Hands on hips, the pig-tailed five-year old stared at the chair in front of my desk.
“I’d like to sit on that chair,” she said, pointing at the chair, but looking at me with blue-eyed intensity. The phone, on the chair, was plugged into power and the phone jack, charging.
“What can I do with the phone?”
I tap danced around the room. Finally, someone got it; someone understood; someone knew how to take control.
No. Wise. Brilliant. So brilliant I wanted to hire her and have her give seminars to job applicants. This five-year-old saw a barrier to getting what she wanted, and she was prepared to do something about it.
What a take-charge attitude. How can I take this into the office?
Over the past 20 years, that is what I have done: I took this scenario into the workplace. Whenever I am interviewing someone, there is a natural place for them to sit. I will put something on the chair, a barrier to them comfortably sitting down. Sometimes it is a pad of paper. If I forget, I will put my leather folder on the seat. Once I had just returned from Staples so I put the empty bags on the chair.
And then I watch. What will they do?
Will they ask me where they could move the obstacle to?
Will they simply put it on the floor or on the desk?
If they do either of these things, they advance to second base in the interview process.
The ones who sit on the barrier, particularly my leather folder, may not know it yet, but the interview is over.
An expression that has been drilled into the minds of everyone who has spent time with me is, “How you do anything is how you do almost everything.” I believe if you can’t remove something from the chair you would sit on, then you will sit at your desk all day, wondering where the pencil sharpener is.
I surround myself with people who are proactive, people who take action to keep moving forward, people who see what needs to be done and do it.
Over my 20 years of consulting, I have picked up other tips.
If the ad says, ‘Please come to complete an application,’ you had better have a pen or your application gets a red X.
If, as you walk into the meeting room, there is a piece of paper on the floor and you don’t pick it up, as if you are doing your part in keeping the office clean, you are done for.
I once consulted with a nursing home. They gave a tour of the facility to aspiring employees, not so much to show the facility, but to see if and how the person engaged with the clients.
Sometimes I take the person to lunch and watch how they act. How do they treat the server? If our service is slow, how do they respond? Do they put salt on their food before tasting it? Are they appreciative or critical?
The finishing touch for the final extensive interview is this: “I’ve told you how wonderful I am, how wonderful our company is. Now, I want you to talk to the people who work here, and you can ask them if what I describe has been true for them.”
It is amazing how glib people can be with their potential new peers who are, in actuality, interviewing the candidate as well.
I am not the only one who has thought this. There is an urban legend that describes pro athletes being driven around to all their interviews over the period of a day or two. Apparently, the real interviewer is the driver. And he reports back to the decision-maker.
The feedback from the peers, and the receptionist, has changed my mind many times as the interviewee revealed themselves. At times, I have hired the person I thought was way down the list based on this feedback. They saw the real person, the person they would have to work with.
And because they were part of the decision-making process, the rest of the team had a vested interest in the new hire’s success.
Oh, the lessons a five-year-old can teach you. I desperately wanted to hire her, but I knew I’d have to wait until she was 16.