The Art of Interviewing

This assignment required identifying the top five talent characteristics necessary to perform the job described in a real-world, outdated job listing for the director of a large library system.  Then we were to form five interview questions that might reveal these talent characteristics.  The characteristics were described in the chapter cited below.  Something surprising about this assignment was how few of my classmates tied their selections directly to specific requirements in the description, instead justifying their selections from a general, over-all perspective.  That seemed very strange.

I had a little trouble coming up with five talent characteristics, because the requirements that the first three or so aligned to were repeated so often throughout the ad.  The last one, “achiever: a drive that is internal, constant, and self-imposed,” I chose simply because it seemed impossible that anyone could meet all the requirements of the position without being an achiever. Coming up with interview questions was a problem as well, as I find it difficult to believe that directors, especially those who direct systems of this size, are interviewed in the same manner an assistant or even a department head or branch manager might be.  I had to throw out a lot of obvious questions.  But for this talent characteristic, I might ask, “What’s your greatest professional achievement so far, and what qualities do you possess that helped you obtain it?”

The characteristic that stood out right away was “interpersonal: the ability to purposely capitalize upon relationships,” based on the requirement for someone who is “responsive to member, staff, and community needs, skilled in focusing the efforts of a team of talented professionals.”  That definition of “interpersonal” was eye-opening.  I’d never heard it defined quite that way.  But I think it perfectly encapsulates all the other talent characteristics that could apply to that requirement.  I will never think of “interpersonal skills” the same way again.  But I might ask, “Describe the strategic partnership you struggled most to forge.  Why was it worth the effort?”

Next I chose “vision:a drive to paint value-based word pictures about the future,” based on the requirement for someone who can “establish the strategic vision for the system, aligning its mission with member library needs and priorities.” That’s pretty straightforward.  I might ask, “Describe your experience integrating two or more member libraries’ conflicting needs and priorities into one cohesive strategic vision for the system.”

“Problem solving:an ability to think things through with incomplete data” seems an obvious talent characteristic necessary to interact with any government agency. I might ask, “What problem has been your toughest challenge to solve?”

And finally, the talent characteristic of “desire: a need to claim significance through individuality, excellence, risk, and recognition,” aligns pretty clearly with the requirement that a candidate have the “desire to continue the tradition of excellence and innovation within the system.”  I might ask, “What motivates you to seek this position?”

Buckingham, M. & Coffman, C. (1999). Talent: How Great Managers Define it In First, Break all the Rules. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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