Interview Prep: How A Hiring Manager Interviews For Talent

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As I hung up the phone, I felt the sweat beading on my forehead. Why did the COO want to have a “chat” with me? His office was at the end of executive row. It was tucked away in the corner almost out-of-sight. It looked humble until you entered it. I was anxious sitting across from him. My eyes darted from award to award on his bookshelf. I couldn’t believe what he had just told me: “Ian, I need you to interview and hire 17 salespeople yesterday! It’s essential for reaching our revenue target this year.”

“I need you to interview and hire 17 salespeople…”

I was only 27 years old at the time. I was working in tech company in hyper-growth mode. I was ‘all-in’ on the assignment. After some renegotiation of the hiring timeline, I knew that I had a  tremendous responsibility.  The company had a 5-year training revenue growth rate of 77,110%!

Having hired salespeople in the past, I knew I needed an interview approach that side-stepped the glossy sales brochure (aka. resume). What I discovered, resulted in hiring the best sales talent in our industry and fueled our amazing growth rate. Here’s how my approach worked. #HowIHire

Interview for strengths

Employees who use their skill strengths and talents at work, thrive as employees. But how do you easily discover their strengths? When I interview, I don’t use a candidate’s resume to drive my line of questions. Instead, I dig deep into their proudest accomplishments in both their professional and personal life.

“Solid interviewing is about getting detailed answers about accomplishments.”

Why? Inside of every proud accomplishment are the skill strengths a candidate likes to use. The accomplishment was simply the result of being at their best. If my job description requires the skill strengths evidenced in their accomplishments then there’s the potential for a well-fitted match.

Dig deep

Everyone enjoys talking about their proudest accomplishments (especially sales people). It isn’t difficult to get a dialogue going, but make sure to dig deep. Ask questions that probe.

  • What obstacles did you overcome?
  • When did this happen?
  • How did you work with others?
  • What didn’t you enjoy doing?
  • What lessons did you learn?

I use 10-15 minutes per accomplishment and cover 4-6 accomplishments during the interview. I’m looking for patterns. Patterns reveal the preferences. The preferences will tell me if they’ll naturally thrive in the role.

Just as people prefer to write with their left or right hand the same goes with their skills. Although we might be able to do several hundred skills, there are only a handful that surface as our strengths and help us to define our talents.

I have a colleague who is proud of her amazing tenacity in discovering minor financial discrepancies in audits. After these intense audits, she unwinds with expert-level Sudoku. Do you see a pattern?

 Take time

Interview | Ian Jenkins
Interview tip: Be prepared to share stories proving your skill strengths

When I changed my interview approach from be focused on the resume to personal strengths, I started learning more about candidates than other interviewers. The questions I asked were different. The answers more revealing. The candidates felt more relaxed. They gladly spoke about events that were milestones in shaping them. Frequently these life-shaping events didn’t appear on their resume. A much clearer candidate profile emerged.

I use 90 minutes or more with a candidate. I also prefer to do the first round of interviews over the phone to eliminate any bias based on appearance. Although time-consuming upfront, it’s much less time consuming then laying-off someone months later.

Mining For Gold

Interview | Ian Jenkins
Interview Tip: Provide proof points for each strength that relates to the job

As an interviewer, I was mining for gold without most of the candidates even knowing it. The candidates appreciated that I wasn’t using traditional interview questions. Their answers weren’t rehearsed. I had a genuine interest in discovering who they were at their best.

The candidates that stood out were those who could readily recall events that had defined them. The same way a river cuts through stone, their accomplishments left an mark on their personal identity. Some candidates had been successful closing monstrous-sized sales. Others helped their partners fight cancer while caring for their children.

To stand out in this type of interview requires personal reflection. Be prepared to discuss your personal and professional accomplishments and how they shaped your life. I remember one candidate, who after we identified her outstanding accomplishments, realized that her strengths were best suited in a different work environment.  We both left the interview feeling it was a win/win conclusion.


The profitable results of this using this hiring approach, fueled a reputation that got me invited to more interviews than I had time for. Be prepared to teach others how to interview for strengths, so you can continue to work on yours.

Thank you for reading.

– Ian Jenkins