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The Weirdest Interview Advice You'll Ever Get: Don't Ask Questions

"Traditional interviews are all about two people sitting across from each other, lying to each other," says Rich Sheridan, the CEO of Menlo Innovations, a software design and development company in Ann Arbor, MI. Sheridan was on a panel I moderated recently at the Inc. Magazine and Winning Workplaces Leadership Conference. We were talking about how to engage GenY employees in the workplace, but it seems to me that Sheridan's offbeat ideas apply to all generations. Like Larry O'Toole at Gentle Giant Moving Co. , Sheridan uses the interview process to tease out the characteristics he values most in employees. He does that without asking a single question.
At Menlo, named for Menlo Park, Thomas Edison's innovation laboratory in New Jersey, employees work in collaborative teams in large, open spaces on long tables that are pushed together. "We pair people together, two to a computer, on every project we do," says Sheridan. "All day long, they're shoulder to shoulder." Every two weeks, the teams change, so all employees must learn how to work closely with a variety of co-workers. It's not an environment that's right for everyone, but those who fit in give Menlo high marks. The company was included on the 2010 WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces and was a 2007 Winning Workplaces Top Small Workplaces Finalist,

"When we interview, we try to simulate the work environment," explains Sheridan. So he might bring in 40 or so candidates interviewing for the same job and pair them with one another to accomplish a particular programming task. And he gives them a highly unusual directive: "Your job is to make the other person look good so that they get a second interview." Each candidate works for 20 minutes with three different partners while a Menlo employee observes behavior, listening for raised voices or sighs of frustrations, and watching for, say, a pen snatched out of someone's hand. He task itself is almost secondary. "It's like speed-dating," says Sheridan. When the candidates go home, Menlo's employees convene to discuss the day and talk about who will be invited back for a second day of interviews. About 40% of candidates make it through the first pass.

The second part of the interview process is a full day, and candidates are paid to work ("shoulder to shoulder") with two different Menlo employees - one in the morning, and a different one in the afternoon. Of those, half will be deemed Menlo material and will be offered a three-week contract. If the trial is successful, only then are candidates offered a full time job.

The technique ensures that Menlo is hiring the kinds of collaborative people who thrive on teamwork. "We do cross training and mentoring every day of the week," says Sheridan. "People aren't locked away in a quite cubical farm interacting only with their technology." Of course, that's exactly how some programmers would prefer to work, but Sheridan would like them to work someplace other than Menlo.

Do you think that behavior is more important than skills? How does your interview process tease out the kind of behavior that leads to success in your company?

Image of Rich Sheridan courtesy of Menlo Innovations