The Essential Question for Prospective Leaders
Since my days in Executive Search, one of the most interesting and revealing questions that I ask references toward the end of our discussion is, “So, I have a few other well qualified candidates that I am considering. Would you net it down for me – in a sentence or so – why should I select [name] over any of the others?” This should not require the reference to know anything about the other candidates – only to be able to succinctly and powerfully make the case for the person we are discussing. Candidates should, of course, be able to articulate that about themselves as well. And ideally, what the references say and what the candidates say should be aligned. (If they are not, this is an important issue for a candidate to deal with separately, possibly with a career coach.)
Guiding Principle: Ultimately, the candidate’s boss and hiring executive wants to be confident the selected candidate will let him/her “sleep better at night” because…. Can be counted on to….
Turns out that very few of my clients can answer this question quickly and convincingly. Either they stumble completely, circle back to their career life story or provide discrete accomplishments or personal characteristics. Usually, I stop them and have them try again.
A good answer to this question taps into the emotional component (“sleep better at night”) backed up by an articulate (and short) description of how they will get that to happen. A good answer will bond the candidate and the interviewer and provide a framework for drilling down into more detailed information.