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The difference between ‘OK’ and exceptional candidates

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Abbey Dearden Recruitment, job interviews

Whilst recently conducting a series of interviews for a senior position, I was struck by the two types of candidates we had in the process and the difference between those who were just ‘OK’ and those who were exceptional. 

The thing that divided them was quite simple but amazingly insightful. This prompted me to go back over several recently successful executive search projects to see if there was a pattern and what I found was 100% confirmation that this measure is an indicator of success.

The ‘OK’ people were incredibly good at responding to interviews, almost too rehearsed in some cases, they were certainly good at delivering answers that fitted what we expected to hear.

The exceptional people if anything gave less polished answers to the interview questions and their responses were certainly not much better than any of the others. The real difference however emerged when the opportunity to ask questions became available. The number of the questions asked by the most successful candidates numbered 4 to 1 compared to average candidates. Furthermore, the quality of the best people was directly related to the standard of their questions and their ability to ask deeper and more meaningful questions upon hearing the answer to those previously asked.

So what type of questions will mark out the exceptional people in the recruitment process?

Well as all companies and appointments are different there isn’t a list of stock questions you can tick off when you hear them like a game of question bingo. There are however clear lines of questioning you should be hoping to hear. These include but are not limited to:

  • Questions that challenge why things are done like they are
  • Questions that demonstrate the person knows what matters most
  • Questions that clarify your own thinking
  • Questions that prove ‘a deep’ engagement with your business, product, service or industry

Questions can also highlight weaker candidates in your process, particularly if they illustrate a transactional nature or selfish attitude such as asking about benefits and holidays before they have even reached a second interview stage.

In summary, the number and quality of the questions you get asked by the interviewee will prove how much they understand, how much they are engaged and their standard of thinking. If they can also do this in such a way that it shows curiosity without conflict, or as one of our clients beautifully puts it “can make a point without making an enemy” then you probably have an ‘A player’ in your talent pool.

As executive search consultants for technical, sales and operations management professionals we can help you to find and select the best people for your engineering or manufacturing business and build a team of people who will become your unique competitive advantage.