Selected companies are using this time in the economic cycle to strategically acquire great talent. We are seeing this across a range of companies, small, medium and large, and in all sectors in which we work - medical devices, pharmaceutical, and FMCG. Companies need top talent to meet their business goals, and today more top talent is available as a consequence of redundancies. The economy will rebound and growth will recommence. Smart companies are building for the future with today’s available talent.
In this article I'm going to provide specific interviewing tips, centered around the concepts of Emotional Intelligence (EI), to use when assessing candidates who have undergone a recent redundancy. Although the methodology is transferable to the interviewing of all candidates this article focuses on a specific group of candidates and recognizes that there are heightened emotions associated with redundancies.
Redundancy is a significant career changing time for many. It's a time of raw emotion. There will be anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness, through to excitement, hope, and a sense of opportunity. How candidates handle their world at this time is a very strong indicator on how they may handle other deeply complex and emotionally charged situations in the future.
As the employer you want to know that the person you plan to hire has the skills to deliver in a constantly changing environment. This is where interviewing using Emotional Intelligence questions can give invaluable insight. When headcounts are limited and hiring justifications more complex it’s important to ensure that the new person gets on with others; can take feedback and improve immediately; can handle stressful situations; doesn’t get angry and mad when the going gets tough; can work under pressure with multiple demands; can consistently achieve outputs despite obstacles and setbacks; and that’s where Emotional Intelligence comes in.
Popularised by Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence involves the competencies of 1. Self-Awareness; 2. Self-Regulation; 3. Motivation; 4. Empathy and 5. Social Skill.
The formal interview is an opportunity to ask probing questions in each of these five competencies. People with high levels of Emotional Intelligence are more effective at working together and through this are more effective at identifying opportunities in today’s volatile business environment.
1. Interviewing for the EI Self-Awareness Competency:
Candidates with a high level of self awareness know their strengths and weaknesses; they take feedback and improve; and they reflect and learn from their experiences.
During the interview a question such as: “Tell me about the feedback you have received during recent performance reviews” will provide current examples in the period leading up to the redundancy. Candidates with responses such as “During my performance review my manager said that I hadn’t reached my goals but that wasn’t fair because I wasn’t given the support I needed”, are exhibiting blaming behaviours and don’t possess high levels of self-awareness. A stronger response would have been: “From my performance review I learnt that I needed to increase my connectivity across the company and involve others in my projects”.
And to the question of: “What has been your most valuable learning experience during the last year?” a response like: “I’m always learning and the most important lesson learnt this year was to always be close to customers. I thought that I had a strong relationship with a major account but when we lost them I realized that I should have done more”, shows a higher level of self-awareness than “I’ve got 20 years experience in the area and with this I focus on teaching more junior people about the market”.
Further questions centered around a candidate’s Self-Awareness could include:
“What are your strengths and areas for development?”
“How do you feel when you receive feedback?”
“Tell me how you have contributed to the business goals of your previous employer?”
“Since your redundancy what have you done to further develop your skills?”
2. Interviewing for the EI Self-Regulation Competency:
Candidates who are highly self-regulated control their emotions. They can handle change and ambiguity comfortably and stay composed and positive even in trying moments. When under pressure they think clearly and stay focused. They can handle multiple demands and their responses are fluid and adaptable.
During interview a question like: “What did you say or do when you heard about your redundancy?” could elicit responses such as: “I was angry, really angry and I still am. It wasn’t fair, I contributed so much to that company; they took all my ideas and contacts, and when they wanted to save some money I was told that I was no longer needed. I never want to work for a large organization again if that’s how they treat people,” versus “It came as a shock of course, but it’s happening in so many companies, so really it wasn’t that much of a surprise. I’ve developed some great skills over the years and I can transfer them to another company or another sector. It really is an opportunity to broaden my career”.
Further questions centered around a candidate’s Self-Regulation could include:
“In tough economic times, when there are increased demands to deliver, how do you handle stress?”
“Tell me about a time when you were required to manage change”
“When you are under pressure how would your colleagues describe you?” “Why is this?”
“Similarly, how would your previous manager describe how you deal with pressure?”
When interviewing under the Self-Regulation dimension check for certain behaviours to ensure they won’t surface in a new environment. Probe with questions like: “How did that make you feel?”; “How did you react?”, “Why was that?”, “In what other situations do you react like that?”.
In today’s fast-moving, ever-changing economy companies need staff who can work effectively with others and collectively seek out new opportunities. The world is going to be a rocky place for a long time and companies need employees who are highly self-regulated and who can manage their emotions during trying and difficult times.
3. Interviewing for the EI Motivation Competency:
Candidates who don’t have a job are motivated to get a job. That’s why it’s necessary to understand what type of role they truly want and to ascertain that they aren’t accepting your offer just to pay the bills.
“Why do you work?” It’s a great question to ask in any interview and a great opening question to assess underlying motivation. From the responses given, probe and probe. “I work so that I can contribute to the goals of the organization”. Follow up with: “What do you mean by contribute? What can you contribute? How will you do this? What results will you deliver? How have you delivered these results previously? When you are doing this how does it make you feel? Why do you feel like this? If you are not contributing how do you feel? Why is this?”….and more.
Similarly ask: “Why do you want this job?” and probe and probe and probe on the responses given. Many candidates will respond with what ‘sounds good’. Only with deep questioning will the underlying motivators be revealed. And understanding these motivators is necessary in determining alignment and fit. A redundancy can affect a candidate’s motivation in several ways. They can become withdrawn, despondent and depressed; or they can be energized, optimistic and positive. Our advice to candidates in the first group is to process the emotion quickly and move on, accessing professional advice as required. Clients want candidates in the second group. They want to know that when their future employees face adversity they will seek out and act on opportunities; they will get the job done through collaborative, enterprising efforts; and they will operate from a belief in success rather than a fear of failure.
Further interview questions could include:
“Today’s economic environment is very volatile – how do you overcome obstacles and setbacks?”
“How has the redundancy affected your motivation?” “What are you doing about it?”
“Tell me about a time when you have acted on opportunities”.
“What drives you?” “Tell me why this is important for you”.
A candidate’s underlying motivators will guide them to reach goals; and in today’s turbulent economic environment available headcount needs to go to upbeat, positive, optimistic contributors.
4. Interviewing for the EI Empathy Competency:
Candidates with a high Empathy score understand others and take an active interest in others’ developmental needs. They are great team players because they are attentive to emotional cues and listen well. Showing sensitivity they understand others’ perspectives, their needs and feelings; and relate well to people from different and varied backgrounds. During times of organizational change associated with downsizing they will draw upon their skills and can bolster employee morale and engagement.
“Tell me about the people around you” (and probing deeply on the responses given) is a good interview question to assess a candidate’s Empathy competency. Extending this with “How are the redundancies affecting everybody?” will provide further insight into a candidate’s Emotional Intelligence. A further question: “What advice would you give others going through a redundancy?” shows the candidate’s ability to relate to others.
Employees with empathy also understand customers and through this will uncover commercial opportunities. They anticipate and meet customer’s needs, they can solve client’s problems, and
see new opportunities more quickly than competitors.
Further interview questions could include:
“Working effectively with others requires an understanding of what others are experiencing. What do you do to get to know your colleagues?”
“How do you anticipate the needs of others – internally and externally?”
“Tell me about a time when you helped others”.
5. Interviewing for the EI Social Skill Competency:
The fifth Emotional Intelligence competency is Social Skill. Interview questions around this can be used to assess how candidates get on with others and leading on from this how they contribute to team dynamics and organisational cohesiveness. Tough times require everyone to pull together, to work as one unit, and through this to achieve superior results. Solo players hold organisations back because ideas are not being shared.
Many factors contribute to the decision to make a position redundant. When the position (and the person in the position) are not delivering the results that the organisation needs, it's time to make the position redundant. How the position (person) is interacting with others in the business is a key factor and in today's economy we are seeing many solo players parting company with their employers.
It's therefore important to assess a candidate's preferred working style - "Talk me through your ideal working environment", and to listen for references to interaction with others eg "I work best in a quiet environment where I can think" versus "My ideas come from working with others and sharing thoughts".
Further questions to assess Social Skill include:
“How do you persuade others to collaborate towards collective goals?”
“Tell me how others would describe your communication style?”
“Give me examples where you had to resolve disagreements”
“How do you inspire your group during recent times of change?”
“Give me examples on how you have built consensus across different groups”.
And a further relevant question would be: "Since your redundancy what have you done to re-establish and build your professional networks?" Redundancy is a time to reach out, so during the interview assess whether the candidate is proactive or just sitting back and waiting for something to happen for them. This behaviour will translate into their next workplace.
Redundancy occurs for a range of reasons - technology takes over physical labour; several roles are combined into one; the company restructures; there’s excess capacity and head office mandates global headcount reductions.
Companies often try to redeploy top talent within the business. It's in their best interest to. These employees know the products and the systems, they have the internal and external networks and understand the culture. In new roles they can continue to contribute to organisational objectives and to continue to provide insight into complex issues based on their deep understanding. Companies making roles redundant therefore carefully consider how to redeploy talent.
But it's not always possible. The market may have changed to such an extent that significant changes are required in order for the company to remain competitive. Consequently redundancies occur.
This represents an opportunity for employers to acquire talent. In a different economic cycle this talent would not be so readily available. Today, a number of companies are strategically hiring for the future. The economy will rebound. Growth will recommence. And selected companies are positioning themselves for this through the identification and employment today of tomorrow's workforce.
About the author:
Dr Glenn Carter is qualified in medicine with a PhD and MBA. He has worked in senior medical and marketing roles for European, American and Japanese pharmaceutical and medical device companies and is the owner/founder of Pharmaceutical & Medical Professionals, a recruitment firm specialising in the Pharmaceutical, Medical, Healthcare, Scientific and Biotechnology sector. The company’s website is www.pmpconnect.com
Material in this article is derived from personal observations as well as input from PMP consultants who surveyed clients and candidates.