and knew that effective use of technology would be important. 

We brought someone on board who talked about how to use technology very well.  He talked about the need to automate processes and stated the vision we had in mind. He shared his experiences at other companies in the process. What we didn’t confirm was what he did. While he had a clear picture of what was possible, he never actually figured out how to do it.

3) Seek Outside Guidance

Just because you don’t have experience in an area, doesn’t mean that someone in your company doesn’t; or that an advisor or peer doesn’t have knowledge.

As Les McKeown, management expert and author of Predictable Success says, “To consistently hire great people, you need multiple perspectives. Use hiring panels of two or more people as much as possible, and during the hiring process expose the candidates to the other people they would most interact with. Use internal and external customers in particular. Think of the perspective that brings to the process.” 

No one says your hiring panel needs to be employees of your company.

4) Ask About What Can Go Wrong

When I was a wealth management advisor, I regularly had to hire people for functions where I lacked the expertise. In this case I wasn’t hiring employees, but various money managers to oversee the investment of my clients.

It was then that I learned my acid-test question.  I would always ask the company that was proposing to manage money for me (or more appropriately my clients) “How will I get hurt with this investment? In what situations is this the wrong investment?”

Less than 10% of candidates could answer this question. They would either dodge the question, or insist that this investment was good in all situations.

The thing I’ve learned about experts is that true ones know what can go wrong.  They understand the causes for failure.  They realize there are aspects they can control and others they can’t; and they work like hell to make sure the causes of failure never take hold.

Wanna-be’s and poseurs always talk of benefits and success, and can’t talk about what goes wrong, because they don’t know.

5) Judge the Candidate on the Questions They Ask

Here’s the problem with the way most people hire employees or outside vendors.  They ask a series of questions and judge the respondent by their answers. From there, they judge whether the candidate has the expertise and ability to do the job successfully.

That can work when you have expertise, but how do you judge someone when you don’t have the expertise to understand their answers?  It’s actually quite simple.  Judge them on the questions they ask you.

The right candidate will make you smarter about the function you’re hiring for.  The questions they ask to understand your situation and to dig deeper will make you smarter about the role, and about your needs.

If the candidate doesn’t ask you questions that you can’t answer, and then enable you to figure out the answers effectively, it’s a pretty good bet you’re not hiring someone with the necessary level of expertise to get your job done. As Thomas Edison is attributed to saying, the real demonstration of knowledge is one’s ability to explain things simply.

6) Avoid the Halo Effect

One of the most famous examples of this was when JC Penney hired Ron Johnson, who had experienced tremendous success with Target & Apple.  Fourteen months after he took over, Johnson was fired. How could a hire that was so universally praised, fail so miserably?

In hindsight, it is was quite obvious what caused the mis-hire.  Johnson had never been a CEO, had never been involved in a turnaround and had no middle-market management experience. 

Additionally, while he was there, and certainly contributed to success, Johnson was never the one making the calls.  JC Penney fell victim to what Phil Rozenzweig calls the “Halo Effect.” The “Halo Effect” is a well-documented mental tendency to assume that, simply because we judge a person or thing to be good in one area or quality, we then assume that they must also be good in other separate, but unrelated areas.

Applied to business, Rozenzweig argues that the knowledge of high performance (or indeed low performance) in a company leads us to falsely assume that their culture, systems, strategy and leaders must all share the same performance characteristics as you do.

7) Use Gamification

When you’re filling a position or need where you lack the knowledge, you must admit to yourself that you cannot assess a candidate’s competence from conversation alone. So rather than rely on traditional approaches, try something different.

As HR strategist Paul Keijzer shares, “using games for recruitment has been highlighted as one of the top 10 HR technology trends by the Society of Human Resource Management for 2014. If you’re not going to implement it, you must at least be aware of it.

For example, we’ll often create real-life based practicums to assess a candidate’s ability to do the job.  One of our favorites is the “in-box” exercise. 

The candidate comes in, and we will allocate 2 – 3 hours for the exercise. We give them a computer and a folder with a variety of tasks, requests and communications all based upon the critical skills needed for the position. We then have them go through their “in-box,” and act upon each item as if they were on the job. This way we don’t have to ask them how they would handle something, we see how they actually do it.

8) Try the Job Yourself

One of the biggest pitfalls when hiring someone in an area where you lack expertise is that you are more likely to turn away a good candidate or hire a wrong one than you are to make an effective hire, says Corlett.

His advice?  Do the job yourself for a few weeks:  “If you are the hiring manager, do the job yourself for a few weeks.   I am always delighted when I encounter a manager who has done this.  It dramatically, profoundly, reduces the risk of them making a hiring mistake.”

Why is doing the job yourself so helpful?  There are many reasons, but here are a few:

  • You will get a much, much clearer picture of the capabilities of the other team members.
  • You’ll understand the day to day challenges of the job, and what it takes to do the job well – this will help you avoid “under-hiring” someone not quite good enough to handle it, or “over-hiring”, because again, you’ll actually understand what the job is, and what it is not.
  • You will be able to establish sensible performance metrics for the job, and be far more comfortable holding your new hire accountable to those standards.

9) Have Clear Metrics

As McKeown says, you must “know precisely what you are looking for when hiring.”  Chief among those is the metrics you will use to judge and measure the candidate you hire. 

Top performers like to win, and if you’re not clear on the metrics that you’ll use to keep score, you’ll attract the poseurs and repel the right candidates. 

I see it all the time when companies hire salespeople.  They’re big on vision, and weak on metrics.  They attract the wrong candidate pool and inevitably make a bad hire. 

When the metrics are clear, your ability to assess a candidate’s competence is multiplied.  Further, if you do make a mis-hire, you’ll be able to more quickly adjust.

10) Never Forget, You’re Still Hiring for Fit

Another common mistake made when hiring in such an area is to over-emphasize expertise.  At Imagine Business Development, our hiring mantra is “Right people… right seats.” 

Hiring for fit is critical when bringing people on board to address an area where you lack expertise. Hiring someone to do something you know nothing about will always be challenging. I hope the 10 tips we shared with you here make your next hire a little bit easier.

Are there any other tips we missed that you might suggest?

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