I’ve walked into plenty of odd conversations at my coffee shop. It goes something like this:
—“So, if you could have any exotic pet, what would it be?”
—“Well, probably an otter… so long as I could have an extra large bathtub. What about you?”
Typically when the staff is recovering between rushes, they are known to banter among themselves or with customers about anything from brewing techniques to vacation destinations. I usually just smile and go about my business, but once in a while I can’t help but get roped in too.
So when an employee recently asked out of the blue “What is your favorite thing about yourself?” I wasn’t even fazed. (I’ll get back to this in a minute.)
Although I can’t claim responsibility for these types of interactions, I’ve definitely been an instigator—asking my share of unusual interview questions, all in the name of finding that gem with a talent for welcoming, connecting with and serving others.
Finding the right talent is like being a detective
It is essential to ask the right questions! When I originally designed my interview process, the questions were all about trying to uncover a candidate’s talents to see if there was a match in what we were looking for. One of my influences and greatest resources was and still is the classic book First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend!
In the book, talent is defined as “A recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied” Buckingham and Coffman elaborate on 3 types of talents– Striving, Thinking and Relating– but it basically boils down to a person’s mental filter. These are things that cannot be taught, unlike skills, knowledge and experience.
So if you’ve struggled in the past to find the right fit for a particular role, here’s an approach to try. Although it’s only one aspect of developing a positive employee experience, it has worked splendidly in our cafe/retail setting to help stabilize turnover in a sector that typically experiences rates of 60% or higher.
A simple system that works
- Identify the critical talents needed for a particular role. For example, should they be mission-driven? Self-motivated? Detail-oriented? Decisive? Caring? Competitive?
- Draft a job description that summarizes the role and main responsibilities. Then use the critical talents you identified to help list primary qualifications for the role.
- Forget the standard old boring questions on job applications and the “best” questions from guidebooks! Savvy candidates can too easily rehearse those. Encourage more authentic responses by crafting uncommon interview questions to shed some light on the talents you need for a specific role. Done well, it will lead to a lively and insightful conversation that encourages candidates to open up.
Lastly – don’t skip this step! 4. Take time to answer your own interview questions. I think this one is crucial for several reasons, and it’s also a step I’ll bet a lot of interviewers don’t take.
When I did this for the first time, it reminded me to be empathetic because the questions were indeed challenging and interviewees may be nervous. It also taught me more about myself.
Understand your own strengths
Answering my own questions led me to more closely examine my own talents with the aid of strengths testing. I found CliftonStrengths very useful, but I also did the VIA Survey and even revisited my Myers Briggs type. There is also a very popular, free test called the NERIS Type Explorer® that you can find at https://www.16personalities.com/. I encourage you to explore! The more you understand about your own strengths, the more effective you can become as an interviewer, manager, business leader or simply as a human being in the world.
Oh, and in case you were wondering how I answered the question posed by my employee?
Well, I first replied that my favorite thing about myself had to be my toes (because they are oh so cute!) All joking aside though, my answer came pretty clearly and easily because of the time I’ve put in reflecting on my own talents. I told him that I like that I have the ability to be open-minded and adaptable toward different viewpoints and personalities, even if we disagree.
So, let me know what you think. And feel free to mention your favorite thing about yourself!