One of the key attributes Curt Carver, vice president and CIO at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, looks for in a candidate is emotional maturity. But for some leaders, determining which candidates have the soft skill — and which don’t — can be illusive.
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Carver, who served as an officer in the U.S. Army for more than 25 years, uses a couple of litmus tests to make the determination. The key behind both tactics? “I try to create opportunities for authentic and genuine conversations with the shields down to make sure they’re a good fit for the organization,” he said.
Get out of the office
Carver doesn’t perform interviews around a big table. Instead, he takes advantage of the university setting and invites the prospective hire on a walk around campus. The stroll creates a more casual setting, with Carver giving a tour along the way.
“It tends to lower their guard and you get a better sense of who the person is as we walk and talk about various topics around campus,” he said.
The answer to this question is telling
Carver uses this question at the end of every interview: What was the question you thought I was going to ask that I didn’t ask and what would be your answer to that question. “It throws people off, and the genuine person tends to come through,” he said.
The responses can be surprising. Those with emotional maturity talk about how they built a successful team. They talk about a significant accomplishment and why they’re proud of it — but eventually they turn back to a team endeavor or a moment when they empowered someone else or shattered a glass ceiling. “Those are examples, I think, of folks demonstrating empathy, demonstrating emotional maturity, talking about a difficult scenario or situation and how they handled it,” he said. “I think all of these are the right types of answers.”
Not all candidates respond that way. Some freeze up and don’t know how to answer the question; some don’t even attempt to answer the question, replying, instead that Carver covered everything. “That’s obviously not a good answer in an interview,” he said.
And others will take the opportunity to let their pride and hubris take over. One candidate responded by saying he thought he’d be asked about how great he is and then went on to talk how great he is. “I mean, seriously, that’s been an answer to the question,” he said.