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Home  > Article

Interviewing for Fit

By Martin Lieberman

Interviews used to be predictable. If you prepared answers to some basic questions, you could come across as a qualified candidate. But these days employers aren't always looking for the best-qualified candidate. They're searching for the best fit.

 
"If we can find a good fit who will work with the other personalities in the company, getting the skills is easy." - Christina Doss, human resources manager, E*Trade Bank
 

Interviews used to be predictable. If you prepared answers to some basic questions in advance (What are your strengths and weaknesses? What responsibilities did you have at your last job?), you could come across as a qualified candidate. But these days employers aren't always looking for the best-qualified candidate. They're searching for the best fit.

According to DeAnne Rosenberg, author of A Manager's Guide to Hiring the Best Person for Every Job (John Wiley & Sons, 2000), the cost of turnover for a single mid-level employee (including initial recruitment, training, and then recruitment for a replacement employee) is more than one and a half times the employee's annual salary. In an effort to reduce turnover, hiring managers are searching for candidates with the right attitude, not the right resume. Christina Doss, human resources manager at E*Trade Bank, says, "If we can find a good fit who will work with the other personalities in the company, getting the skills is easy. We will just provide them with the training."

The search is on
So what is the right fit? It's different for every company and is reflective of the organization's culture and core values. At Southwest Airlines, for example, hiring managers are in search of fun-loving candidates. Lorraine Grubbs-West, Southwest's director of field employment, describes the company's culture as one in which employees play practical jokes, support one another, and celebrate good times together. "With a culture like ours, you've got to protect it. You don't want to let any bad apples in. We don't want to set [a candidate] up to fail, and we don't want to set ourselves up to fail."

In general, Rosenberg says, the right attitude includes these five attributes:

  • Flexibility
  • A continuing interest in learning
  • The ability to develop relationships and work in a team
  • Initiative and leadership
  • An understanding of how their job fits in with the rest of the company


To decipher whether or not a candidate has these attributes, hiring managers are dispensing with traditional "resume review" interviews and getting creative in the interview process. Grubbs-West's favorite interview question is "When was the last time you laughed at yourself?" Doss, of E*Trade Bank, relies on behavioral interviews to predict how a candidate will react in future situations. By asking questions about past experiences (such as "Think of a time when you had two deadlines and could meet only one. How did you resolve the situation?"), she judges a candidate's behavior. Creative exercises are another method of getting to know a candidate. An applicant may be asked to participate in improvisation exercises or draw a picture of his mind to demonstrate how imaginatively he can think. Other companies invite their applicants back for repeated interviews with various members of the team, put multiple applicants together for group interviews, or take candidates out for a meal to get to know them in a more relaxed situation.

"Companies are trying to fill talent profiles, which are far more than a job description, and far more than a list of [skills] requirements," says Barbara Mitchell, president of the Employment Management Association. To create a talent profile, hiring managers interview current team members to determine what qualities help them to do a good job. "You really delve into what someone would need to know to be a success in this position," she says.

The efforts of companies to refine their interviewing processes seem to be paying off. Doss says E*Trade Bank's turnover rate is less than 15 percent, which is low for a call center, where most of the company's employees work. Southwest reports a turnover rate of 9.5 percent, low for the airline industry, according to Grubbs-West.

Job seekers who thought they could prepare for interviews by researching company web sites or reading "insider" guides are finding that's just not enough anymore. Sometimes, preparing for interviews is simply impossible. While interviewing for a job is becoming more of a challenge, it also should be more rewarding. If a company thinks you're the right fit, you've scored a job in which you'll be very comfortable. And if you're not the chosen candidate, you should be relieved that you avoided the wrong job, and comforted that the right fit is still out there looking for you.







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