Here is an excerpt from an article written by Anthony K. Tjan for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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In business and in life, the most critical choices we make relate to people. Yet being a good judge of people is difficult. How do we get better at sizing up first impressions, at avoiding hiring mistakes, at correctly picking (and not missing) rising stars?
The easy thing to do is focus on extrinsic markers — academic scores, net worth, social status, job titles. Social media has allowed us to add new layers of extrinsic scoring: How many friends do they have on Facebook? Who do we know in common through LinkedIn? How many Twitter followers do they have?
But such extrinsic credentials and markers only tell one part of a person’s story. They are necessary, but not sufficient. What they miss are the “softer” and more nuanced intrinsic that are far more defining of a person’s character. You can teach skills; character and attitude, not so much.
Judging on extrinsic and skill-based factors is a relatively objective and straightforward exercise. Gauging softer traits such as will or attitude is much, much harder, and takes one-on-one contact, attentive listening, and careful observation. That’s why it’s important to approach a job interview more as an attitudinal audition than a question-and-answer period around skills.
Over the years, I have been collecting and reflecting upon questions that have helped me improve my people judgment, especially around personality and attitude. Here are ten key questions to help you better understand the intrinsic “why” and “how” behind a person.
[Actually, here the first four of ten.]
1. What is the talk-to-listen ratio? You want people who are self-confident and not afraid to express their views, but if the talk-to-listen ratio is anything north of 60%, you want to ask why. Is it because this person is self-important and not interested in learning from others — or just because he is nervous and rambling?
2. Is this an energy-giver or -taker? There is a certain breed of people who just carry with them and unfortunately spread a negative energy. You know who they are. Alternatively, there are those who consistently carry and share a positivity and optimism towards life. There is a Chinese proverb that says that the best way to get energy is to give it. Energy-givers are compassionate, generous and the type of people with whom you immediately want to spend time.
3. Is this person likely to “act” or “react” to a task? Some people immediately go into defensive, critical mode when given a new task. Others jump right into action and problem-solving mode. For most jobs, it’s the second kind you want.
4. Does this person feel authentic or obsequious? There is nothing flattering about false praise, or people trying too hard to impress. Really good people don’t feel the need to “suck up.” Those who can just be themselves are more pleasant to work with.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Anthony Tjan is CEO, Managing Partner and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, vice chairman of the advisory firm Parthenon, and co-author of the New York Timesbestseller Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck (HBR Press, 2012). To check out his HBR articles, please click here.