Rebecca Fishman Lipsey over at The Huffington Post has an interesting piece up today detailing various opinions regarding how to hire the right people for your startup. The article includes a debate over whether it's possible to identify a candidate with acute learning skills during a job interview. Lipsey says, "Yes," and offers several actionable strategies for doing just that. One in particular got me thinking:

"Ask the interviewee to get into 'character,' and address a real-life interpersonal challenge that is likely to happen on the job. For example, have them try to retain a partner who wants to dissolve their contract. Get into character yourself and actually act out the scenario for at least two minutes. This will give you a lens into their skills in action, and it will also show you how willing they are to 'roll with it.'

But here's the true test. After the role play is over, ask them how it went. Watch the way they give themselves feedback. Then, you MUST give them feedback yourself, and some concrete steps for doing the role play differently the second time. (For example, 'I found your approach a little too strong for me. Try spending more time getting to know me as a person first.') Then, do the role play again. That enables you to see how they respond to feedback, and it sets you up to watch them learn in real time. It also sets up an organizational culture of feedback and learning right from the get-go."

I come from a theatre background and, reading this, my mind immediately veered to the audition room. Most auditions feature an initial reading; the actor either brings in a monologue or reads part of a scene. Then, the director or casting agent initiates what's called an adjustment. This consists of instructions for a slightly modified second read. For example, a director might ask an actor who just recited a serious monologue to perform it again but with a twist — make it a little flirty or bubbly or sadistic, or something to that effect.

The adjustment serves two purposes. First, it offers a clue as to how well the actor takes to direction. All the talent in the world won't do you any favors if you're unable to operate in a collaborative process and actors who simply recite the monologue again without discernible changes rarely find themselves in the callback pile. The second purpose is to assess the actor's ability to learn on the fly and tactfully modify their performance. The ability to soak up and apply new information is a hugely important skill in any field. It's the sort of thing every director wants in an actor and, similarly, what almost any hiring manager wants in a prospective employee.

This is why it's a good idea to incorporate a performative aspect to your interviews. Audition your prospects to see how they operate on the fly outside the context of a traditional job interview. You'll be able to see if they're the real deal or if they're just well-prepared interviewees. You'll also learn about their personality, cognitive abilities, and ability to accept feedback. An interviewee who knocks their adjustment out of the park will do so because they possess the sort of skills you'll want in an employee.

Read more at The Huffington Post.

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