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Plato Might Hold the Answer to Better Interviewing

There are great costs to an organization when you hire the wrong person in a leadership position. The loss is much more than dollars.

I consistently read human resource articles about interviewing; much of which center around the right and wrong questions to ask, the best tools for measuring IQ and personality, and interview warning signs. Attempting to employee different methodologies, one can still make poor choices in top roles.

The biggest mistake is choosing a person that fails to integrate into the company culture. The reason they often fail to integrate is their ego may put off the rest of the team. You may never identify the insecurity traits in these individuals who are very intelligent and had historical successes.

Most of us are not human resource specialist, but we have a responsibility to interview, select, and manage individuals. We of course want to choose well because the process intrudes on our daily responsibilities and our time to be creative.

There is a saying, “If it’s not ancient it gets old fast.” I use this statement to guide much of my leisure reading, electing to read the greats such as Cicero, Plato, Boethius, Aristotle, Homer, and countless others. When it comes to daily life the ancients have much to say, and usually, they say it better than modern writers.

When it came to my concerns about interviewing and hiring I thought about a quote attributed to Plato, which reads, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Seldom is there any “play” in our interview process.

Maybe we know of the individual from casual industry interaction. We ask about them to those that know them better, but people, thankfully, are generally kind and of course, don’t want to step across any lines with negative information. Most resumes are useless and then there’s the stale suit and tie interview where everyone has their power question and responses prepared.

The team you serve with is most likely talented, but also very connected. You defend one another, communicate frequently, show each other a good bit of grace and you know the common goals you are working toward. It is tough to bring a new person to your leadership level. You may have a high level of trust, and a new member to the team has much to prove in order to gain the trust of the team.

Most teams will identify concerns quickly. When this happens, meet with the individual and address the concerns of the team very directly and offer a course of correction.

Pride and self-preservation are the two deadliest sins. This limits trust and the performance of the team.

Failure to produce is the next deadly sin. When a person is not a “doer” and they pass the doing onto others for every project, a team will reject them.

I realized something about individuals who do not blend with a team for these reasons; you may be able to identify this behavior outside of an interview at company dinners and on personal outings outside the office.

Simple identifiers such as: getting up to get something to drink and not checking if anyone else needs anything. The way they treat the server at the restaurant. They never offer to pay for excursions or meals. They are sore losers when playing sports. They don’t take an interest in others, but only talk about themselves. In recreation settings they may not interact. They don’t keep up with family names or events happening in the lives of others. Or, they simply don’t accept invitations to personal events.

I understand these are not always a sign of an inability to integrate with a team as some personality types aren’t socially programmed, but if an individual does not play well with others, chances are they will not work well with others either.

The difficulty is creating an opportunity for play with a potential hire that does not break protocols.

There is certainly pressure in being invited to a dinner, softball game, or hike with the team, but then isn’t that part of your measurement as well? And, when attempting to perform, you may not see a typical pattern of behavior.

But shouldn’t we invite our interviewees out to play so we get a better idea of who they are? And what are the safe ways to play so we don't commit a faux pas?

If Plato has the answer, and "play" can offer discovery, we need to investigate the possibilities within our organizations.

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