Do you need to hire someone who can hit the ground running? Forget trying to find someone who will know how to do the whole job before they arrive because even if the job is similar to one they have already done, the operating environment is always different, often in subtle and important ways. What you need is someone who can learn a new job in a new environment quickly – you need a super-learner.
First, ask the candidates what they have learned in previous jobs that was critical to their success. Look for candidates who show an understanding of the range of learning that contributed to their success: personal, social, technical, managerial, political, etc. Ask them what they have learned the hard way?
Second, follow up with questions about how they learned their previous jobs. If you are expecting to train or mentor this person, then you need a match between how he or she learns and how you teach. If the candidate is a “procedural learner” who wants each of the steps laid out in sequence and you prefer to teach through collaborative problem solving only when a new challenge arises, then you do not have a match.
Third, ask the candidates to describe the circumstances under which they will come to you to ask for guidance before taking action. You want someone who has sound judgment about when to “run with the ball” and when to check in with you before “jumping into the deep end of the pool.” People who stand in your doorway every ten minutes asking “what do I do next” will drive you crazy, but people who don’t know when to seek your advice before making a high risk move can cost you your job. You want a quick learner with good judgment. This is a great area to delve into when you question the candidates’ references.
Fourth, ask the candidates what their colleagues have learned from them and how. You want people who can share what they have learned and who can use learning as a medium of exchange with their colleagues. The odds are good if someone is able to teach something to a colleague, they will develop a deeper understanding of that skill or method themselves.
So when you are trying to find the person who will hit the ground running, consider the following:
1. Can they describe skills, attitudes, or approaches they have learned recently that they believe have made them more effective?
2. Can they explain how they learn and do you have a match between of their learning styles and your organization?
3. When and how do they seek guidance to manage risk and does this square with your definition of good judgment?
4. How do they share their learning effectively with their colleagues and will their approach work in your organization?