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Job interview questions – A pragmatic guide to value based hiring

Finding talented individuals to join your company should be your number 1 priority. People progress your company strategy. People harness ever advancing technology and innovation to position you for competitive advantage. And of course, people contribute to your company culture.

Ensuring that new employees share your company values is important. When individual values are aligned with company values, your ability to reach your strategic objectives is strengthened.

This article explores why value based hiring will benefit your company. It also explores practical ways to incorporate value based questions into your interview process, to ensure you hire the most value aligned talented individuals for your company.

A definition of value based hiring 

Value based hiring is the process of matching talented individuals with company values within the hiring process.

Value-based interviewing can be a great way to gain insight into the way people think or may make decisions.

The role of company values in the hiring process

Company values are abstract ideas that guide organisational thinking and actions. These values represent the foundation on which your company is formed.

Ensuring that new hires share the values important to your company is essential. It will go a long way towards them assisting you to reach your strategic objectives. These guiding principles dictate behavior and can help people understand the cultural norms that permeate the company. Core values help companies to determine if they are fulfilling their goals by creating an unwavering guide.

Incorporating your company values into your recruitment process

There are a few very sound reasons to incorporate your company values in your recruitment process as you hunt for the most talented and value aligned individuals:

  • To determine if potential hires have values that align with your company values
  • To promote your values with a number of prospective employees. Even if the candidates you interview are not hired, they will likely talk about your company with others. Interviewing candidates is the perfect opportunity to build your brand profile
  • Because if you don’t, replacing poorly aligned candidates will cost you time…and money

The cost to replace an employee is estimated to be 50% to 200% of their annual salary depending on experience and level of responsibility – Subscribe HR

Defining start up values 

Are you a start up or a very young company? In a start up context, company values “evolve”. It is very hard to articulate your company values on Day 1. In a new company context, you need to find employees who thrive in fast moving and dynamic work environments.

When your company is young, it can be difficult to articulate your values. But it is very important to start to define what makes your company tick. That is, the non negotiable values that will guide how you work together, how your liaise with your clients and how you will define success.

Whilst it is tempting to fairly desperately get “any people” on board, especially when your young company is experiencing what feels like a meteoric rise, take a breath and re-consider. Defining your values now will assist you to build a company culture based on those values. Without this, your ship is somewhat rudderless.

Identifying your core values does not require you to navel gaze for months at a time, or hire a firm to come and help you define your values. In fact, with a small pause in entrepreneurial busyness, you will likely be able to intuitively identify the values that drive you and your company.

Incorporating company values into your recruitment process

Once you have identified your company values, there are a number of ways that you can incorporate them into your recruitment process:

  1. Create standardised behavioral questions in your interview process, to be answered by ALL candidates who interview with your company. This will allow you to compare candidate responses consistently and fairly
  2. Incorporate value based simulations into your interview process to get some insight into candidate values
  3. Equip company interviewers with the skills to ask specific value based questions and to competently assess value based questions
  4. If your company is large enough, consider creating a working group (with stakeholders from various parts of your business) to keep pace with changes in your company and its values. This will ensure that your value based interview questions “keep up” with your company growth and development
  5. Ask some value based questions when reference checking candidates

“One sub par employee can throw an entire department into disarray. Team members end up investing their own time into training someone who has no future with the company” – Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite

Forums to assess candidate values alignment 

There are a range of forums you can use to assess candidate alignment with your company values including:

  • In a one on one interviews
  • In a group interview setting (eg. setting up simulations to assess values based qualities)
  • Asking candidates to respond to value based questions as part of pre-recorded candidate videos, submitted as part of the application process
  • In a more informal setting, where prospective employees meet with your existing employees as part of the recruitment process (although you will find it difficult to ask consistent questions in this forum)

The importance of Founder/Executive buy-in 

Founders and Executive MUST be part of the process of nominating and explaining company values. Modelling these values is of course also extremely important.

If you are a start up, talking with the Founder or Executive team about your company values is going to be a fairly straight forward process! Just schedule some time with yourself. Even if your start up currently exists of a handful of people only, it is important to define your values.

Your company is never too small to talk about and define your core values. Assessing candidates against your values will mean that you will make great hiring decisions from the outset.

If you are a larger company with a recruitment and talent acquisition team, you face a different challenge. This may sound strange, but sometimes the recruitment and talent acquisition team of a company are not on the same page as the company executive, when it comes to communicating company values. This occurs when people within a company don’t communicate. And it happens more often than you might think.

Getting executive buy in to a proper recruitment process is important. This includes allocating resources to create a standardised and robust recruitment approach, allocating ample time to explore company values and training those in your organisation accountable for interviewing candidates.

Examples of interview questions to assess values alignment

There are many questions you can ask at interview to assess prospective employee values. Here are some examples.

Let’s say your company values “innovation and creative thinking”. Here are two questions you could ask to explore this value with applicants:

  • Tell me about a time when you demonstrated creative thinking when faced with a challenge? What did you do and what was the result?
  • Can you talk about a time when you have suggested an innovative change? What was it and how did you communicate your idea?

Now, let’s assume that you have broken down this company value into sub-sets or sub-categories. For example, perhaps within your “innovation and creative thinking” value, you further define this as:

  • a commitment to “failing fast” without blame
  • a supportive approach to encouraging others with creative ideas

Examples of questions you might ask applicants to further probe their alignment with these sub categories might include:

  • Tell me about a time when an idea you implemented failed. What was the idea and how did that failure feel?
  • Can you provide an example of a time when you explored an idea someone else in your team suggested? How exactly were you involved in exploring the idea?

What’s the right answer?

Devising value based questions is one thing. The answers you seek is another. It is important to have a think about what a great answer looks like and what a poor answer looks like from a company perspective. Bounce ideas around with appropriate employees, until you can agree on the key elements you would like to see in candidate responses. This exercise often helps you to further refine your company values also.

Tips for companies looking for talented individuals

  • For young companies and start ups, there is no excuse for “winging it” when hiring. Define your company values and re-visit them often as your company grows. Tweak as appropriate
  • In larger companies, make sure your recruitment and talent acquisition team and any other employees who interview candidates, are crystal clear on your company values
  • Train relevant employees in value based interviewing techniques
  • Meet with your executive team often. Re-visit your company values regularly, especially if your company is growing rapidly
  • If you work in a recruitment or talent acquisition team, regularly spend time with employees in each area of your business. Talk with employees about your company values and observe how they demonstrate these in the day to day running of your business. These conversations and observations will give you inspiration for questions to ask candidates and ensure you remain across what value based “success” looks like in your company

Tips for talented individuals interviewing with companies

  • Before you head into any interview, identify some different work examples you can draw from in the interview. ie think of a difficult situation you have been in, a key achievement you are really proud of, a time when you demonstrated exceptional teamwork etc
  • Don’t be thrown by interview questions that require you to think about a specific behavioural based value you have shown in a prior workplace. Ask for a moment to collect your thoughts if that helps you. You are far better to do this than ramble your way through a poorly thought through example and response
  • Remember that interviews are not designed to trick you. They create an opportunity for you to outline your professional values to see if they align with the values of a prospective employer
  • Asking your own value based questions in client interviews is the best way to learn more about the company you are interviewing with. For example, a question like “Can you tell me a little bit more about how your value of innovation and creative thinking is demonstrated in your company”. If your interviewer looks surprised by the question, this may mean the values the company espouse are paid lip service only

How I can help. Keen to integrate value based hiring practices into your company? I can assist you to create value based practices, designed to measure candidate fit with your company’s core values. Contact me today. 

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