In which Jill considers what Jimi Hendrix would want for dinner.

  • Where do you want to be in the next 5 years?
  • What person, living or dead, would you want to invite to dinner?
  • If you were a dog, what breed would you be?

You and I have both been asked questions like these at some point in our careers. Typically, the well-meaning interviewer has been coached that such questions reveal a candidate’s “soft skills” and might hint at particular qualities that will indicate his likelihood of success.

Or failure.

The fact is, most managers hire people they like, people that they relate to beyond skill set and job responsibility conversations. Just as voters routinely admit to electing politicians they’d like to have a beer with, leaders are susceptible to what I call the “after work cocktail” syndrome. There are work colleagues that you’ll meet with for 30 minutes because you have to get something done. And there are those whose company you genuinely enjoy, irrespective of their contributions. Typically, you give these people more time.

To hire well in the new IT, leaders need to get comfortable with the irony that getting and keeping top talent has relatively little to do with the candidate’s goals and likeability. Hiring success comes from matching what the company needs with work that will challenge and fulfill the candidate. Ideally, both the organization and the employee can then grow together.

Many new IT leaders have learned that across-the-desk Q&A sessions are insufficient to truly evaluate a candidate’s ability to do the work. One method that’s increasing in popularity is the so-called behavior event interview, in which an expert—often a potential colleague—asks the candidate to explain in detail how she would tackle a realistic work challenge.

By working through real-life scenarios, often in front of a team of evaluators or under a time constraint, the candidate is forced to think on her feet and display a level of mastery and poise that might not come across in a more traditional interview setting. Some companies are asking job candidates to agree to short-term apprenticeships in order to gauge competence and commitment levels. These fresh approaches allow for a deeper understanding of the workaday demands of the job, and can be equally valuable to the job-seeker as they are to the hiring team.

In my experience, the best hiring managers have a level of clarity about not just what the job is but the work involved, indeed what delivery looks like, before beginning the interview process. They can answer some basic questions of their own—for instance, “How will the candidate create value in the role?” or “How much guidance will this position require, and how much can I realistically provide?”—before beginning interviews. The infographic shown below illustrates a representative “cheat sheet” that hiring leaders can use as a checklist for ensuring they are tackling the critical qualification measures before deciding on the best candidate for the job.

Of course, old habits die hard. These fresh and arguably more creative vetting techniques won’t be adopted overnight. So, for the record: Santa Barbara, Jimi Hendrix, and German Shorthaired Pointer.

The New IT: Leader's Hiring Cheat Sheet

NOTE: This infographic was excerpted from Chapter 9 of The New IT: How Technology Leaders Are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill) by Jill Dyché.