18 February 2015
If you could go back in time and change one piece of history, what would it be? asks John Bowen.
I was doing some interviewing last week. My role was to probe the breadth and depth of the candidate's operational abilities while my colleague was looking at the touchy-feely stuff and the above question was one of her standards.
Back in the days when I first used to have to face interviewers I used to loathe this sort of question. The answer I longed to give was; "To make sure that your parents never met", but I have not, so far, ever given that one.
Our five candidates came out with a fairly usual mix; two would have stopped wars, one wanted to call a cab for the Princess of Wales and two wasted half of the allotted time for their answer by wanting to go into the future and bring back a cure for cancer.
For me, the interesting thought process that should come from this type of question is how the candidate understands what the consequences of their action might be (my colleague will be looking for something else) because that helps to cast some light on their potential.
Understanding cause and effect is important in doing any job and more so as you climb the greasy pole of the management hierarchy and so getting candidates to show how they go about these things in a job or promotion interview is a skill that seems to me to be dying out in many organisations.
Teams are built with people and although some of the profiling that is used in recruitment may have its uses, there is no substitute for getting face to face with someone and probing the way that they approach things. Blending individual talents into a thriving team is obviously a lot easier if you can get the right people and the interview process should allow every candidate to give their best. Asking good questions and pushing the candidates is part of that, but the interview should be about them and not about the interviewer or the process.
Interviewing is a skill; it's not just about asking questions, it's about using questions to draw information. It's about saying a little and listening a lot.
Two pieces of advice stick in my mind from when I first started to interview. The first was to treat the candidate as an equal and the other was that the young people that were coming through were the future of the organisation.
The latter point is about change. "The past is foreign country, they do things differently there," sums it up well and that used to colour the way that I would answer the question that I mentioned above. My reply was that I would change nothing. Good or bad, everything adds to our knowledge and experience and, in any case, how could I be sure that what I changed would work out for the better?
These days we hear the expression 'Duty of Care' a lot and that, too, is about consequences of actions, but I think that the biggest duty of care that any of us have is to the future. This is the true aspect of sustainability, not all of the hyperbole we usually see on the subject. Bringing on the future generations is crucial, so whether we are involved in educating or selecting people we should be focusing on them.
John Bowen is an FM consultant