The Grease Talent Acquisition Approach

Grease recommends adhering to three steps to success:

1. search criteria

2. interview process

3. interview protocol

Table Stakes. Each candidate must exhibit three essential qualities:

    1. honesty
    2. high energy
    3. smart 

Grease recommends a behavioral interview to affirm all three.  It involves asking questions derived from resumes and an in-person interview to evaluate a candidate’s “self-report.”  We are looking for gaps and inconsistencies, which can be observed by asking “why” and “tell me about” questions such as:

  • Why did you major in political science?
  • What are you reading? 
  • What sports did you play in college?
  • Tell me about your family?
  • Tell me about your college experience, 
  • Who is your favorite author? 
  • What was your favorite subject?
  • Why did you go to graduate school?
  • What was your favorite trip?  Why? 

The technique in this approach is to let the candidate do 95% of the talking.  Why? If the interviewer is talking, he or she is learning nothing about the candidate.  This is the only opportunity to do so.  We are trying to assess behavioral fit.  Regardless of the position, we are trying to determine if the candidate is telling the truth about small things; is engaged, engaging, and self-aware; and is smart.  This is the first step in winnowing the applicants. 

For those who pass this muster, we can move to the second phase of the Search Criteria: the experience interview, which is intended to assess fit for the job.  This involves questions that relate to qualities and skills necessary to succeed in the job.  These will differ according to the job. The questions are intended to allow the candidates to share their experiences as evidence for their ability to do the job.  The questions all begin with “tell me a time when…” such as:

  • Communications: tell me a time when you had to exhibit your communications skills.
  • Leadership: tell me a time when you had model your leadership skills for your subordinates.
  • Tolerance for Ambiguity: tell me a time when you had to exhibit your tolerance for ambiguity under trying circumstances.
  • Conflict resolution: tell me a time when you had to insert yourself to resolve conflict.
  • Hiring and Firing: tell me a time when you had to fire someone.
  • Emotional Intelligence as evidenced by affability: tell me a time when you had to defuse a situation using your innate instincts.
  • Sense of Humor: tell me a time when your sense of humor carried the day.
  1. Each candidate will be interviewed individually and separately by each interview team member. 
  2. No group interviews. Group interviews are very close to worthless. The questions are typically “soft balls” and suffer from the halo effect.  Other interviewers are subject to hierarchical influences that diminish the intent of hearing from the candidate and forming one’s own opinions unfettered by social distractions.  Group interviews let the candidate off the hook and deprive the organization of potential insights. 

To recap, we are looking for behaviors and experiences that support the candidates’ self-reports. 

  1. Ask open ended questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer, for example: “tell me about your college experience”; “tell me about your family”; “how would assess your communications skills?”; “how would rate your ability to handle stress?” 
  2. Listen, listen, listen: candidates should do 95% of the talking.  When the interviewer is talking, she or he is learning zero about the candidate. 
  3. Look for behaviors that indicate success or failure on the job. Write them down.
  4. Ask a couple of “edgy” questions to assess emotional intelligence: e.g. “why did you major in business administration?”  Does the candidate act flustered, irritated by the question, smug, patronizing, evasive, or buy time (e.g. “that’s a great question”) .
  5. Ask about a candidate’s experience: e.g. “Tell me about a time when you had to:  be responsible for balancing a budget?   deal with team misunderstandings?  mollify members?”
  6. Ask “How So?” when a candidate asserts an opinion or so-called fact.  This is the most off-putting question of all. It often will tell a lot about the candidate’s adaptability, versatility, confidence, and bearing. 
  7. Ask one “Columbo” question at the end of the interview to clarify anything that didn’t ring true: e.g. say “one more thing…”: “you said you ran the 400 meters in college. What was your best time?” “what would you like said about you at your memorial or on your tombstone?” “since most people’s weaknesses are excesses of their strengths, what is your weakness?
  1. The right candidate is right in front of you.  Pay attention.
  1. Your job is to ask questions, listen and observe.  The hardest part of asking questions is tolerating the silence while the candidates think of an answer.  It can seem like forever.   It’s an interviewing skill to remain silent for as long as it takes.  Most people want to “help” candidates out by clarifying the question.  If you do, you’ll miss the opportunity of hearing their answer and watching them fidget.  There’s an interview warning that refers to this tendency: “the first person to speak loses.”  Seems simple but it’s not.
  1. Always check references, even though some references are cherry-picked for the likelihood they will provide a positive account of their relationship to the candidate.  Ignore references at your peril.  The variability of how Supreme Court justices have been “expected” to rule, and how they actually rule should serve as an incentive to garner as much information as you can.  You’re looking for “arm’s length” evaluations from references who have no stake in the outcome.  They are windows on candidates doing the right thing or the wrong thing when no one is watching. 
  1. The importance of the receptionist, executive secretary, or other subordinate gate keepers cannot be overestimated. Small conversations with these disinterested “judges” can often tell the tale because they occur when the candidate is off guard, and sometimes reveal his or her real colors.  Some candidates are dismissive, arrogant, boastful, overconfident, and sometimes rude when they think that no one is looking.  So always ask these gatekeepers what they think about the candidates.  You’ll be glad you did.  Think police bodycams.

Grease invites you to consider how this approach might demonstrably improve the odds of hiring the exact right candidate instead of the wrong candidate. These two outcomes are two sides of the same coin.  Experience tells us that without a consistent evaluation process, the odds of hiring the right candidate are very low. The odds of hiring the right candidate rise dramatically when your organization adheres rigorously to the processes described above.  It’s hard to do because it requires a heavy dose of operational discipline and adherence to format.

We welcome the opportunity to help transfer these talent acquisition skills to your organization in any way you prefer: workshops to train your HR team, as a consultant to participate in the hiring process itself from search criteria to interview process to interview protocol, or any other intervention that increases your odds of success.

From our clients:

Grease was asked to be part of the Search Committee at The Racquet Club of Portland given the firm’s extensive experience in Human Resources and interview practices that are best in class. Our focus on a few key qualities during our extensive search narrowed the pool of eligible candidates down to a core group. This focus helped the process to run with great efficiency and ensured we were assessing each candidate objectively. This yielded a great result – hiring of the best candidate in our pool. Top notch expertise and service.

Jenn Wall
President, The Racquet Club of Portland