When I interview

Just one thing is really going through my mind:  Am I energized by this conversation?

What’s energizing will differ depending on the role – its content, seniority, what skills and disposition it requires.

But at the end of the day, it’s visceral.

What sets you apart

Not smarts or capacity or competence.

Not pedigree.

Not even accomplishments if they didn’t require putting yourself on the line.

Relentless passion? Courage? Going out on a limb? Refusal to give up? Yeah, now we’re getting somewhere.

It’s virtually impossible to lead if you’re not fully invested. It’s impossible to lead if the (potential) failure wouldn’t be personal. It’s impossible to lead without having something at stake.

What sets you apart is showing that you’ve done something that looks like that.

P.S. This all translates directly into questions to ask – and questions to skip – in interviews.

Who are you looking for?

The James Caird is the 23 foot-(8m-)long whaler in which Sir Ernest Shackleton and five companions made the epic open boat voyage of 800m (l,300 km) from Elephant Island, 500 miles (800 km) south of Cape Horn, to South Georgia during the Antarctic winter of l9l6. Source: http://www.jamescairdsociety.com/

What do your job postings look like?  Do they look anything like this one placed in a British newspaper by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, looking to hire crew for his Nimrod expedition to reach the South Pole (he never succeeded):

MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. LOW WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG HOURS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS. SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN EVENT OF SUCCESS.

Pretty clear what you’re signing up for, huh?

Everything we do is a function of who is on the bus, the hands we have pulling together towards our common goal.  We may not be attempting to reach the South Pole, but we’re going somewhere important, and we need the right people to get us there.  People who share our values.  People who share our commitment.  People who are there because they are meant to be one of us – we just haven’t found them yet, nor they us.

Yet we punt on the opportunity to state who we are from the get-go.  We write bland, generic job postings, copying and pasting from the one we used last time and the time before that and the time before that.  We say things like “we are looking for self-starters who work well in teams, with strong attention to detail and a collaborative mindset.”

Huh?  It’s the hiring equivalent of mission statement blah-blah-blah: “we deliver excellence to our customers through uncompromising pursuit of top quality and belief in our stated values of trust, performance, and team.”

Please, please, please, stand for something in everything you do – especially in how you hire.  Instead of being afraid of writing something that some people won’t like, make SURE you write something that some people won’t like – because that way you’ll communicate something about who you are and what you stand for to the people who love that edgy, provocative thing you’re communicating.

Say things that only you would say, as a first step towards attracting only the right people to work alongside you for the next five or ten years.  What could be more important?

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p.s. for those who noticed/didn’t like the two grammatical mistakes in the title of this blog post, I was being ironical.

Gumption and conviction

Some interview questions to get at the important stuff:

“What grounds you?”

“What are you best at?”

“Tell me about at time you changed someone’s mind.”

“At your core, what makes you tick?”

“What does generosity mean to you?”

Degrees and smarts are nice, but they’re almost easy to come by.   Being the kind of person who drives and leads (no matter what your job title) is much more compelling.