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How to identify high-quality and high-performing candidates

Save yourself the headache of a bad hire by following these five tips.

How to identify high-quality and high-performing candidates
[Photo: Rawpixel/Pexels]

Identifying hard-working, high-performing, quality candidates who are both passionate and willing to adapt to the winds of change isn’t easy. After all, every candidate is seeking to impress in an interview, so they’ll all be putting their best foot forward. So how can you separate those who are truly excellent from those who are putting on a show? Here are five tips and strategies.

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1. Interview for work culture

Ensure you are asking questions that cull beyond talent, pinpointing whether the candidate works hard. While it may be easy to review a resume and determine that “this candidate works hard because they have lots of really great results that made the company massive amounts of money,” that isn’t always the case.

We all know people who have presented resumes filled with achievements, but once they got on the job they were lazy, or worked the bare minimum to get by.

So one of the keys is to ask good questions that help separate the wheat from the chaff. Ask behavioral questions that, if answered well, drive home the fact that candidates are not just willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work, but also enthusiastic about it.

Ask them to describe a time when resources were thin, budgets were cut, and the clock was ticking, but an important project was due. How did they respond? What actions did they take? What further hurdles did they overcome, and how? What were the results?


Related: This former Netflix’s HR exec’s culture-focused interview questions 


2. Interview for high performance

While this generally aligns with hard work, there are some distinctions. High performance means that the person continually and regularly, over time, proves their value through consistently measurable outcomes.

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For example, if a sales executive who is expected to close $250,000 in sales in a given quarter proves they consistently will deliver 1.5 times or twice as much as expected, then they would be considered a high performer–exceeding expectations.

To help vet high performers during the interview, ask them questions regarding goals and objectives and how they consistently met or exceeded them. If they constantly grumble about how they didn’t meet this or that goal because of various circumstances out of their control, then that might be a red flag.

On the flip side, if, despite various obstacles–e.g., economy was in a downturn, senior management was in a state of flux, or they were faced with a hypercompetitive environment–they still outperformed objectives, then you’ve likely got a high performer.

Dig deeper; ask their “how” and “why” to attaining these exceptional results.

One caveat: Keep in mind that there may be examples where high performance is proven simply by maintaining status quo during extremely difficult corporate or economic disruptions such as mergers and acquisitions or sweeping changes in senior leadership.


Related: The downsides of using personality tests for hiring

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3. Interview for quality-centricity

So you’ve determined you have a hard-working, performance-driven candidate–now what?

You want to figure out if they care about quality. In other words, do they focus on the details of the service or product to ensure those areas are being taken care of?

For example, if you are hiring for a top executive at a boat dealership who had experience at the helm of another top-of-the-line luxury ship dealership, and they claimed having had a record-breaking year, then dig deeper.

Ask questions about customer satisfaction after the sale in relation to service, product, follow-up, customer retention, and more. Do your due diligence and Google the dealership for reviews and customer testimonials. Determine whether the executive’s leadership successes were sustainable or built on a weak foundation.

4. Interview for passion

While candidates often claim “passion” in their resume, it is helpful to suss this out during the interview. Interviewing for passion is a little squishy, but one way is to ask the candidate questions that are more likely to transport them into an emotional work scenario.

For example, you may ask them about a time where they were considered a hero for bringing a solution to the table that saved time or money, solved a recurring problem, retained an unhappy client, etc. Most people express their passion when describing having played an instrumental role in surmounting large obstacles and calming overheated situations.

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A lack of energy in storytelling, vocal inflection or even in facial expression can denote lack of passion. Not everyone expresses themselves similarly, and for some, passion is internalized, so it is important to note nuances of countenance.

5. Interview for change management skills

In general, professionals with the most desired skills and abilities–hard-working, high-performing, quality-focused, and passionate–are also adaptable. As well, being nimble amid change is particularly important in today’s fluid workspace where technology, science, and other discoveries continually disrupt how we operate.

Ensure you are hiring a candidate who not only says they are change-adaptable, but also can prove, through their experience trajectory, that they have participated in successful change initiatives. This will improve the odds that your company will be equipped to navigate future changes with aplomb.


This article originally appeared on Glassdoor and is reprinted with permission. 

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