Hiring Wisely: Do Their Eyes Light Up in the Job Interview?


Different interviewers look for different things when they talk to job candidates, and there's no clear formula for what is the very BEST thing you should be looking for that will yield a spectacular hire.

But as I noted last week when writing about Minnesota Viking Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren, the trick is in knowing exactly what it is that you really want in a new employee.

As simple as that may sound, it's pretty amazing that a lot of hiring managers don't have what they really want fully formulated in their mind. I've seen that first hand in organizations from New York to Honolulu, and it never ceases to amaze me because knowing what you want in an employee is absolutely critical if you want to hire the very best person for the job.

Looking for whether their "eyes light up"

There is one thing that jumps out at me however, after a couple of weeks of writing these "Hiring Wisely" posts for Talent Insider -- passion is a critical quality that lots of hiring managers say they look for.

Kevin Warren mentioned it last week, and Christa Quarles, the CEO of Open Table (they tout themselves as "the world’s leading provider of online restaurant reservations") pretty much said the same thing this week to The New York Times‘ Adam Bryant in his weekly Corner Office column.

Here's what she said that jumped out at me when she was asked "How do you hire?" --

I don’t always have a specific set of questions, but I am looking for whether your eyes light up when you’re talking about 80 percent of what the job requires. And I always ask, “What kind of work do you avoid doing?” Because there’s always a part of your job that everybody hates. I want to understand what part that is, and I also want to understand what makes your eyes light up. The person who enjoys their job is going to give you 20 times the effort."

I know that Christa Quarles never uses the word "passion" anywhere in here, but "looking for whether your eyes light up" when talking about the job you are interviewing for sounds like passion to me.

Still, as great as a quality as passion is, it can only take you so far. What else should you be looking for in a candidate besides great passion?


Putting in the time to become an expert

Quarles says that it's becoming an expert in whatever it is that you do, and she articulates this when she answers the question "What career and life advice do you give to new college grads?" Here's what she says:

It’s about finding your space and not being afraid to shift around to find that thing that truly brings you joy. I don’t think there’s any shame in changing jobs, especially early on, to find that groove. But then once you’ve found it, you really have to put in the time to become an expert in that thing."

She also adds this about the three kinds of people in life (from her perspective), and from her comment you can get a sense of one other thing she looks for when she hires:

There are three kinds of people — the people who never learn from mistakes, the people who learn from their own mistakes and the people who learn from other people’s mistakes. I put myself in that last category because I had all these examples before me, and I never felt like I had to fail as often because there was so much I could learn from. People have always called me an old soul, and it was just more that I had lots of examples in front of me."

Learning from other people's mistakes is crucial, I think, and I always tell people that I got a lot more in grad school out of the business case studies that showed where leaders and organizations totally went off the rails (like with "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap and Sunbeam) than the ones where they were incredibly successful (like Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines).

(Editor’s note: Checkster, the parent company of Talent Insider blog, can help you find out whether a job candidate is actually an expert with the Reference Checkup tool, and can help you better evaluate candidate interviews with the Interview Checkup.)

Why multiple interviewers make sense

Whatever your hiring criteria, it's important that you have a clear sense of it before you start interviewing, and that you make sure that you work it into your interview questions in different ways to see if, for instance, a candidate's passion holds up when asked about in a number of different ways.

I'm also struck by the notion that although too many interviews by too many different people can lead to a grueling and difficult session for a candidate, having 3-4 different people talk to them will likely lead to different people digging into different things and giving a more well-rounded view of the person.

Sometimes, it's that one additional interview that leads to a candidate comment that makes THE big difference in your hiring decision -- and that one comment can be the thing that leads you to your next great hire, or not.