As I was thinking about who I will ask these 15 questions one person came to mind that had plenty of experience in a leadership position and conducting interviews for positions with great responsibility. I interviewed Todd Bird who is a juvenile and adult correction educator for Canyon’s school district (South Park Academy), in short, he is the principal at the prison in Draper UT.
- What are some things you look for in an interviewee that would be a sign you would not want to hire them?
When an interviewee is exaggerating, he looks for people who are more genuine.
2. What would you consider an adequate amount of time for an interview?
Half hour to 45 minutes, anything less is not enough time to get to know the candidate, scheduling people in 1-hour increments.
3. Do you prefer one on one interviews or interviewing someone with a panel of interviewers?
Minimum of 3 people, he wants others opinion, (another leadership role, and someone that actually does what the candidate does or someone they will be working with).
4. Do you have a set of questions that you ask everyone you interview, or do you ask questions based on the progression of the interview and do the questions vary from person to person?
Todd states that within the school district there are pretty strict rules when it comes to the questions that are asked, there has to be a set of questions that he has to ask every candidate that is pre-approved by human resources. He also talks to the panel of interviewers to not ask questions outside of the questions that have been asked. All they can do is ask follow up questions with what the candidate has already stated.
5. How do you record your thoughts while interviewing? Do you write down thoughts as you interview? Do you make mental notes and record later?
When scoring candidates, they utilize a score card, and take notes during the interview that will remind them of what they were thinking during the interview.
6. How do you avoid asking illegal questions or avoid heading down the wrong direction with your interview?
Todd states that he doesn’t worry about asking illegal questions, but that he worries about the people placed on the panel. He had an experience where he was being interviewed by a panel that had people from the community that were helping conduct the interview. The position was for an administrative position and one of the community members asked him what religion he affiliated himself with. His response during the interview was “I don’t think legally you can ask that question, thank you but I will not answer that.” He fears that he hasn’t briefed the panel enough of the types of questions that they cannot ask. With the set questions it helps mitigate that. Also, he has taken it upon himself to ask all the questions.
7. Do you require a background check, and do you look at your candidates social media?
Everyone has to have a background check, also a BCI (bureau of criminal investigations). He states that he doesn’t check people’s social media enough. He has an administrative assistant that helps with the pre-approval process by looking up social media of the candidates. They do a pre-scoring process to weed it down to a minimum of 3 candidates.
8. When interviewing a candidate for a position posting what are some key behaviors within the interview that would deter you from hiring the candidate?
Todd tries to overlook nervousness. He is more keen on trying to get a feel for the candidate’s personality and whether they will fit into the organizations culture, or are they going to stir things up and create a poor working environment for others. When hiring he is concerned how the person is going to fit in. Especially since they work within prison confinement which can be intimidating in itself. Some candidates being so intimidated that they leave the interview before even sitting down and calling in later to say that they do not feel comfortable with the environment. So, he watches the candidates as they come for the interview to see if they feel comfortable enough navigating the prison (showing ID, talking to guards) to sit down for the interview. He also like to see the response of the candidates who are obviously freaked out with the environment and whether or not they try hiding their fear. Todd said that it is obvious when candidates are freaked out by try hiding it.
9. When asking the interviewer questions are you looking for specific responses, or are you more interested in the way the candidate articulates their response?
When asking specific questions, he is looking for both, a specific response, and the way the candidate responds. Within the interview he has specific questions for both. Some questions to get a specific response, and others to see how the candidate responds. One example of a question Todd uses to see how the candidate responds is “What would your co-workers say about you?”. Many of the candidates pause for a second, because the question turns from a self-reflection to how others may view them, and states that most candidates are pretty honest with the question whether they reveal some positive or negatives about themselves. He uses this question to get away from questions that candidates may be prepared to answer such as “Tell me your strengths and weaknesses” types of questions.
10. Experience is always great to have, but at what point would you hire someone with less experience? Could you give examples if this is true?
When interviewing candidates, he already goes into the interview with the mindset that he would already be willing to hire this person and uses the pre-approval process to weed out candidates that do not meet the requirements for the position. During the interview he tries not to weigh their experience and knowledge as much as he wants to get a better feel of who they are and their passion for the position itself. By working in education, he is looking for someone that is not only educated in the subject but is passionate about teaching others who are willing to learn fundamentals of the subject so that they can progress to the next level.
11. When considering a candidate for the position are you intrigued when a candidate has a professional portfolio on top of their resume, and does this set them above other candidates?
Todd states that he doesn’t care about a professional portfolio, he is more concerned that the candidate has the required information (cover letter, resume, application and references). He states that he has been wronged so many times. When the new Canyon’s school district opened he went through all of the candidates portfolios who applied for the superintendent position which is a $200k+ position and the one who received the job had a stabled together white paper, but what set the person apart was what was written on the papers was very impressive. On paper he looks for things that tell a story about the person and the type of person they are. For example he interviewed a candidate because there was something intriguing about the candidate on paper because there seemed to be something missing and when interviewing the candidate he found out that she was on her death bed with cancer at two different times in her life before the age of 20. When reviewing her portfolio, it didn’t state that, but he recognized that things were being delayed/going on and that he was interested. After interviewing the candidate, he ended up hiring her because she had a great perspective for someone with her age.
12. How do you score or compare candidates across the board after the interview process?
After scoring candidates he tells the panel that he will ultimately make the final call but will take their thoughts into consideration when making that decision.
13. There are some people who are qualified for the job but are not good at interviews. When you see someone struggling in an interview, what do you do?
When Todd recognizes someone, who is struggling through the interview he likes to make a joke to get the candidate to relax. Sometimes he will say, “let’s stop for a minute, you go ahead and breathe (candidate may laugh) and he will say it’s alright we are nice here, you are already in prison how bad can it be?” or he will say, “are you nervous because this is your first time in prison?”. He also states that he has been on panels where they try to purposefully make the candidates feel nervous and doesn’t understand the purpose of this as it doesn’t help you understand who the person is after the interview is over, and not just who they are during the interview.
14. When making the final decision on a candidate, what process do you follow? Who do you communicate with to send an offer?
Once a decision has been made, he is sure to check references, and personally calls the candidate to offer the position, or to inform the candidate that they were not chosen for the position. When calling references, he also utilizes a specific set of questions as well set by the HR department. In what capacity do you know them, how long have you known them, and is there anything that you would like to tell me about this person, and would you rehire this person? One red flag is people who do not post a reference that is a previous or current supervisor.
15. When you interview a candidate what type of body language do you look for? Facial expressions? Placement of hands? What gives the impression of confidence in your opinion?
Todd states that the impression of confidence does matter, but that he is unsure of what he looks for specifically or if it’s just a feeling of confidence that he gets from the interviewee. He also states that he has been duped by some interviewees who showed confidence but ended up being hard to work with because they seemed to have all the answers. When going to interviews he states that he fidgets a lot, so he takes a pen into the interview to direct some of that energy into fidgeting with the pen instead fidgety hands. He related this to a politician who ran for president Bob Dole who had a stroke, with his hand in a fist it would be obvious that there was something wrong, but when he has a pen in that hand during his speeches it was less noticeable.
My biggest takeaways from interviewing Todd Bird was that the pre interview process is very important to mitigate the amount of time spent during interviews, and during the interview it is not necessarily the questions that are asked but as to how the candidate responds and how genuine they are about their response. Hiring someone is one of the most important things you can do for an organization. When you hire someone, you’re ultimately effecting the efficiency and morale of the workplace. When getting it wrong it is harder to get rid of the bad apple than to be more thorough in the selection process.