The best way to smoke out a real winner when you’re interviewing someone for a job? Make it a two-hour interview.
Three hours is even better, and it’s worth the investment of time. Let’s presume you’re only interviewing your short list. Almost any reasonable candidate can ace a fifteen-minute interview filled with “What would friends say is your biggest flaw?” or “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” or “Who is on your personal Mount Rushmore?” questions.
You can tell within a couple of minutes if a person is wrong for you or your radio station, but drawing out the interview for a couple of hours is a great way to find out whether you actually like the person enough to work with them for the next ten or twenty years. After the first 15 minutes I get into chat time. Exchange experiences, stories about high school and college, earlier jobs, whatever. Get the person off their Career Center rehearsed responses and find out what they’re really like.
Here’s a great example: This past February, a woman named Gay Vernon, who was my News Director of over 20 years resigned. At her going-away party she announced to all present that back in 1991 I had interviewed her for at least two hours and all we did is talk about baseball, and at the end I said, “So, do you want the job?” Big laughs from everyone. And I got up and said, “That’s true, but look at the results.” She was an excellent News Director, morning show Talent and co-host of our award-winning program “Exceptional Women” for over two decades. The interview wasn’t quite the way she described it, but she had the gist. Why did we spend that time discussing baseball? Because I’m a big baseball fan and she mentioned that her Dad, Mickey Vernon, was a four-decade Major League ballplayer. Two-time American League batting champion who played for the Washington Senators for many years and spent a couple of seasons playing 1st base for the Red Sox. I remember seeing him play when I was a kid. What came out of the long baseball discussion? It was very clear that Gay Vernon was talented, professional, spoke well of past employers – even those who had not treated her well – and was an interesting and enjoyable person to be around. So I hired her. And it was a great call.
Had I only spent 15 minute asking her rote questions, I might have hired her anyway, but I might not have. Had I not, I would have in effect taken a called third strike. But I did. She was a great hire, and I wound up hitting one out of the park. Those two hours were time well spent.