The Interview

Leadership-MattersAs the Operations Director for a local County government, I was leading a team conducting interviews for two positions in our Code Enforcement/Building Inspection Department. We were looking for a Department Head and a receptionist. The applicants for the Department Head position were not very impressive. We had some very good candidates for the receptionist position and were about to conduct the final interview for this position.

The young woman walked into the room with a big smile and introduced herself. It was obvious that she was not intimidated by the four people in the room. I noticed that she listened carefully to each question and looked right at the person who asked each question when she answered. During the interview, I learned that she was already certified as a building inspector by the state. When it was time to wrap up the interview, I asked her if she had anything else she wished to share with us. She reached into the folder that she had with her and produced a flyer that she had created. She explained that she had gone over the requirements for obtaining a building permit from our County website and created this little handout that would be beneficial to our citizens when they were going through permitting process. All we had to do was copy it, fold it in thirds, and it was ready for our citizens. She then laid it on the table, thanked us for our time, and left.

When she walked out of the room, I looked at each person and announced, “We just met the new Department Head.”

In the difficult job market that still exists in this country, the interview process can be daunting because of the large pool of candidates that apply for a vacant position. Therefore, as a leader, you must be prepared to learn as much as you can about each candidate in a very short period of time because, in the end, you have an obligation to find the best person for your organization. So, be prepared by following these guidelines.

  • Review each candidate’s resume and application in detail before they come to the interview. Injob-interview additional to the standard interview questions, make notes as to specific question that you will need to ask to clarify anything that may not be completely understood. Create a sheet with each question listed so that you can ensure all questions are asked and that you can make notes during the review process.
  • Ask yourself, did the candidate prepare by researching the organization for which they are interviewing? In the above example, it was clear that the candidate had done extensive research about our operation by reviewing the content of our website. Today, with the vast information on the internet, each candidate will be able to find sufficient information that should acquaint them with the company. So your job is to find out just how well they researched the organization because it will demonstrate their level of interest.
  • Did they dress for the part? The candidate in the above example had done her homework. She had on a pair of khaki pants and a shirt that was almost the same color as the shirts worn by our Code Enforcement and Building Inspection personnel. She could have stood in the middle of the existing team and blended in completely. With this little touch, she demonstrated that she would be a good fit for our organizational environment. So, a coat and tie or a woman’s business suit may be appropriate for some interviews but don’t let that be a deciding factor for a job that never requires this style of apparel.
  • Trust your first impression. When the candidate walks in the room, the process of evaluating them has begun. You may feel this is not fair but like it or not, it is the reality. So, just as the candidate in the above example made it a point to smile and introduce herself, your prospective candidate should walk in and announce by their demeanor that you are looking at the perfect person to fill the position.
  • Did they make a connection? The question and answer period is the candidate’s opportunity to not only impress you with their experience and knowledge, it is also their chance to make a personal connection with each of the people sitting in on the interview. Remember, you are going to spend at least a third of each day working with this person so you will want to ensure that they will be a good fit for the entire team.
  • Did they demonstrate their ability to add value to the organization if hired? The icing on the cake in the above interview was the handout she created and offered with no strings attached. There was no doubt in the minds of those in the room that this person would add value to the organization and that hiring her was going to be in the best interest of the County. And that is the bottom line in this entire process. Will the person you hire add value to your organization?

I had a difficult time convincing the decision makers to hire the young lady for the Department Head position but in the end, I prevailed. Six months later when she had successfully completed her probationary period and she was made a permanent employee, they enjoyed bragging about hiring a woman for a position normally held by a man.

The best part of the story was when I told the candidate that she was being hired for the Department Head position. At first, she said she just was not ready for that kind of responsibility. I assured her that not only was she ready but that I would mentor her so that she was successful. She was still hesitant so I played my trump card and showed her the starting salary. Six months later she was so proud of what she had learned and accomplished when she was made the permanent Department Head.

If you are in a leadership position where you are responsible for helping to hire or hiring the right people to fill a vacancy, then be ready to see the potential in each candidate so that you can find that wonderful “diamond in the rough”. Then, be willing to take a chance on them but commit to being a mentor to them. If you do these things, you will help create an unbeatable organization that can tackle any challenge because the team will be comprised of the very best people.

Be an exceptional leader – hire the best person for the job and mentor them so that they achieve success. Do this well and you will always attach the best talent. That is called winning.


Len Bernat
Len Bernat
LEN is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. Upon his retirement, Len worked in several positions before finally starting a second career in governmental procurement. His experience and leadership skills enabled him to be recognized as the 2011 Governmental Procurement Officer of the Year for the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and opened doors for him to teach at many of the association’s conferences. Len was also called to the ministry and was ordained at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church in November of 1999. Today, Len is the Pastor of Maxeys Christian Church in Maxeys, Georgia. Len has been married to his wife, Hazel, for 36 years and they have three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Grab your copy of Len's new Book – Leadership Matters | Advice From A Career USMC Officer. Using his life experiences as examples, Len takes the eleven principles of leadership and the fourteen traits every leader should possess—which he learned during twenty years in the Marine Corps—and teaches the reader how he was molded and shaped by some of the best leaders the Corps had to offer.

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  1. The role of the leaders (in which I include every manager who has responsibility for the management of other people) includes the primary task of discovering and exploiting the potential present in every collaborator, especially those who have the characteristics to become excellent leaders in the future.
    It follows that the development of resources can not be delegated only to HR departments or classroom training, but is part of the priority tasks of each manager who instead of suggesting the solution to a problem, must act as a coach, subjecting the student in the field application of methodologies and techniques to express its full potential. The nose has its weight and is developed with experience. But only by seeing the people in action, evaluating the student’s commitment to learning and learning and improving, the manager-coach will be able to understand if the collaborator who presents great leadership potential will actually be able to to make it happen.

  2. When getting to the deep-down grit I often hear that a candidate shouldn’t be hired because (s)he will out shine and outperform the existing employees. This comes up quite a bit in political environments where people are concerned about being replaced.

    It’s the same mentality when people make unfounded claims about successful business men, rock stars, and personalities. They see things that are just not there.

    • Chris – Really good points. But I always ensure that when I am interviewing with a team of people, I outline that our responsibility is to hire the best person for the organization and the vacancy. For the organization – the person must demonstrate their willing to be a part of a successful team and I in return will ensure they grow both personally and professionally. For the vacancy – the person has skills and/or certifications necessary to fulfill the requirements of the position with the understanding they will have to learn how we operation in our organization. (Notice I did not say education but certification – two very different things.) And if in the process we hire someone who preforms the job better than the last person – why that is success! Thanks for joining the conversation.

  3. Great article! I just coached a young lady in job searching and the guidelines you listed are exactly the ones I went over with her. I have forwarded your article for her to read and understand from the interviewer’s perspective what they are expecting and how she can ace her job interview! Thank you for sharing and it is inspiring to know there are leaders who take that extra step in seeing the value and potential in others.

    • Eileen – You just made my day. I write to try and help the reader grow and learn from my experiences. By sharing my article with a young lady in her job search, you have reinforced that these efforts are not in vain. Please, let me know how things work out for her. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my article. Your feedback is so important.

    • Len, that makes me smile! I will certainly let you know how things work out for my client. You are most welcome…..I look forward to reading more of your articles.

    • Eileen – Again thank you for your kind words. I truly wish the young lady you are coaching good luck. You can read more of my articles by selecting “Leadership Matters: under the Columns tab. Looking forward to your feedback.

    • Thank you for sending well wishes….I will let her know. Great! I will go to your Leadership Matters column to find more of your articles.