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Article No.: 12-3

Article Title: Interviewing and Testing for Learning Agility

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC

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Here is an actual scenario from one of my client organizations:

You’re a hiring manager for a public sector organization who just completed an interview for a maintenance machinist, and it was perplexing to say the least.  The candidate, Jim Carpenter, was smart, focused, interesting . . . and very laid back.  Whenever you tried to gauge his interest in joining your organization, he was noncommittal and turned the conversation back to topics such as the organization’s growth plans; supervisors’ leadership style; and flextime options.  You were more interested in determining his learning ability and if he’d be a good fit for your division.
Jim’s high school academic record is outstanding, as are his references.  He also has his Associate’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering.  Jim’s responses to your technical questions were concise, thoughtful and direct.  You were surprised, however, that he wore a sports coat and khakis to the interview and had a small earring in his ear.  
Jim has lived in the fast-paced city of Chicago for five years and wants to move to your area to be close to his parents.  As a matter of fact, he said that he wouldn’t accept any offer without discussing the terms with his folks.  (Jim is 27.)  That’s good background information to have, yet you’re wondering if he can be quick on his feet in making decisions, independent of others.
What questions can you ask in a second interview with Jim to determine if he can adapt to the job and your organization’s culture?
Perhaps you’ve been in similar situations in which you simply could not determine whether potential employees had the flexibility to work in your fast-paced, ever-changing work environment.  We’ve developed and tested some interview questions with several clients in order to focus on just that facet of an applicant’s capabilities.  These interview questions and your guide as the interviewer are shared below:

 Interview Questions for Learning Agility
  1.  Would you prefer to learn by reading instructions, watching someone else perform a task, or by doing it on your own by trial-and-error?
    Answer Guide:  The candidate should demonstrate self-awareness about how he or she learns and integrates new information into every day activities.
  2.  Do you think it’s important to always have an answer for customer’s questions – why or why not?
    Answer Guide:  The candidate should exhibit a willingness to go to coworkers or supervisors whenever he or she doesn’t have complete answers to questions. 
  3. Is this true or not true of you:  I like logical, analytical approaches to solving problems.  Describe an experience that fits your problem solving style.
    Answer Guide:  If a candidate is applying for a technical position that requires analysis and a logical thought process, he or she should be able to discuss specific examples of a concrete problem-solving approach used successfully in the past. 
  4. Share an example of a time when you had to collaborate with a coworker to succeed at completing a project.  Specifically how did you work together to do a good job?
    Answer Guide:  The candidate should display an ability to include others’ perspectives and experiences in completing assignments. 
  5. How do you use failure as a learning opportunity?
    Answer Guide:  The candidate can provide one or two examples of unsuccessful attempts at an assignment and how he or she learned from those experiences.
  6.  Describe an assignment that you volunteered for at work, even though you weren’t 100% sure you knew how to proceed at the beginning.
    Answer Guide:  The candidate should demonstrate a willingness to take on projects even though he or she isn’t completely certain at the beginning how to complete every phase of the project. 
  7. What do you see as your top skill, and how did you learn it?
    Answer Guide: The candidate should exhibit self-awareness about how he or she takes in and processes new information. 
  8. Describe a crisis you had to handle at work and grade yourself on how you handled it.
    Answer Guide:  The candidate should have a calm approach towards identifying and handling priorities in crisis management.
  9. When you’re leading or participating on a team, what steps do you take to get team members to contribute ideas?
    Answer Guide:  The candidate should demonstrate a willingness to learn from team members, regardless of their individual role, in the team problem solving process. 
  10. What is the your most challenging aspect of making decisions when circumstances are constantly changing, and how do you handle this?
    Answer Guide:  The candidate should exhibit an understanding of the importance of organizational and personal change and ways to stay calm during times of change.

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