Interviewing for Team Alignment

November 5, 2019

By Candice Crane, People Strategist

Managing our business is tough. A retail store operator works around the clock, has to inspire dozens if not hundreds of people on a daily basis, and relinquishes their fate to the performance of 50 or so team members (sales reps, service advisors and technicians), most of whom are in their first full-time job. We are often pulled in so many directions that we lose sight of the most important decision we can make each day, who we hire for our team. With automotive sales turnover ticking up yearly and unemployment rates remaining competitively low, hiring the right people for our revenue generating positions can significantly influence our success and sustainability.

Building the right team is a simple equation. Align what the candidate wants with what you have to offer. Easy right? It is if you know how to interview. As an industry we have a bad habit of blowing through the interview process with poor results. Between our desperation to fill the job and our innate ability to fall in love quickly, we spend our time either overselling the candidate or scaring them away. Rarely do we determine if they are the right fit for us and we are the right fit for them.

Let’s change that.

Rather than investing in a long interview guide that feels forced and takes away from our ability to build a relationship, focus on uncovering alignment in these key areas:

Opportunity Alignment

The first order of business is to understand what the candidate is looking for. Ask questions such as “why are you looking to leave your current company” or “what is missing in your role today.”

Here is what you should be listening for:

  • Autonomy: Improving our customer experience means training and trusting our front-line employees to make decisions. If the candidate is expressing frustration in their current role because they have little ability to influence or problem solve then this might be the right opportunity for them.
  • Pace: We are constantly on our feet and on the move. We need people who like to go, not people who prefer to sit at a desk. Asking candidates what pace of work they prefer or having them explain a typical day will help you determine if our work environment is right for them.
  • Variety and Change: One of the best parts about working for a small business is the ability to change. No two days are the same in our environment and our industry is experiencing evolution at a pace we haven’t seen before. We need team players that enjoy variety, embrace change and can pivot quickly. Ask the candidate to provide you an example of a type of change they experienced recently. Listen for how they frame up the change (positive or negative.)

Role Alignment

Once you have confirmed alignment on opportunity, the next phase is to evaluate if they have the transferable skills for the job.

Our revenue generating positions have these three basic fundamentals skills in common:

  • Metrics: We are a metric driven industry. People that are successful in our sales or technician roles have experience with metrics or goals before setting foot in our stores. This can include a quota for a salesperson or a measurement of how long it takes to make a drink for a barista. The metric itself doesn’t matter- it’s the experience with being measured that will determine if they are prepared for our environment.
  • Customer Facing: We are in the customer service business so it’s no surprise our candidates should be as well. Communication skills, patience, and a ‘yes’ mentality are a few competencies candidates must possess. How they engage with you during the interview process is a good indicator of how they will interact with your customers. Did they communicate effectively over the phone, in-person and over email? Were they easy-going and warm or were they guarded and somewhat difficult to interact with? The version of the candidate you meet in the interview is likely the best version. If you are concerned with the way they conducted themselves during the interview, be prepared for that behavior to show up again with your customers.
  • Problem Solving: Improving our business means empowering our employees to make decisions. If candidates are looking for an environment with autonomy, they have to demonstrate their ability to analyze information and determine a solution. Ask behavioral based questions such as “tell me about the last major problem you solved. What caused the issue, what information did you use to evaluate the situation and how did you solve for it?” Listen for how the candidate recognized the problem and what resources they used to overcome it. Did they embrace and own the challenge or pass it off to someone else? Did they allow the roadblocks to prevent them from executing a solution or were they able to successfully leverage resources to solve the problem?

Culture Alignment

The final component of the interview is to determine if the candidate is a cultural fit. The culture evaluation is especially important for candidates that have previous automotive experience. What worked at the competitor down the road may not work for you. You need to evaluate if the candidate has the ability to understand and buy-in to your vision.

Interviewing for the “it” factor:

  • Ownership Attitude: You want people on your team that care about your business as much as you do, regardless of the role they are in. This isn’t about money or status- it’s about the candidates desire for something bigger than just a paycheck. They want to be on a winning team and feel responsible for the company’s success. You know if a candidate has this attitude based on the questions they ask you. If they don’t have questions or only ask about basic responsibilities, they probably don’t have an ownership attitude. If they are inquiring about the history of the company, are curious about how departments work together and get motivated by the information you are sharing in the interview process you are probably talking to right person.

With margin compression significantly impacting our bottom line we can no longer afford to hire people that don’t work out- especially in revenue generating positions. Invest the time in evaluating alignment. Your bottom line will thank you.

About the Author

Candice Crane has extensive experience in Talent Management and is considered a SME in recruiting and retention strategies for high turnover environments. Candice completed her Undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and holds a Masters Degree in Organizational Development. She is a borderline Millennial who loves the car business, macroeconomics, interesting conversation and playing outside.