Playing matchmaker Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

The interview process is as much about judging potential employees as it is about auditioning for them, says Andrew C. Jacobs.

And making sure a candidate is the right match is never easy.

“That’s the hardest thing to do,” says Jacobs, president and CEO of Influent Inc. “The higher the position, the more difficult it becomes.”

The candidates who reach Jacobs’ door — mainly potential managers — all have the required education and the qualifications. So it comes down to getting to know people and letting them get to know you, he says.

Sure, you rely on past experience, but not everyone has the work chemistry you’re looking for. Engaging in conversation and allowing your employees to talk with candidates can help you learn if they’re a good fit for you and vice versa.

Interviewing is something Jacobs is well-versed in. The call center operations company, which posted revenue of $48 million in 2007, has 2,000 employees — 80 of those in its corporate office.

Smart Business spoke with Jacobs about the steps to hiring the right managers.

Spend time with job candidates. It’s really hard in an interview process to get to know somebody well enough to really know if they can be successful or not.

The most important thing is to spend enough time with them. When they’re people who are going to be reporting to me, it’s very important that they spend enough time with me to get to know me a little bit and I get to know them so we can judge just on a fundamental level whether we’re the kind of people that like dealing with each other, whether there’s some decent chemistry there.

I want people who come to work for me to feel coming in, ‘This is the kind of guy I’m excited about working for.’

But really it’s just engaging in conversation. It is establishing that personal relationship.

In the end, what I rely on the most is to be as open, as honest and as frank as I can be about the kind of company we are, what we’re looking for, what our goals and objectives in the world are. Just talk to them about that and see how they react to that.

It achieves two things: I get to know more about them, and they get to know more about us, and it helps them make a better decision.

Place job candidates in roles the position calls for. Try and figure out ways to see how they react to different kinds of situations, how they react to a question that elicits stress, like, ‘Why did you do that?’

We tend to ask things like, ‘Can you describe to me a situation where you’ve been given an objective and a time frame but no particular sort of road map on how to get from A to B? Have you been in that situation, and if so, tell us about it. Tell us whether you were successful. Tell us how you went about it.’

When we think about what we’re really looking for in managers, (it’s) the ability to get from A to B, to be kind of a self-starter to a certain extent.

One of the most important things to us, both internally and externally, is to make sure that there’s an honesty and a trust — and the employees can trust the management and the management is honest with the employees and, in particular, with our clients.

Since we put such a high regard on that, we might also ask them, have they been in a situation where they had an ethical dilemma in their prior employer, and if so, how did they resolve it. And then maybe give them a hypothetical ethical dilemma we might face here and ask them to respond to it.

Find out their record of success in similar positions. The best predictor is they’ve been in that situation before.

That doesn’t mean that if people haven’t been in that situation before they can’t succeed. But obviously, if people have been in that kind of environment or that kind of situation before and have been successful, then it’s obviously an indicator they might succeed. The second easiest way is … talking to people that they’ve worked with or for before and find out how they’ve performed in other situations.

Seek employee input. One thing that is really important is having them talk to other employees in the company, other people of various levels in the organization, about what it’s like working here.

It really comes down to two things. I stress so strongly the need for people to understand who we are, what we do and how we do it, and what it’s like to work here. The one thing that I do ask everybody to do when they’re interviewing a prospective employee is to give them as realistic as possible view of what life is like here — both the good and the bad.

Of the other employees here that might interview a potential manager, we put value on all of the responses we get. We have a set questionnaire that each person fills out after they’ve interviewed a candidate. Part of that questionnaire is very specific questions, part of it is always the general: Tell me everything you haven’t already told me about your interview.

You get a lot more information, and you get a lot more specific information if there’s a couple of pages on broad questions you ask each person to respond to. Otherwise, it’s too easy for people to just say, ‘I like him,’ ‘I didn’t like him,’ or ‘Hire him.’

How to reach: Influent Inc., (800) 856-6768 or