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Interview thoughts

January 4, 2017

Attitudes and values

I once read a blog which stated when people ‘fail’ to fit into a job it’s usually not due to lack of skill, it’s more about attitudefail-to-fit-in – this strongly suggests that when interviewing we should be interviewing for attitude and values – and of course there is other evidence to support this.  The implicit thought is we can train for skills and knowledge once the person is in the role – which for me begs the question of the competence of competence based interviews!

I was mindful of this as we shortlisted for our Clinical Lead and House Manager posts last week and as I prepare to lead the interviews later this month.  nursing-roles-at-erskine

I’m also thoughtful of the message, as we can’t interview exclusively on attitude and values – we do need an element of technical competence (depending on the job role).  The key therefore is finding the balance – it’s more difficult to find that balance than you would think, or so it appears from some of the applications I read. 

A useful yardstick for me is to refer back to something that was said by Professor Paul Martin (at that time CNO Scotland in 2007 that really stuck with me – he was addressing around 100 nurses at an event in Ayrshire – “are we technicians in a caring environment, or carers in a technical environment?”  The balance between them, as I said earlier, is, for me a critical factor. 

Complexity of Care

masterSince moving to work in a care home setting (Erskine) six months ago I have been struck by the complexity of care that is delivered every day by highly skilled and knowledgable care teams – is it perfect? well no, it isn’t – but what does perfect mean?  As I reflected back on 32 years working in the NHS I couldn’t find that one area I’d worked in nhs-scotlandwhich delivered perfection – that team or service where everything was absolutely  right and nothing needed development or improvement – and I worked with someone wonderful, inspiring people and teams, but even so none were perfect. 

And so, as I return to my original train of thought and the question asked by Paul and relate it to my current quest – what I’m looking for are people who are carers, prepared and equipped to work in a technical environment.  Care however is the pre-eminent, underpinning quality that I want to see shining through. 

So what are the things I’m looking for when interviewing, and of course what are suitable questions to establish these attributes. 


‘Tell me a time when’ question, in relation to care delivery, is both good and bad. It’s good in that it should put the interviewee in control and they can shine, this should bring out the inner warmth, it’s also a useful opportunity for the candidate to show where, in the past, they’ve influence without authority, which is of course a higher skill than being able to direct because of positional authority.  tellme-a-time

The other side, the bad aspect, as it were, of the question, is that interviews aren’t about gushing, it’s not about competence in telling stories, it’s about us, the interview panel, being able to feel the underlying care and compassion and being able to understand why this event was important to the interviewee and why it stood out. 

So, as an interview panel we are looking for leaders who are less about control and more about influence; leader who are able to transform and adapt themselves to meet a wide range of challenges.  Control is not the goal, leaders need to support and enhance their adaptive capacity and that of their team in pursuit of the organisation’s goals.

But at the very heart of what the leader does is an unbreakable golden thread taking all their actions back to the individuals for who they deliver care – if the leader can’t make those links…… !

Coachability – mentorability

Can the individual accept and action feedback from others – whether that’s their line manager, their colleagues or most importantly those they are providing care with?  How can they demonstrate this?  coachableFor me the most dangerous person to employ is the one who knows it all, they don’t need or embrace feedback – they lack insight into areas of both strength and weakness – usually because they’re brilliant at everything (or so they think)!

A key area, but one that is ‘difficult’ to measure at interview is emotional intelligence (EI). How much understanding does that individual have on their impact on others (and of course ability to regulate their own emotions).  While this may be easier to evaluate if it’s an internal candidate being interviewed, careful questioning can draw this out from all candidates e.g. what impact are they having on the panel as they engage with the interviewers – feel the impact, not just the words but the totality of engagement.

I‘ve involved those that use services on interview panels previously, in this approach aspects of the interviewees EI can be observed and experienced from different dimensions. 

One hugely successful interview I was organisers involved people living with dementia and their carers – every single ‘interviewer’ (based on feelings and engagement) picked the same candidate as the ‘technical’ interviewers. The successful candidates ability to engage with, and move between different complexities of interviews meant they were able to demonstrate their ability to judge the needs of the range of interviewers emotions. 


Motivation – such an easy, trip of the tongue type of Q&A. Often superficial and bland. Whitney (1997) said “It’s better to be prepared for an opportunity and have none, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared”.  I used to like asking the ‘how have you prepared for this interview?’ question – unfortunately the answer it frequently elicited let candidates down.  Cramming in last minute reading and chatting to a few people is superficial and unimpressive.the-goal

When I’m interviewing I’m looking for the a description of the path that led the person to thinking this job was right for them. I always expect contact to have been made prior to interview (but I also like to see it made pre-application completion/submission). Only once the longer term path has been explained do I like to hear about the last minute reading, don’t start off there.  So can we, the panel, understand the candidates motivation?

Technical competence

Technical competence: Can the individual demonstrate they have the technical skills/knowledge and aptitude to do the job?

Herein lies the rub, even the best skills/knowledge don’t really matter if the person isn’t open to improving, if they don’t have the underlying warmth of care, if they alienate their colleagues or if their approach feels at odds with the organisational goals and values.  

Attitude/approaches that work in one culture don’t necessarily fit into another one – it is the interview panel’s role to first understand their own organisation and secondly to consider the interviewee in that unique context. 

If I think about current staff that exemplify the organisation’s values, I am likely to be looking for new staff that can continue to build on these attributes (always bearing in mind we are not looking for clones!).  What three or four things make the current exemplary staff ‘successful’?  These are likely to be factors to consider with our interviewees – how well do they match those attributes? – of course a little bit of creative differentiation can support the organisation in not becoming stagnant.  interviewHowever interviews can be an opportunity to send reaffirm messages across the organisation of the values and beliefs we expect throughout the organisation. 

So while the interviewees may be nervous as they prepare for their interview that interview panel itself should also be nervous, they have a huge responsibility – a decision they make may impact positively or negatively on the organisation for many years to come. 

Let’s hope the interviews are very difficult for the panel as all our candidates excel. No-one said it was supposed to be easy – not for the interviewees nor for the panel. 

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mrs K permalink
    January 5, 2017 11:10 pm

    Let’s hope they have had the sense to read this.

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