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Independents' Day

How to interview a prospective partner

Dr David Iles offers tips and advice on sifting through mountains of CVs and recruiting the best person for the job

Dr David Iles offers tips and advice on sifting through mountains of CVs and recruiting the best person for the job

Your senior partner is retiring after 28 years in the job and you need a new partner. It's a buyer's market – there is a huge response from the advert. What now? The standard seems so high, but you manage to whittle them down to those shortlisted for interview. But you haven't done an interview for years. What steps should you take?

Know what you want

The traits you need to look for in a new partner include:

• adaptability

• communication skills

• critical thinking

• functional knowledge

• interpersonal skills

• innovation and strategic thinking

• organisational skills

• teamwork

• the ability to develop others.

Prioritise the specific skills you want in a partner and ask what are your practice needs, values and future plans? What are your team dynamics or profiles? How would you order your skillset?

Know why you are asking each question. Take barristers as an example – they generally never ask a question of a witness without knowing the answer they want.

Know how to get what you want.

Interviews are an art, but just like GP consultation models, interview models may help improve validity and effectiveness. There are two interview styles:

• behaviour-based interviews (BBI)

• traditional interviews (TI).

Some organisations use a first-stage selection TI and a second-stage focused BBI.

Behaviour-based interviews (BBI) were developed in the 1970s by industrial psychologists and many big organisations use them now. Rather than asking hypothetical questions (‘What would you do if…?') or asking for statements or opinions, they usually ask for anecdotal evidence of past behaviour, which is followed up by questions.

The premise is that past behaviour predicts future behaviour. The interviewer decides what specific skills they value or need and focuses the questions which indirectly provide evidence of the skill. Answers may help expose the candidate's views in a different light.

This is known as the STAR or SAR technique as answers are best constructed using the mneumonic:

• Situation/Task – real-life example

• Action taken by the candidate

• Result achieved from the action.

Some examples would include the following.

• ‘Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.'

• ‘What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.'

• ‘Give me an example of when you've shown initiative and taken the lead.'

• ‘Give an example of a time when you've motivated others.'

Although the anecdote cannot be verified, the thought processes can be witnessed. In contrast, responses in traditional interviews are usually statements of intent, hypothetical theories or opinions.

Some commercial computer software programs are available that generate a question bank and you score the candidate on a scale for each question, together with notes or advice on answers.

Traditional interviews use ‘how' and ‘what' questions to get to the root of things. ‘Why' questions place more pressure on people because they suggest that justification or defence is needed. Think about how your questions will make the interviewee feel. Every interview question normally probes some dimension of either capability or motivation. Structure of the answer, for instance prioritisation of strengths or a solution-based answer to weaknesses, can be enlightening.

Try to judge the answer objectively rather than project your own feelings of whether the answer is good or bad. Be aware of personal bias. It may not be how you would have answered the question but may be equally appropriate. Look for thoughtfulness, structure, cause-and-effect rationale and pragmatism. Answers will indicate how candidates get things done and the style in which they do it.

Target your needs by classifying your questions into the following two types.

Motivational questions

What is driving the candidate? This could include the past, present or future. Questions include:

• ‘Where do you see yourself in five years' time?'

• ‘What are your life goals?'

• ‘What makes you tick?'

• ‘What motivates you at work?' Consider whether these motivations match or complement yours.

Reflective questions

These explore insight, self-awareness and the ability of the candidate to put their career in perspective. This could include ‘What are your weaknesses?' Is there evidence that the candidate has moved through the Conscious Competence Learning Matrix (the idea that you need to understand your weaknesses before you can work on them)? Getting the candidate to think outside themselves – such as asking ‘What are people's greatest misconceptions about you?' – adds perspective.

Know when you've got what you want

Has the candidate met the success factors and performance expectations you set? How do you know? How much should objective interview measures influence your gut feeling?

For years, hiring managers in business have been wondering whether smooth-talking job seekers could walk the walk as well as talk the talk. A top recruitment executive once said: ‘Everybody is looking for a crystal ball to predict what a person will actually be like in the job.' Interviews are ultimately surrogate markers for performance in post and being poor at interview may simply mean only that (? WOT sense?).

In business some employers put candidates through a battery of mock assignments, stressful ‘day in the life' job simulations and role-playing exercises. These can be time-consuming and expensive, but so is failure to recruit the right person.

Personality tests such as Myers-Briggs and DISC are readily available and may be worth considering at least as an adjunct and source of discussion.

Other ideas could be asking the candidates to give a SWOT analysis of a business idea or presentation.

On a personal level, does the candidate seem to share your personal value set and view of the world?

Look at the way they talk and their body language. How do they respond to you? It is useful to remember the following:

• 7% of what is being expressed is conveyed in the actual words spoken

• 38% is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said)

• 55% is in facial expression.

Dr David Iles is a locum GP who has made a special study of interview techniques

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