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How I Hire: Don’t Tell Me You Work Too Hard and Care Too Much

September 25, 2013

By Adam Bryant, New York Times

Adam Bryant writes the Corner Office for the Times. This column was written as part of LinkedIn’s “How I Hire” feature.

During my “Corner Office” interviews, I always make sure to pose these questions to chief executives: “How do you hire? What qualities are you looking for? What questions do you ask?”

Over the course of more than 250 interviews, I’ve heard some surprising answers, particularly about the questions they ask job candidates. After all, these leaders face a clear challenge when they meet with prospective hires: most of the people they meet have been coached and trained to come up with the “right” answers to questions, so that they can present a blemish-free and upbeat narrative about their career. And so, when they are asked about their weaknesses, candidates will inevitably try to turn a negative into a positive, as in, “I care too much.” Or, “I’m a perfectionist.” Or, “I work too hard.” The C.E.O.’s have heard them all before, and the answers can sound like Muzak after a while.

Here’s a great way to get at the question of somebody’s weaknesses, without falling into the trap of predictable answers, from Seth Besmertnik, the C.E.O. of Conductor:

I ask people where they want to be in the future. They tell me, and then I say, ‘Do you think you’re going to be different then than you are today?’ And they’ll usually say, ‘Of course I’m going to be different.’ Then I’ll say: ‘So how are you going to grow from the person you are today to the person you are then? Where do you most need to grow to achieve where you need to go?’ This is a very indirect way of asking people what they need to work on. From that answer, you get a strong sense of a person’s confidence. If people are confident, they’re willing to admit weaknesses and insecurities. And you get a sense of how self-aware they are.”

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