The Real Skills to Look for in Interviews

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30 minutes.  OK, maybe 40 minutes.  Definitely never more than an hour.  We take a short amount of time to find out if a prospect can help us in our organizations.  That’s the challenge for many leaders: Learning what a prospective staff member is really like in a short amount of time.  As leaders, when we are interviewing, we need to focus on what is important in our organizations.  As potential staff members in organizations, it is also important to focus on where they are interviewing and what the organization is looking for.  The skills and qualifications we will look at below are vital skills that leaders need to look for in interviews to find the best fit for them:

  1. Real Responses

How questions are answered are important.  As leaders, we need to concentrate on what we ask and what is said in response.  There are times candidates will answer questions with “canned” responses.  Answers include many buzzwords and guessing what the interviewer wants to hear.  Look for candidates to answer questions by showing what they know.  Candidates should provide concrete examples of their experiences and how they can help the organization grow.   Examples could be displayed through portfolios, blog posts, newspaper/magazine articles and social media to name a few.

2.  Relationship Builders

Can candidates build relationships with clients and other staff members?  Tough to gauge in a 30-40 minute time frame, but there are some qualities to look for.  Responses to questions based on ways candidates handle different situations tell a great deal.  Do their responses illustrate compassion and empathy for people?  As a principal, we look for that in new staff members every time we interview.  People can learn how to build relationships with people, but it is difficult.  Rita Pierson says it very well in her video “Every kid needs a champion” where she talks about simple things people can do, like apologizing and making sacrifices for people.  Always pay attention to candidate’s responses and actions where you can see a strong belief in relationships.

3.  Sometimes, Its What They Know

I’m a firm believer that content can be mastered over time.  But there is something to be said for candidates who know their stuff.  Candidates who can tell you about your organization and know your data and how to use it to help your organization are vital.  Its important to find out how the candidate gets better each day.  How does he or she grow as a professional?  What do they read?  What social media applications do they access to get better?  Finding a candidate who knows where to find information when they need it usually separates candidates apart from each other.

4.  Planning

I like it when a candidate attacks the interview process and the interview itself.  Instead of coming in passive and wondering if he or she is going to say the right thing, you can tell when a candidate has a plan of attack.  Are they organized?  Do they know how they are going to use the time during the interview?  Do they ask you for time at the end of the interview to share their information?  Do they share a 30, 50, or 100 day plan for their start in your organization?  One may say it is too difficult to prepare for these things before an interview.  That may be the case, but I can guarantee this, your competition doesn’t think its too difficult.  They are doing it.  Its important for a leader to see how much planning went into place prior to the interview while selecting a candidate.


5.  Creativity and Vision

When we find candidates who are creative, passionate and can build relationships, we try to hire them as fast as we can.  Its important to find candidates who can lead others and always find a way to be successful.  Instead of focusing on a candidate’s years of experience, focus on their ability to explain what they will do once they are successful.  One of my favorite articles about interviewing is from Larry Kim “The 3 Most Important Questions You Can Ask When Hiring” where he talks about how candidates decide what to do next after being successful.  As leaders, we need to find candidates who will take us to the next level even when they are successful.


Finding the best skill sets during interviews is tough.  Its not easy.  Using the skills and discussion above will allow every leader to streamline their interview process.  Remember, we need everything we can get for interviews and selecting the right candidates.

As a candidate who is looking to get more out interviews, resumes and your personal network, check out our Future Leaders Institute in Columbus, OH in May 2017.  It can help you become a better leader and get an edge over others competing for leadership positions around the country.