Photograph by Highbridge via Getty Images
By Glenn Laumeister
April 6, 2016

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you avoid hiring the wrong people?” is written by Glenn Laumeister, founder and CEO of CoachMarket.

When interviewing potential employees, we’ve all made the mistake of allowing an expert regurgitation of the posted job description influence our hiring decisions.

The fact is that many people, especially as they get more experienced, learn how to tell us what we want to hear, and do so in a way that sounds so comforting that we let our guard down and swallow the bait hook. “Hiring takes a lot of time, and I’d rather find someone quickly so I can move on to my real work,” is often the mantra.

So what does that shift look like? It means changing the typical interview approach by shifting from a spoken-word interview format to a demonstrated-competency model—and it’s the most important thing you can do to in order to find the best employees.

An old, spoken-word, interview-style question for a sales manager would be something like, “Please tell me how you grew the enterprise business in your last company from $5 million to $20 million over three years,” or, “Can you write catchy email copy and subject lines that sell widgets?”

Anyone can simply reply with lots of enthusiasm: “Sure I personally sold one of our largest accounts.”

See also: How to Know You’ve Failed as a Manager

But you really haven’t learned anything from your question—she is just telling you what you want to hear.

A competency-style question, on the other hand, would be something like, “Here is a box of No. 2 pencils. Please sell them to me.”

I would use this exact question all of the time, and it works for several industries—marketing, product management, operations, etc. The key is to wait and see how the candidate reacts. If she was a great salesperson, she would switch on her sales persona and just launch right into it with a smile and an opening pitch line—something that showed me she’s able to take over the conversation, be creative, and go for it.

The ones who missed the cut would stammer, ask lots of background questions, ask for a few minutes to think about it, and a few even said they didn’t see how that question had anything to do with them or the job. One just walked out of the interview.

 

Another example is a question like, “Can you take this pen and paper and write an email with a catchy subject line?”

If they say, “Well, I don’t actually write the copy myself,” then you have your answer immediately instead of after 30 days on the job. Questions like this help you understand not just if they can spell and write compelling copy, for instance, but whether or not they can work under pressure and be creative with a moment’s notice.

The traditional interview process employed by many companies rewards the candidate who can understand a job description and match that description with words, but work today requires a different sort of skill—actual competencies that are up to date and applicable to the day-to-day requirements of the job.

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