7 signs that a candidate is not prepared

The result of a successful interview is not necessarily a new hire. It’s knowing if a candidate is or isn’t a good fit for your company. Since better interviews lead to better hires (as you’re weeding out the individuals who are not a fit), it’s important that you always strive to become a better interviewer and that you are prepared for each interview. You know how to strike the right balance between asking common questions in order to compare candidates and being adaptable enough to dig deeper when necessary to have a meaningful and organic conversation. Furthermore, you are able to instantly identify a candidate who is not appropriately prepared. How? Let’s take a look. 

They didn’t bring their resume

When a candidate has an in-person interview, they should bring copies of their resume for each interviewer as a courtesy instead of expecting the interviewers to either have it memorized or printed themselves. Ideally, they also bring other supporting documents, such as references and any pertinent samples of their work (for instance, a marketing candidate might bring a brochure that they created). 

They don’t have a good reason why they want to work for your company

“How did you find out about the position?” is a slowball and a way to make candidates feel comfortable. Generally, if someone is excited about the opportunity at your company, they remember how they learned about it. If someone says “It might have been [insert website here]”, make a mental note to ask more about their job hunting processes. How do they identify companies that they want to work for? Which brings us to the next red flag. If a candidate can only give you generic reasons, they may not have investigated your company much prior to the interview. If the response is “you seem to have a great company culture”, probe further and ask “What does culture mean to you?” and “How would you describe our culture?” Listen carefully. If the answer mostly revolves around a relaxed dress-code or the “laid back” environment, there may be a misalignment. 

They can’t explain your products and/or services

I like to ask our candidates what they did to prepare for the interview. You’d be surprised at some of the answers. Believe it or not, some individuals responded to the effect of “not much”, or “I poked around on your website”. Find out if the candidate downloaded your whitepapers or signed up for a trial of your product if available. Have them explain your offerings and your value proposition. Depending on the seniority of the position, consider asking the candidate strategic questions such as “what other verticals do you think might be good fits for us?” or “what do you think is keeping our prospects up at night?”.

They don’t know who the interviewers are

One of the most obvious signs that someone is not prepared for an interview is when they don’t know with whom they’re interviewing. Make sure that your HR rep who set up the interview gives the candidate the names and titles (not email addresses – you want to make sure that the candidate is resourceful enough to find them when sending follow-up emails) of each person with whom the candidate will speak. If someone clearly does not remember who they’re talking to and didn’t take the initiative to even write down pertinent information in preparation for the interview, it’s a reason for concern. Some interviewees demonstrate their level of preparedness through comments, such as “I saw that you went to [school]/used to work for [company]”, “So you started out in [department]”, or “I read on your blog that”. Good! But others may be more reserved, so you may just ask them “What do you know about [name of person]?”

They only talk in generalities

A decent candidate proactively researches what types of questions are typically asked in interviews for the position that they’ve applied for. A good candidate is prepared to answer these questions in a thoughtful manner that includes very specific, personal examples. For instance, if the question “Tell me about a time when you went through extraordinary lengths to (close a deal, make a customer happy)”, is only met with general statements (“You have to go the extra mile, and customer service is what I do best”), the interviewee may not have been appropriately prepared.

They can’t answer this crucial question

You want people on your team who are invested in their own professional development. Consider asking something along the lines of “What do you do to get better at your craft?” or “Who is a thought leader in your field that you follow?”. If you catch a candidate off-guard and they can’t name any blogs or books they read, podcasts they listen to, or courses that are being offered, it should give you pause. Not everybody can think quickly on their feet in a stressful situation such as an interview. However, a well prepared candidate may have expected this question.

They don’t ask thoughtful questions

The types of questions that a candidate asks during the interview are just as important as the answers they give – sometimes even more important, as they are a direct reflection of the person’s interest in the position and genuine desire to learn about your expectations, your challenges, and vision. They also reveal critical thinking skills and the candidate’s willingness to identify if and how this could be a mutually beneficial relationship. If the interviewee doesn’t take advantage of having the opportunity to ask questions and or just inquires about benefits and work hours, it’s generally not a great sign. 

Understand, though, that you simply can’t apply the same expectations to all candidates. If you offer an entry level position for recent graduates, you can’t expect the candidates to go through the same preparation process as candidates for a senior Account manager, for example. In addition, the further along in the vetting process someone is, the more preparation you should expect. 

Finally, note that even if a candidate aced the interview, you still want to be thorough in your process and not skip any steps, such as waiting for the follow-up, having them do an assessment with deliverables that are relevant to the position, and a cross-departmental interview to determine culture fit. Fast-tracking a candidate can be one of the biggest (and most expensive) pitfalls when it comes to hiring

What about you? How do you determine if a candidate is not adequately prepared for an interview?

Before you hire

There’s something deeply gratifying about offering someone a job. Even posting a new position feels good, because it often means that your company is growing and/or that you have an opportunity to make your team stronger. But before you hire, be brutally honest when thinking about the questions below. 

Are you hiring for the right reasons? 

Clearly state the desired outcomes of adding a new team member, such as meeting an increased influx of projects, decreasing development time of new features, or breaking into new verticals. I would advise against hiring just for the sake of demonstrating growth, as it often is not fair to the new employees and it can make it challenging to ensure that all team members buy into the mission and vision and pull in the same direction with a sense of purpose. 

Is your current team optimized? 

If you’re not getting the best work out of your team now, throwing another resource at it won’t fix the problem. “If we only had an extra person to do X…” should result in a thorough analysis of how the existing team is spending their time, so that you can identify bottlenecks and opportunities for internal improvement. Here are some additional tips on how to assess staffing needs. 

Is the manager equipped to coach a new person? 

No matter how great your new hire might be, if their manager is not willing or able to not just provide a stellar onboarding experience, but to continue to coach them effectively and consistently, you’re neither doing your company nor the new employee a favor. If there’s a good case for making the hire, but you don’t trust that the manager will be able to handle it, you need to solve the latter challenge first. 

Is your interview process robust enough to ensure that you hire the right person?

In order to avoid some of the most common hiring mistakes, such as not being rigorous enough in your process, be sure that you’ve established a system to ensure that you will find the right person for the job. For us, the process typically consists of at least three rounds of interviews with multiple team members, including one round that is solely focused on determining culture fit. In addition, we always ask for deliverables that are pertinent to the role, such as a technical assessment or a research project. Finally, if you’re not willing to commit to only making an offer if you can’t picture yourself without the candidate, perhaps it’s time to reconsider if you are indeed ready to hire. 

Adding any employee requires a major investment, so be sure that you are prepared to get a maximum return for the company and for your new team member. 

What about you? What else should you think about prior to hiring?

What questions do you ask in your check-ins and performance reviews?

You probably have quarterly check-ins and annual performance reviews with the people who report to you, in addition to your own cadence of one on ones. All of those interactions are intended to help your team members in their professional development and to ensure that their goals and the company’s goals are aligned. Typically, the questions asked include accomplishments since the last meeting, goals for the upcoming review period, and areas of improvement. We also always ask for examples of how the employee exemplified the company values, as it is crucial for us to put our company culture top of mind at all times. This format has worked pretty well in the past, but since it’s advisable to revisit your practices from time to time in order to identify opportunities for improvement, I’ve been thinking about additional, more granular questions to add. Here are a few ideas.  

For the reviewee: 

Why did you/didn’t you reach your goals? 

This question refers to the tangible, measurable goals that were set. What you want to look for in the employee’s answer is their locus of control, which is absolutely vital to their success. If they haven’t achieved their goals, do they exclusively blame external factors (which, admittedly, can play a role) or do they take ownership of the things that they could have done differently? 

What lessons did you learn last week/last quarter?

An engaged employee always strives to become better. Even when things didn’t pan out as planned, they still ensure that they learn from the experience. 

What did you do last week/quarter to hone your craft?

Similarly, since you expect your team members to invest in their own professional development, you’ll want to include this question in your check-ins and reviews. Every person in your company has room to grow, and those who believe that they no longer have things to learn and improve on are probably not the ones who help your company grow and become the best place to work. 

What are you willing to be held accountable for? 

When setting goals for the next review period, you want to set a clear frame of accountability and responsibility. Goals have to be realistic but also ambitious. Similar to the “why did you/didn’t you reach your goals” question, the answer reveals how much of their achievements the team member perceives to be in their control. It’s also important to not just discuss top level goals, such as revenue generated, but also things like activity levels and pipeline, or development velocity and maximum number of fixes needed, depending on the role. 

What are you willing to do to reach your goals? 

You may augment the previous question with this one in order to understand what type of effort the employee is willing to make. For instance, if they’re not on track, are they open to coming in an hour earlier or stay an hour later to see if different times for sales calls render better results? Would they commit to taking a class in order to improve their skill set in a particular area? 

How are your professional goals and the company’s goals aligned? 

Employee engagement is a reflection of how the team member’s goals are in line with the company goals. Asking the question above helps you realize if the employee understands your organization’s goals and vision and if they perceive any misalignments with their own ambitions. 

For the manager:

A one on one, quarterly check-in, or annual performance review should result in an agreement between the team member and their manager. It should never solely focus on the employee’s goals and responsibilities, but include the manager’s role in the success of the employee as well. 

What am I willing to do to help my employee excel?

Since you’re asking the employee what they’re willing to do in order to be successful in their role, the manager should also be thinking about their level of commitment to the employee. Sharing with the team members what you’re willing to do to help them makes them feel supported and can reinforce their level of accountability. Can you commit to spending a certain amount of time every week helping them with their demos? Would you be willing to provide them a list of resources in order to improve a particular skill and then give feedback on their progress? Are you able to share some of the secrets of your own success or some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way? Contemplating the levels of your own commitment should be part of the conversation.

How are the employee’s professional goals and the company’s goals aligned? Where do you perceive a misalignment?

An honest discussion between the team member and the manager must include the topic of alignment. The manager should have a solid understanding of the direction of the company, goals, challenges, and opportunities. Should there be a perceived misalignment with regard to career trajectory or values, it’s best to have an open discussion in order to avoid assumptions, which are the killer of productive and positive relationships.

Check-ins in particular should always be a productive dialog between the manager and their team member, resulting in mutually agreed upon goals and action items and a commitment to hold up their respective ends of the bargain. 

What about you? What questions would you recommend including?

Five signs of employee engagement

As I mentioned in a previous post, “employee engagement” is arguably one of the most misunderstood terms among managers, as it often gets confused with employee happiness. In reality, engagement should measure how much an employee’s goals and values and those of your company are aligned. If they are well aligned, you have a foundation to hold each other accountable. Engagement without accountability, on the other hand, is bound to result in entitlement.  

What signs can you look for in order to determine if an employee is truly engaged? Note that just because someone is not exhibiting all of the behaviors listed here, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are disengaged, but these are some positive signals.

They take an interest in what’s going on in the company as a whole

An engaged employee tends to consider themselves as part of the entire team, not just as a member of their department. They are genuinely interested in learning about the company strategy and how the different arms of the company support it. They may read daily and weekly updates in Slack, attend product demos and/or marketing webinars, and subscribe to the company newsletter and blog.

They participate

An engaged team member ensures that they participate in discussions if they have something valuable to contribute. They try to avoid multitasking when interacting with others. While I recommend making it clear that nobody is expected to participate in every volunteer activity or team building activity, you do want to talk to team members who are not regularly participating in much of anything so you can determine why that is. 

They seek information and feedback

The more engaged your employees are, the more they strive to become better, not just in their particular role, but as a contributor to the success of the organization. Therefore, they research the industry, ask probing questions, and thrive on feedback. Be sure to make yourself available to provide it to them on a regular basis. 

They get out of their comfort zones

Engaged employees understand that in order for the company to grow, they need to grow. As a result, they are not just okay with being pushed out of their comfort zones – they actively seek out opportunities to do so. They may volunteer to do presentations, even if they don’t like public speaking. Or they may mentor a team mate even though they prefer heads down work over human interaction. 

They live the company values

Engaged employees understand how important it is to internalize and exhibit the company values. They live and breathe them, especially when nobody is watching. 

A highly engaged employee, whose goals are aligned with your company’s, thrives on accountability, as they take ownership in the business. Be sure to hold up your end of the bargain by coaching them, challenging them, listening to their ideas, and allowing them to stretch themselves. 

What about you? How can you tell if an employee is engaged?


Think HR doesn’t impact the bottom line? Think again!

In the software industry, particularly in the startup arena, the focus tends to be on the product, services, and clients. Sometimes, the entire focus is on those areas, because they are the money makers, right? Too often, the “backoffice” is considered a necessary evil and a begrudged expense. Sure, HR is there to ensure that we adhere to protocols and employment laws and to make sure we get paid. But HR doesn’t really affect the bottom line. Right? Wrong! Let’s think about it a bit more.

Help define what culture means

Your company culture can make or break your business. The importance of having the right people on the bus can’t be underestimated. However, it is also crucial for everyone to understand what company culture is: the way people act when nobody’s watching. It’s knowing the right thing to do simply because everyone shares the same values. One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve encountered is that culture pertains to tread desks in the office, craft beers on tap, or a casual dress code. The moment when superficial things are confused with culture is when you need to intervene, and HR can be a valuable ally in this effort by asking employees (and candidates) to explain what culture means to them, what your company’s values are and how to measure alignment. After all, jeans and t-shirts, pool tables and free lunches won’t do anything to grow your company if the team doesn’t share the same values in terms of work ethic, empathy compassion, passion, humility, drive, and desire to always get better.

Identify the right candidates and help others to do the same

Any hire is a significant investment on several levels. The right hire can be a game changer, while the wrong hire can result in lost productivity and compromised morale, which inevitably negatively impacts the bottom line. HR plays a key role in recruiting the gamechangers who have the right skillset and aptitude, and, more importantly, the right attitude. But that’s not all. Your HR reps can help your team members become good interviewers. Solicit their advice and their help so that everyone interviewing, especially with regard to culture checks, knows the best questions to ask (hint: it’s not “What part of town do you live in?”) in order to determine if a candidate can excel in your company and can help your company excel.

Assist in developing compensation structure

Your HR manager has a lot of data at their fingertips and frequently researches emerging trends and compensations for each position. Is your current sales commission structure the optimal way to achieve your company’s revenue and profit goals? Is it fair to all parties involved? Is there a better way? Consider involving your HR manager in those discussions and let them help you come up with some new ideas and options.

Measure employee engagement and help make appropriate changes

One of the most misleading definitions of employee engagement is that it’s the level of employee happiness and enthusiasm. While this is an ideal outcome of engagement, it is not engagement itself. Employee engagement is measured by how closely the company’s goals and values are aligned with those of the employees. This is why it’s so important for your HR team to conduct engagement check-ins with each team member and to identify any areas that need to be addressed in order to identify and hopefully rectify any misalignments. For example, if someone expresses confusion about their career trajectory in the company, the HR manager should bring this to the attention of the manager and discuss if and how a path that benefits both the employee and the company can be mapped out. Or, if someone is unclear about how they can most strongly impact the revenue goals of the company, both the HR manager and the direct manager can help paint a better picture and provide action items. Misalignment can cost you dearly (literally), so HR taking charge through engagement check-ins is key.

Be smart about perks

HR typically presents a budget to the CEO that includes a breakdown of perks that the company offers to employees. These may include things like anniversary gifts, lunches, and professional development stipends. Perks don’t just include material things, but also company events, teleworking, and other social initiatives. It all sounds wonderful. The more perks you provide, the happier your employees will be and the better they’ll perform, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple. It takes skill to find the right balance and invest in the right things at the right time. For example, if your cultural climate is experiencing a shift towards taking things for granted instead of gratitude, it may be beneficial to focus on a reset and simplify the perks a little. Implementing the right things at the right time requires that HR has a keen understanding of the cultural pulse of the company, financial situation, and tracking towards company goals.

Your human resources department does so much more than clerical and legal work, so much more than keeping you in the clear from lawsuits. By championing your company values and ensuring alignment between individuals, their departments, and the business as a whole, HR has a significant impact on the bottom line.

What are your thoughts?