This article originally appeared on Inc.com, and was the result of a series of interviews by Inc contributor, Minda Zetlin. You can find the original article here, and can also find Minda on Twitter at @mindazetlin.
Nobody loves conducting job interviews. You sit there searching for the perfect question to ask, while the candidate tries to figure out the perfect answer to give. And the stakes couldn’t be higher–you know how important it is to bring in the best possible people, especially to a small business. You likely also know from experience just how much damage the wrong hire can cause.
How do you cut through the facade every candidate presents to really learn whether he or she is a good fit? There’s no magic formula, but Mark Tacchi, CEO of arts ticketing provider Vendini attributes the company’s success to its ability to hire the best. Tacchi, learned some of his hiring principles while working for Steve Jobs. And Vendini is having a lot of success lately–the company recently hit $1 billion in gross ticket sales and is opening new offices all over the world. Which of course will mean more hiring.
Here are Tacchi’s interview secrets for truly learning about a job candidate:
1. Kill the power dynamic—fast!
Why: You want them to be comfortable.
This is the single most important thing to do in an interview, Tacchi says. “You’re on their side, not above them. You want them to succeed.” This doesn’t mean you should make the interview easy, he says, but making a candidate feel off-balance or belittled in order to gauge his or her reaction doesn’t help anyone–and can make you seem like a jerk.
“Don’t forget, if this is a truly qualified candidate, he or she is evaluating you as well,” he says. “So respect the candidate’s time, and even more, respect the candidate as a person.”
2. Don’t just ask questions, have an informal conversation.
Why: To find out what they’d be like to have around.
“I like to think of it as a trial run for what working together would be like,” Tacchi explains. “That’s really what I’m testing–how well we work together. Do the creative sparks fly? Can we play off each other’s ideas? That’s really important and I think it’s something a lot of companies miss when they’re interviewing.”
3. Have the candidate map out a problem on a whiteboard.
Why: To test both the right and left sides of the brain.
Ideally, the candidate will show creativity while working out the problem (right brain) and arrive at a workable answer (left brain), Tacchi explains. There are also ways to check out left brain/right brain abilities without a whiteboard. Come up with one or more big questions that will test both creative and problem-solving skills. When Tacchi does this, if the candidate can’t answer during the interview, he may withhold the answer to give the person’s creativity a little more time to percolate. “Sometimes it can take until the next morning for inspiration to strike,” he says.
This, too, gives Tacchi a good sense of how candidates would actually work within Vendini, and their approach to a problem. “Do they clam up? Do they just give up? Which I’ve had happen, and is really, really bad. If you’re solving problems every day, which in theory every company is, you should be able to solve a problem in front of your boss–especially if the power dynamic has been killed.”
4. Skip the outrageous questions.
Why: They don’t help.
“So many companies are well known for asking outrageous questions,” Tacchi says. “I don’t think this is effective because what I’m really testing is how well we work together, not if they can tell me how many marbles fit in the Empire State Building.”
This doesn’t mean you should ask easy questions, he stresses. You want to test the candidate’s creativity. But you don’t want to make the candidate feel uncomfortable or dumb, and you don’t want to ask unanswerable questions that will require a complete bluff. It goes back to the power dynamic, Tacchi explains. “Questions like these widen the gap and create an air of superiority.”
5. Ask them to give a presentation.
Why: You will learn about their preparedness and communication skills.
Tacchi only does this for some positions, and usually late in the hiring process, he says. He keeps the topic open-ended, usually inviting them to give a presentation on a topic of their choice. “I’m able to learn a few important things from this,” he says. First of all, how much–or little–they’ve prepared. “This shows how interested and invested they are,” he explains. “If they prepared a lot, they’re invested in doing well. If they’re winging it…well, that shows you something else.”
You’ll also get to see how well the candidate communicates to a room full of people, which will give you a sense of his or her communication skills. “Whether it’s support dealing with customers or HR dealing with people in the company, everyone needs to be able to communicate well. It’s too important to ignore,” he says.
6. Ask about their passions.
Why: You want well-rounded, passionate employees.
Tacchi says he usually tries to delve into candidates’ passions toward the end of an interview. The idea is to build a team with different points of view and experiences. “I like to find people with patterns of accomplishment,” he adds. “They might have won awards, and they may have passions from high school or college that they left off their resume because they seemed unimportant or irrelevant for the interview. But a strong pattern of accomplishment is a really good sign–it’s worth digging deeper to find out what drives and inspires your candidate. You’d be amazed how many people don’t include their passions on their resumes.”