I have a simple tip for executive hires: you don’t learn anything meaningful about them in the first hour of the interview.
I was explaining this from a panel I was on at an Endeavor event in San Francisco. Endeavor is a fantastic organization promoting entrepreneurship around the world, and there was a roomful of successful entrepreneurs from Argentina, Chile, Turkey, and others. My friend Jason Green is involved, and had invited me to be on the panel.
One of the main topics we discussed was hiring and building a great team. We talked about much of the conventional wisdom – hire slow, fire fast, for example – but also added our own twists. Mine was that you really don’t learn anything meaningful in the first hour unless they’re completely incompetent.
Any executive with competence can tell the story of their career in the first hour in way that makes them look great. Why they left this job, what great opportunity they saw in this other company despite the fact that it failed miserably, etc. These are all interesting, but rarely tell the whole story. This is why it takes the second – and subsequent – hours to get the real story. Even for the most frank and straightforward people, the very act of interviewing often cements the story in its most flattering light. So, time is one factor – you can’t short-circuit the time it takes to make a good hire, there are no shortcuts.
The other is relationship building, and any advice around this would need to take into account your personal style. I do use one other technique here that may work for others, and that is to disarm the question of “what are your weaknesses” with an indirect question. Take someone they have worked for recently, and ask the question like this: “what would your former boss say were your weaknesses?” And if they still balk, ask if they had a performance review, and what personal challenges they were working on. If that doesn’t work, you may want to gut-check to see if you think they are really being frank with you. Nobody likes to talk about their weaknesses, but this sometimes makes it easier.
Some of these ideas I learned at Woodside Fund, where they perform the Org Chart Process for CEO hires, although I have added my own twists. I still make hiring mistakes, but I think these techniques have helped me make fewer.