, Singapore

Interview answers Singapore HR managers must watch out for

By C.J. Ng

Based on recent studies by Leadership IQ tracking over 20,000 new hires, 46% of new hires will fail within 18 months.

What is even more surprising than the failure rate, was that when new hires failed, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11% of the time for a lack of skill.

The attitudinal deficits include:

  • A lack of coachability;
  • Low levels of emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament.

In our 2012 survey of 200 HR and hiring managers in Singapore, we got the following responses:

  • 35% of new employees will not perform to expectations within a reasonable amount of time;
  • Only 47% of the respondents' companies will systematically find out how they can improve future hiring processes when new hires leave within their probation period;
  • When new employees don't perform to expectations, it's due to attitude (and not skills) in 52% of the time;
  • Yet, 72% of the respondents based their hiring decisions on the skills and experience of the candidates, rather than their attitudes.

As Herb Kelleher, former Southwest Airlines CEO used to say, “we can change skill levels through training, but we can’t change attitude.”

Even if a new employee lacks the right skills, he can be trained if he has got great attitude and if he learns fast. On the other hand, if you hire someone with great skills but a lousy attitude, you have got yourself a "talented terror".

And talented terrors are a lot much harder to deal with.

So What Kind of People Do I Need?

While having a great attitude is important for your new hire to succeed with your company, the attitudes that fit in a company like Google will be very different from the most desired attitudes in a company like Apple. You will need to identify what kinds of attitudes will work best for you, by finding out:

  • What are some of the behaviours and attitudes that your top performers display, but are not displayed by your middle or bottom performers?
  • What are some of the behaviours and attitudes that your bottom performers display, but are not displayed by your top or middle performers?

As you might have guessed it, you want to hire people with the attitudes and behaviours displayed by your top performers, and avoid hiring those that displayed similar attitudes and behaviours as your bottom performers.
Sometimes, the desired attitudes and behaviours of your new hires may even differ in different departments and teams in your company. You may need to some internal interviewing of current top, middle and bottom performers to find out what those behaviours and attitudes are.

The Problem with Behavioural Interview Questions
Once you have identified the desired attitudes you are looking for in new hires, the next step will be how you can design the right questions so that you can spot them in interviews. This is actually very easily achieved, which unfortunately we usually screw up as we are being misled by so-called "behavioural-based interview" techniques.

Don't get me wrong, interviewing for past behaviours is very important and crucial in identifying the right attitudes. The only problem here is that behaviour interview questions using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) or BAR (Background, Action, Result) actually leads the interviewee to give you the answer you'd like to hear, instead of what actually happened.

Let me explain.

A typical behavioural interview question will go like “Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete an assignment and how you overcame that.”

Now if you were to seek for the results of the above action by asking "and how you overcame that". it is in essence a leading question. Smart candidates will know instantly what answers you are looking for, and say what you want to hear, rather than what actually happened.

An interview question that gives you a glimpse of the candidate's attitude will instead be like "“Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete an assignment...”

Just leave the question hanging and pause for the next 10 seconds. Let the candidate fill in the void.

Candidates with a "problem-bringing" attitude will say something like:

  • “Happened all the time; that’s why I’m interviewing with you guys.”
  • “I told them to find somebody else.”
  • “That’s why we have customer service - let them figure it out.”

While candidates with a "problem-solving" attitude are likely to say:

  • “I wasn’t afraid to admit that I lacked the skills I needed and was easily able to find a peer who caught me up to speed.”
  • “I enlisted the help of someone from corporate who was familiar with the tool I did not know how to use. I didn’t have to solve the problem from scratch, and it sure felt good to share the credit for a job well done.”

By the way, the above statements are extracted from real candidates from actual job interviews.

The Good, The Bad, and the So-so Responses
It is sometimes said that interviewing is a skill that needs a long time to master, and only the most skillful "master interviewers" can see through if the candidate can perform on the job or not.

The fact is that most hiring processes have got at least 2 rounds of interviews: one by the recruitment manager, and the other the line manager of the employee. If any one of them is not a "master interviewer", then you may either be missing your next top talent, or you could be hiring a complete dud.

The good news is, you can actually systematically come up with standard answers to your interview questions. For example, if your question is "Could you tell me about the most difficult colleague you dealt with?", some sample answers could be:

  • Example of bad answer: "Oh, there was this jerk that does nothing but sucks up to the boss and takes all the credit"
  • Example of a so-so answer: "Some people are just difficult to deal with. Maybe our horoscopes don't match. Generally, I just try to avoid getting into conflicts with them."
  • Example of a good answer: "There was this colleague that just insists on doing things his way and couldn't get along with anyone. However, I always try to see things from his point of view and give affirmation when he was right. It's not easy, and I don't always succeed, but at least we found some ways where we can work together."

If such "standard questions" and "model answers" can be shared with the respective interviewers, you then could achieve a level of consistency of the candidates you hire.

Some hiring managers may be worried that if such "hiring for attitude" questions are leaked to potential candidates, then they could be able to prepare their own "standard answers" that you want to hear, and not what actually happened.

The good news is that you can vary the questions and add enough questions such that there's no way that a candidate could pre-empt all of your questions.

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