by Jeff Fudge

Director of Retail IT Operations

Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc.

How do you find the right employees to add to your team? That is a question we often face, and even if you Google the subject a thousand times, you realize that there is no clear-cut answer or methodology. As someone who has been a hiring manager for longer than I care to admit, you’d think I would have honed my interviewing skills enough to where my interviewing process has become more science than art. But no. Not even close.

I went through a phase where I would develop a unique set of questions for each candidate. I’d start with a base set of questions for a particular position or skill set, and then customize based upon a candidate’s background, experience, or career choices. I’d probe and prod and dig deep. I was looking for the perfect set of questions to help me ascertain if this was someone I would want to work with for the next 10 years.

But at some point in my career I realized that my custom and well-constructed questions weren’t helping me gain any additional insight into the candidates sitting across from my desk or on the other end of the phone. I became aware that it wasn’t necessarily the answer that I was focusing on, it was how the answer was being delivered.

I realized that some candidates sounded like they had been in three interviews earlier in the day, and they were simply reciting well-rehearsed answers. I found myself looking at my watch and being all too aware of how slowly time is passing. Other candidates spoke from the heart, and their passion and enthusiasm made the interview a pleasant experience. When I forgot I was the interviewer and instead found myself in an engaging and deep conversation about the industry or the candidate’s prior experiences, I knew I had found someone with the qualities that I admired.

“There are two kinds of people in the world: the ones that suck the life out of every day, and the ones that let every day suck the life out of them” — Bill Purdin

I care less about what you did as a candidate, and more about how you did it and why you did it. Some people just make other people around them better. They raise everyone else’s game. Their drive and ambition become contagious, and the group becomes better as a result.

When I interview someone, I pay attention to whether that person is passionate. Are they passionate about their line of work? Passionate about helping those around them? Passionate about the success of their department and their company? Passionate about the customer? Passionate about making a difference?

I look for signs of happiness. Happiness is contagious. Unfortunately, so is unhappiness. True happiness is tough to fake and it makes everything better. Stress. Conflict. Challenges. Obstacles. Fear of the unknown. 

I look for an indication of sarcasm and wit. Does the candidate take themselves too seriously? Are they able to laugh at themselves? Like happiness, humor helps smooth out the rough spots of any job. Humor can break down the social walls we sometimes build up and can make us more relatable and approachable. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of times when humor can be inappropriate. But I believe humor and happiness often go hand in hand. It’s tough sometimes to have one without the other.

I seek signs of curiosity. Of how they can become a better employee. A better person. Of how to make processes more efficient or improve the company’s products or services. How to write better code, design with an eye towards elegant simplicity, or improve the bottom line.

I want to hire someone that makes me desire to be better at what I do. One that makes me care about being a better boss. Becoming a better coworker. A better friend. A better person.

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel” – Carl W. Buechner

Whether you are the interviewer or the candidate, it’s often not what you say, it’s how you say it. Make sure you say it with feeling.  With the best of intentions and with complete sincerity. Say it like you realize life is short and meant to be lived. Say it like you mean it.

Your voice will rise above the din of insincerity and mediocrity, and you will be heard.