July 9, 2020



Hiring in Different Times

Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education. 


A lot has changed since I wrote on the topic of hiring last year in “Hiring Coachable High Performers.” We’ve had a pandemic that forced us to pivot to online teaching in March. We’re in the midst of a racial justice movement (“Stop, Look, and Listen“). We have families that are struggling with health and economic devastation. These events cause us to think about the teachers and leaders we will hire; their knowledge, skills, and attitudes are paramount to moving forward. They will need to be skilled at diagnosing gaps and thoughtful and urgent about filling them. They will need to be knowledgeable about social emotional learning, racial justice, implicit bias, and they will need to know and use culturally appropriate pedagogy.

I’ve shifted my own practice on interviewing candidates over the past few years and will continue to evolve as I learn new ways to ensure that I am able to put the best teachers in front of and alongside the students and the best leaders in front of and alongside the teachers. My best thinking on interviewing comes from outside education. I found that by observing how business hires, I can adapt some strategies and implement them right away. This morning, Leadership IQ’s CEO Mark Murphy’s newest short recording was in my inbox and is perfect for this issue. “Stop Asking Interview Questions That Candidates are Prepared to Answer” can help you evaluate your interview questions and their answers for the best fit. (Disclaimer: there is a commercial for a webinar embedded.)


3 Big Ideas

  1. Lack of coachability is the #1 reason we end up firing someone. Murphy, author of The Science of Hiring for Attitude, found that 89% of hiring failures are due to the affective nature of the position while only 11% of hiring failures were due to the technical skills needed to perform the job. We’re really pretty good at hiring for skill. He describes problematic affective skills as:
    • Lack of coachability (cannot adapt and not accepting of feedback)
    • Limited emotional IQ
    • Low motivation
    • Temperament not suited for the role (highly individualistic people don’t fit well into a collaborative culture)

    So, knowing that teachers have such a powerful and life-affecting influence, we can and must do better with hiring them. Most interviews focus mostly on the skills side of the role and we’re pretty good at determining those. What we’re not good at is hiring for the more affective attributes. Murphy, and I, are in agreement that skills do matter, but we can teach some of that. We need to be better about hiring for attitude.

    I began this journey by identifying the five characteristics and attitudes that I believe make a teacher or leader high performing and the five opposite characteristics or attitudes that caused them to be a low performer. To follow me on this journey, please list yours.


  2. Interview questions should be designed to address each of your identified characteristics. After you have listed the characteristics of high performers, draft brief scenarios based on each that will elicit responses that will help you identify high performers.
    • Always begin your question with, “Could you tell me about a time you…” then insert the situation you identified. This is really important! Don’t start your questions with, “What would you do if…” Asking a hypothetical question will get you a hypothetical answer.
    • Leave your question hanging. They may feel awkwardly open ended, but this approach allows the candidate to respond more thoroughly. Many supervisors, myself included, want to make the question easier by adding little phrases like, “… and how did you solve it?” This leads the candidate to a destination he/she may not have gone. Do not turn a great question into a leading question. Mark Murphy hit this home for me when he said, “Let’s say your candidate has 100 related experiences to the quality you’re looking for, 99 of those are low performer qualities and one is a high performing characteristic. If we ask a leading question to help the candidate get to the one time (out of 100)  one she showed the trait you’re looking for, you’re likely to hire a low performer.” So, leave your question hanging—no little phrases allowed!
  3. A five-part question can reveal coachability. So far you designed a question for each characteristic. There is an additional question is really important because it gets to the #1 reason we end up firing some people we hired. This five-part question designed to reveal coachability goes like this:
    • What is your supervisor’s name? Could you spell it for me?
      This question tightens the gut and asking to spell the name, changes the responses to the following points.
    • Could you tell me about xxx (insert name) as a supervisor?
      You want to listen for terms used. Are you like xxx? If so, and it was a pet peeve for the candidate, stay clear of this person.
    • What is something you could have done to improve your working relationship with xxx?
      High performers are continually in a state of self-reflection. They say things like, “Yes, we had a positive relationship, and I might have considered reaching out sooner on a couple of projects.” Low performers, on the other hand might say something like, “We had a great relationship. There isn’t anything I would do to improve our relationship.”
    • When I speak with xxx, what will she say is your greatest strength?
    • Everyone has areas to improve, when I talk with xxx, what will he/she say is your greatest weakness?
      Use the word “weakness” as “opportunities to improve” is soft. If the candidate cannot speak to this question, that’s a warning sign. Coachable people know what the supervisor will say before it is said. The coachable candidate anticipates feedback from the supervisor.

    Awkward? Yes, for some. A little uncomfortable? Sure, might be for some. None of these are awkward, uncomfortable, or uneasy for your high performing candidate however. All said, this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education is filled with practical tips for How to Ace the Virtual Interview.



“Hire character, train skill.”
– Peter Schutz, Porsche


“I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire
the wrong person.”
– Jeff Bezos, Amazon


1 Question

Can you tell me about a time you hired a great candidate?



About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.


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