Does this individual typically adhere strictly to job duties, or does he assume responsibilities beyond the basic, written job description?

Why Ask This Question?

As a second question out of the starting gate, this one should again prompt the past supervisor to talk openly about the candidate's work ethic. The entitlement mentality of ''I'm owed a job'' and ''I don't do windows'' is totally out of sync with today's high-demand jobs. Indeed, for the first time in U.S. business history, large companies forced to downsize are looking more at performance than at tenure in deciding who makes the final cut. And in a radical and aggressive business environment that defines itself as streamlined, lean and mean, responsive to change, and globally competitive, increasing productivity per employee has become the key mechanism for companies to maintain a competitive edge.

Analyzing the Response

Good Answers. This is an appropriate query for gauging administrative support candidates because it paints an immediate picture of an individual's values. One of the best pieces of feedback you'll generate will sound like this:

''The clock never stops for this guy. He's always looking for more things to do when things slow down in his area. More important, he has a sense of urgency and immediacy that gets things happening. It's the pace and commitment to results that make him a natural at customer service both with internal and external clients.''

Other times, you will find that everyone at a particular company is so overloaded that assuming additional responsibilities is really a nonissue. Because of understaffing, people are working through their lunches, committing themselves to unlimited overtime on last-minute notice, and are barely keeping pace with the existing workload. Still, when a past employer provides that kind of description of the business environment, it's fairly safe to assume that the candidate will have little problem keeping up with you if your organization moves at a fast clip.

Red Flags

On the other hand, you will sometimes receive responses that politely brush around the issue:

"Well, I can't say I really expected him to do anything above and beyond the call of duty. He does his job, and he does it well. But I wouldn't expect him to go looking for more just because it gets slow in the office all of a sudden. I don't expect my people to go out of the box and get creative on me in terms of doing others' work for them, so my answer to your question is no.''

Would you hire this person or keep looking for someone else? The answer, again, is simple—it depends. Although this book focuses on identifying high-performance individuals who are top producers in their respective disciplines, not every job requires a hero. Some positions simply need worker bees, the types of folks who never seem to tire of highly repetitive tasks. And if that's your mandate for the next opening you need to fill, then don't be turned off by a response that provides little enthusiasm for a track record of assuming greater responsibilities. Workers who do their jobs and go home, after all, have a place in many companies. Just be sure you're matching the right type of individual to that kind of job.

Can you comment on this person's ability to accept constructive criticism?

Why Ask This Question?

This is another showstopper that will gather data pertinent to your future management of this individual. First, identify your own style of providing constructive criticism right now. And be honest—it might not be constructive at all. If you have difficulty communicating with people because you have a short fuse when things go wrong, then emphasize in your interviews and reference checks that you don't have lots of patience and need someone who's fairly thick-skinned and who doesn't take things personally. In contrast, if you've been in situations before where you felt that your subordinates took advantage of your good nature, then ask about the candidate's inclination to shortcut the system when the boss isn't around.

Analyzing the Response

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. It is not uncommon to weigh this issue against all else in the selection process. Oversensitivity in a subordinate, after all, is the last thing that many managers want. For example, you might approach the whole issue of discipline during your interview this way:

''Jim, if you're not thick-skinned and can't take it right between the eyes, then I'm not the right boss for you. I don't have a lot of time to coddle my staff, and I won't worry about hurting your feelings if anything hits the fan. This is business, and I want results, not excuses.''

Similarly, you could explain your supervisory approach to a former employer during a reference check and ask:

"I'll be candid with you regarding one of my key concerns in adding a new member to my support staff. I'm fairly short-tempered, and I don't always say thank you. I don't want to have to mince words or worry about others' feelings being hurt. I've left out the issue of oversensitivity when hiring in the past and found out the hard way that I had to walk on eggshells around the new hire for the duration of that person's tenure. Can I get right to the point with Jim when there's a problem, or would he have problems working for someone as demanding and direct as I am?''

At the administrative support level, hurt feelings and a sense of being put down and underappreciated are some of the most common reasons why employees leave companies in pursuit of greener pastures. By all means, don't leave this issue in the wait and see'' column of your hiring checklist. Identify the candidate's capacity for taking it on the chin before you say I do'' to a new employment arrangement.

On the other hand, if you recognize too much tolerance in your own management style and fear being taken advantage of, ask:

"I'm not an overly aggressive manager, and I've been somewhat taken advantage of in the past. I don't particularly like confronting problem employees, so I try to hire very independent types who don't rely on my being present to get work done. How independently will Jim work? How inclined is he to take advantage of another person or situation when the opportunity arises?''

When your concerns are openly shared this way, you'll generate very straightforward responses that provide optimal insights into managing this person.

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