Being prepared Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2009

When Mary Alice Ryan is interviewing for new members of her executive team, she thinks about her siblings.

As one of 10 children, she says it’s OK for a group of people to have different personalities, but it’s essential that everyone has the same values.

“It’s important you hire people not only because they have the best qualifications but because they also have the ability to fit into your culture and your team,” says Ryan, president and CEO of St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors, a $65 million company that owns and manages housing and care facilities.

To find a surefire match for her team, Ryan prepares for interviews with the candidates by first narrowly defining the position. First, you first have to identify the position, its mission and its qualifications to use as a guide throughout the process. Second, you have to understand the leadership traits that your ideal candidate would possess. For each interview, Ryan uses a list of 15 traits that, she says, has “turned my whole world around.”

Smart Business spoke with Ryan about how to prepare for interviews to ensure you find the ideal candidate.

Decide what the position calls for. I start off the process by writing and then rewriting what I call a position profile. This is one page — almost in a way, an ad — but it’s a simple one page that tells what’s the position, what’s the mission of the position, what are the qualifications, what are the core responsibilities and a little bit about who we are.

We use it to enthuse a person or attract them so that every word in this is not only what you need to have, but it’s written in a way to attract them to get excited about this kind of position.

It’s the document I use as I go through the entire process, so everything that I want is really defined in here.

You’ve got to write it very tight. Every word needs to convey something so that they’re not supercilious because people don’t like to read a lot. Any executive is skimming things, so what you want to do is minimize code words. A lot of people, unless I’m getting someone who is very technical in my field, may not know those code words.

I also want to say it in a wording that is simple; that way, everything that they want is on here. What is the mission of this job? It’s really a one-sentence-type thing that says what we really want you to accomplish in the world is this.

This has worked out really well for me because if you just put a simple, little paragraph that you send out to all of your networking friends and you say, ‘I’m looking for a person to do billing,’ or, ‘I’m looking for a CFO,’ that doesn’t say enough.

Determine the position’s needed characteristics and questions to verify them. Then, along with (the position profile), what I’ve done is I’ve defined what the superior candidate is going to be and how I can state that in some sort of quantifiable language. What are the behaviors, what are the skill sets, how do they need to fit into my organization, who they are?

(I have) a list of 15 leadership traits, they’re like problem solving, technical learning, consumer focused. Each type of job needs different traits. I re-rank these traits to what are the most important ones to the least important ones for this job. When I’m looking for a CFO, I may be looking for something different than the head of my charitable foundation because of the traits they need to do the job. So when I interview people, I use these traits in my interview.

If I know I’m going to be interviewing more than one person, I try to use the same questions in each interview. So if one of these traits is problem solving, if that’s a really important one, then I want to ask them questions about telling me about situations where they might have to deal with X type of problem and how did they deal with it. If it’s presentation skills, they’re really going to make a lot of presentations, ask them about how do they prepare for a presentation, what are they at ease with, how do they go about giving a presentation. Taking any of these qualities and just trying to bring those back in to using their work history along with the leadership traits.

Understand your own culture. Finding the right fit is so important. There are a lot of people out there with wonderful backgrounds and skills. If it’s the CFO they probably know accounting, they probably have done management of people before, they’ve probably done major financing.

Those are almost the easier things to find out about a person because it’s quantifiable. What’s hard is the value system of how do you find that they could be a good part of a team. Every person’s team has their own traits — they work differently, they have a different culture.

You need to understand your own culture, and the people not who will be working for that person, but the people that will be working with that person, the other executives that they will have to interact with. Know how that person, or get the best feel of how that person, would react with those personality types.

So you really need to know the personality types of each of your executives that are on your team. That’s why you interview to the leadership traits.

After you’ve found out the person can do the job, they know the books, then you say what are the traits that are most important.