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How to Hire On It People

Welcome back. In last week’s post we talked about the deeply moving experience of being around “On It” people… the people that volunteer to shovel dirt and end up moving mountains. Here’s what I promised for Part 2: How to identify and screen for the On It qualities, e.g. Entrepreneurial, Natural Leaders, Accountable, and Conscientious.

But before we go there, I have an addendum.

Another critical On It person trait is Persistence, e.g. the ability to change tactics, be charming, persuasive or relentless until the end goal is achieved. An example of this would be the Account or Project Manager that chases down the team to get approvals and ensures a project doesn’t die on the table. Persistence means there’s no boomerang effect. The task doesn’t fly back in your face at the first sign of resistance. On It people will carry something thru to completion.

So let’s actually start with Persistence and questions you can ask to screen for it in interviews. We’ll also cover Entrepreneurial and Leadership. If you happen to use these questions when interviewing, I’d love to hear how it went.


What it Sounds Like:

Persistence is the ability to identify the end goal, ascribe importance to it and doggedly follow thru until the desired outcome is achieved. Persistent people set the agenda and push aside roadblocks and detours. They can tell the difference between efforts that will get results and snipe hunts. Listen for stories of handling adversity. Your goal is to hire take charge people rather than victims.

Interview Questions:

1.       Describe a recent situation where you disagreed with your boss/colleague/client. How did you handle it? What steps did you take to achieve an outcome you were happy with?

2.       Describe a situation when results were unacceptable. What actions did you take?

3.       Tell me about a time you had to persuade your boss/team/client to agree to something they didn’t initially support.

4.       What do you do when you’re not getting the input you need to move a project forward?

5.       What is your score card with new business? How successful have you been growing business with existing clients or bringing in new clients?


What it Sounds Like:

One of my very favorite clients and gifted business analysts, Brian McGinty, Solutions Director at Digitaria once told me this story of his early career.

When I joined Razorfish in Philadelphia, most of the Analytics team was doing manual campaign reporting.  As a team of analysts we would pull data from different feeds, crunch everything together and load it into dashboard reports to show the client. Not only was the work tedious but the client rarely used the report to do anything.  The whole group was pretty dejected.  I wanted to be doing more cerebral analytics projects, projects that were more exciting and would help our clients drive their business.

I decided I was going to make manual reporting go away and replace it with something better.  I created a “business plan” for how to get from being a group of data jockeys to a team of strategic analytics consultants and showed it to my boss.  I got investment from the company to build an automated reporting engine and provide training to the whole team on more sophisticated analytical techniques.

Time spent on report production dropped from 30 hours per month to 2 and with our extra time we trained ourselves to become experts in advanced analytics.  I created a suite of products and services for our group that we could sell and within a few months we already had more work than we could keep pace with.  We were delivering new and innovative solutions that had real value and revenue from our new department quickly grew to over $5 million.

Where others think “This sucks” and get bummed out, entrepreneurs instinctively think: There’s got to be a better way and I will find it. BTW, Brian was 23 and a year out of school at the time.

Interview Questions:

1.       What’s something you’d like to see your current company do better? What steps have you/can you take to improve things?

2.       Tell me about a personal interest or idea that you felt compelled to share with others. What did you do about it?

3.       What are the best contributions you can make to our company? Why should we hire you?

4.       What goals have you set for yourself, both personal and professional?


What it Sounds Like:

Have you ever asked your audience to participate or ask a question during a presentation, and nobody says a peep? Doesn’t that stink? On It people are the first to participate. They’re the ones with their hands always up in class. They’re just dying to share a personal experience or idea. When given the choice between shyness and possible humiliation or being quiet, they don’t even flinch. One of my favorite personal mantras is: You’ve got to be in it to win it. Leaders aren’t content to sit on the sidelines. They’re aching to play.

Leadership starts with engagement and passion. You have to feel invested in something before you take charge.

Interview Questions:

1.       Tell me about the last team or task force you were on. What was the purpose or goal and what role did you play?

2.       Describe a time when you were faced with lack of motivation, complacency or poor morale. What did you do to improve the situation? Was it effective?

3.       What lead you to this career? What do you love about your job? What is especially motivating to you? E.g. The thing that urges you to work harder, invest more time?

4.       Everyone has at least one skill they are uniquely qualified to teach. Something they do better than anyone else. What’s yours?

5.       Tell me about your favorite boss or mentor and which of their qualities you’d most like to possess?

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