My Short List.. of Interview Questions

There are a lot of experts that can tell you how to interview people. There are seemingly countless methods, techniques, tests and scenarios to sort talent into the right groups...or to vote them off the island. Over the years I have tried many of these with varying degrees of success. But, my short list...the questions that get me the information I absolutely, unequivocally must know...

  1. What do you want to do with your life (what are your dreams)?
  2. How can we help you get there?
  3. What do you like to do for fun?

If people can't answer these with some degree of certainty, they're likely just looking for a job. You want someone with dreams and a reasonably thought out idea of how to achieve them. You don't want someone who hasn't given this an ounce of thought or wants to do just enought to get by.


Start with Hospitality

People accept that things break and that systems fail. Almost no one expects perfection with things that are mass produced. It's unrealistic. Weather impacts airline schedules and trash pick-up. A local flu pandemic slows restaurant service. 1 out of 5,000 new computer screens fail. As long as failure falls within normal boundaries, it's accepted.

But people are becoming increasingly intolerant of mediocre delivery. And, they certainly don't accept rudeness, neglect or bullying. They don't have to because someone else is working extra hard, emphasizing hospitality in their organization and placing a high priority on personal care. Someone else puts artful delivery first and darn near everything else second.

So, there's a good case to be made to change the way we think about starting something...to focus first on the how, then on the what. If you can make the delivery meaningful, caring and brilliant, you win...even if your stuff breaks.

Good Service Disruption

This is what good service looks like...

  • Good service is attentive, friendly, warm and correct.
  • People who perform good service are polite, they smile and use your name.
  • Businesses providing good service are ethical, spend time training employees and apologize when things don't work out.

Here's the problem...if this is all you do, it's probably not good enough. Sure, there are plenty of companies that fail at the basics. And that gives you the edge. Being good enough earns you a fair share of a mediocre market and allows you to charge an average price for an average experience. But then there are also organizations that do more. They choose to do something really hard, create a new edge and be remarkable. They get attention, then trial and eventually erode your share of the average market.

So, you can choose to provide normal and expected good service and hope no one disrupts your plan. Or you can create your own insurance policy and be the disruptor.

Good service is the minimum expectation. It's the place to start. Not the place to rest or build an empire on.

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

Not anymore. In fact, there never was. People have never been dumb. Most just weren't motivated to seek an alternative, especially about things that didn't originate in their own town. You knew if farmer John's milk was good...you could ask a neighbor. It was much harder to know if the Sears catalog was lying to you. The problem wasn't smarts. There just wasn't a reliable way to learn. Enter ubiquitous high-speed bandwidth...today's internet. It changed everything, especially the rules about keeping people in the dark.

Last week a company tried to sell me spark plugs and spark plug wires for more than five hundred dollars. The same products were available outside the shop for under a hundred. The jig wasn't hard to figure out. When I asked them about it, no problem..."just bring in your own parts". A sucker punch. Here's a national, well recognized brand, categorically ignoring all the new rules of customer care and marketing hoping to pull a fast one on people. What do they really hope to gain? Makes you wonder.

Most trickery is more subtle. An ad campaign that promises the best meal while the restaurant is consistently empty. A website that boasts fabulous customer service while overbooking practices drive people mad.

Try covering up your lousy restaurant.
Try hiding the fact that your hotel is dirty.
Try fooling people to pay more for an airline seat.
Try keeping people from talking with each other about your service.

You can't do it.

On the flip side, try hiding the passion and enthusiasm of your best people.
And, try keeping your secret sauce a secret.
Or, try keeping people from spreading your fabulous idea.

You can't do that either.

So, are you going to do average work, spending time to keep people in the dark, hoping to find a few suckers? Or, are you going to get busy doing things you want people to talk about.

Unfortunately, you have to decide.

Be Like

A lot of us spend a great deal of time, energy and resources trying to be like someone else. Our goal is to replicate everything they've done that's good, and then one up it. Better is the sweet spot. The problem is that virtually all of us will fail for two reasons. First, those that we are planning to overtake aren't standing still...they're getting better too. Second, we don't have the advantage of being first and owning the edge...they do.

The idea of being like the iPhone, Four Seasons or Haagen Dazs feels like a safe path. We rationalize that even if we fall short, we'll be good enough to steal a small part of the market. It's also much easier to copy someone else's story rather than inventing our own. That may have worked five or ten years ago because there weren't nearly as many choices and there was room for runner-ups. Now, there are hundreds and thousands of companies (often small ones) who are willing to risk everything to create their own stamp, their own edge. Those companies are the ones getting the attention, chipping away and stealing share. It's not the ones trying be like someone else.

Easy vs. Hard
Follow vs. Lead
Like vs. Unlike

You decide...choose wisely.

Micro Learning

Monika gets it. Learning isn't about how much and how fast you can cram into people's brains. Rather, the best learning occurs when you pair a student with someone with a perfectly matched skillset tailored just to them.  Better yet, the process occurs at the micro level...one on one or small groups.

We call this tutoring. Previously, your search for an algebra expert or guitar master was limited to finding someone nearby. Not any more...

In Search of Expert Individual Tutors

Your project can work the same way. Why limit solving problems to those around you when there's a better way?

Advertising Isn't Dead...It's Broken

The old model, selling people features and benefits, doesn't work anymore. There's too much clutter. Unless you're a gazillionaire, you don't stand much of a chance. However, you could change your approach. You could adapt to a new marketing order and use advertising for a completely different purpose. You could use ads as an opportunity to begin a conversation... instead of selling products. A quick rewind of recent advertising history might help put this into perspective.

Prior to radio and TV, if you had something to sell to people outside your immediate area, you bought print ads and billboards. It was a straightforward system, the more ads you bought, the more you would likely sell. Soon, competitors started advertising too. And, "what" you said about a product was overshadowed by "how" it was said...the advertising profession was born. Things started changing with the advent of TV. Slowly, as more and more companies could afford to advertise, we started to see ads which were designed to entertain instead of sell. Some companies figured it was better to get people to talk about the ad, not just the product. That required loads of creativity and money...it was hard. But, those ads rose above the clutter. They convinced us that the people behind the products were interesting, imaginative and funny...that they were real people, not just big companies. Their ads created an emotional connection and started a conversation. Those companies won. Life was good. The internet (specifically, wide distribution of broadband) changed the game again. The cost barrier to entry was lowered to practically zero. Companies of all sizes and even individuals could get into the act. Viral marketing as we now know it was born. But, cheap led to a very low signal to noise ratio...lots of junk and more clutter than ever. Instead of working harder to start a conversation, companies abused the system and tried pushing old tactics in a new medium. And then, the death spiral began...ads became cheaper, which meant you could buy more ads, which led to more clutter and an increasingly ineffective mechanism. More and more people stopped paying attention.

Fast forward...If you think of customer conversations as the lifeblood of your business, you understand all this. You know how important it is for customers to go out and tell your story. Respectively, that's what you spend most of your time and money on...engaging with customers and reinventing your product and story to keep things fresh. And, as a new marketer you know that advertising is your chance to connect with people and stimulate conversation. You understand that it's not just a space to interrupt someone and sell them something. You've studied marketing history and know what not to do. So, you wouldn't waste time and money placing boring ads that look and sound like everyone else's. Instead, you would try this sort of thing.

The Power of a Hug

The power of a hug is remarkable. It goes further than a nice smile, pleasant hello and a handshake. It goes further than using someone's name or recognizing a repeat guest...it goes a lot further. It crosses a line. It gets personal...it means you really do care. There's no disguising your feelings once you give someone a hug.

Doubletree can't buy enough ads to convince people they care this much...neither can you. So, spend the ad money on a Louree Jefferson. Better yet, a bunch of them.

P.S. Do you think Louree needs a resume? Most remarkable people don't.


Why Your Company's Performance Matters

Your company wants you to perform at the top of your game. When you do, it greatly improves their chances of winning. But, why should you care? What's in it for you?

If you have 3 or so minutes to spare, here are my two cents on the matter...


Three takeaways from a presentation I attended today...

1. Standing behind a podium takes a lot away from the presentation...makes you look less confident.
2. There's no need for slides if you have great content and a compelling delivery.
3. Less is better- less words, shorter sentences...make your point quickly...no one has the time for more.

Enough said...

It's a Remarkable Time

Fooling people used to work. Creating something average and telling people it was better than it actually was...worked. The majority of your time, cost and resources were spent on the message, finding enough customers, and the sale. Unless you were building a new plane or telescope, something requiring intense engineering, the big cost of delivery was in the lie.

Now, fibbing is easy and cheap. Websites are better and cost way less, finding and connecting with audiences is a click away and keeping in touch with customers is virtually free. So, what's the hold up?

There's still a hard part. In fact, it's gotten harder. With so many new ideas flooding the market, creating a remarkable experience, a story that's authentic and rises above the clutter, is now much more challenging. Not because it costs more or requires additional skill to create. The hard part is commitment...commitment to getting started and to doing it right. You can't win unless you do both. Get started with something that's significantly flawed or perceived as a gimmick and you fail. Wait until it's perfect and you lose out to someone else. The new skill requirement is knowing when...when to fire, when to release the next version...and when not to.

Develop a reasonably creative idea...one that solves a problem and is worth talking about. Make it better than average...something that has meaning and a soul. Show people you care by improving (or abandoning) it. And, don't waste people's time...sell it to someone who wants it. No embellishment, no bait and switch, no forcing the issue. If it's a remarkable story, it works. The only question is whether there's a big enough audience to support it. That's hard to figure out...called risk.

Fear is probably the only thing holding you back. Better move past that...someone else has.

Sell Care


Selling "at" people is at an all time high...and is likely to get worse. That's what happens when things get desperate. More cold calls, new mailers to chamber lists, a resurgence in billboards...get ready, it's all on its way. What's increasingly rare, yet more important then ever, is the art of getting personal...the art of showing someone you care.

Too often direct sales is about doing something, making a call, clicking on send and checking the name off the list. Too bad all that activity is the easy part. Actually connecting and engaging with someone is so much harder...and of course what really matters. Your chances of making the sale are much, much better if someone feels like you actually care about them...because not many people do.

Become an Expert

Experts get noticed

They get hired first...and fired last
Experts get paid more...and are given the best projects
Experts are asked for advice...and, they're listened to

Good news...you don't need a Phd or a twenty-five year career to become one. Just, passion, desire, willingness to learn and the ability to endure and fail.

You can be an expert barista, an expert car valet, an expert admin, an expert sales executive or an expert housekeeper. Doesn't really matter which category you choose...it just matters that you choose to do so and understand why it's so important.

Point is...why settle for average when you can become an expert at something.


Picked this up from Tom Peters' Thanksgiving post...

"Make no mistake, the keys to surviving and thriving, as individuals and organizations, will not primarily be the “out of the box” cleverness of our “strategic response,” but instead individual and organizational character as expressed by the depth and breadth of relationships throughout our individual or organizational networks."

It's his answer to the seemingly insurmountable, but doable, global economic crisis. Spot on. Ask yourself...are you the type of person or organization people gravitate toward and enjoy doing business with?

Even in tough times, the job remains the same...build a loyal audience of raving fans, that is, focus on relationships...showing people you care.

Happy Thanksgiving

Best Answer...How to Grow Your Business In Spite of The Economic Downturn

As a follow-up to my recent Fuel The Story post, I submitted a similar question (How Will You Grow Your Business In Spite of the Economic Downturn) to the Linked In audience. I received some excellent advice. While Linked In asks you to choose a Best Answer, the better approach here is to share salient points from all of the answers...thanks to all who took the time to respond.

Dave Maskin

  • Utlilizing various aspects of Linkedin to get business exposure

David North

  • One of the most successful strategies for growth during a recession is to have genuine good relationships with your competitors. Some of them may go out of business and steer their business to you.
  • Work as hard as you and your entire company possibly can at two things; first and foremost serving your existing customers better than anyone else can, and then becoming better than any of your competitors at the things their customers value most.

Vikas Chandelia

  • focus on existing customers rather than reach out to new ones
  • A few approaches for retaining existing customers:-
1) Always see them as potential customer and not someone who has already paid for the job.
2) Execute well on whatever projects you currently have with them. This is likely to grow your business more than any other marketing gimmick.
3) Listen to the voice of the customer. Easier said than done! You never know when the next business opportunity arrives.
4) Finally, in this slowdown, if you can consider giving some discounts to the customer it will establish you as an innovative business which can go out to share the burden.

Natalie Kriegler

  • I will offer a broader range of "options" for our clients in terms of packages, which will include a range of services from what clients may percieve of in the first place to them as very basic and what in point of fact package-wise shall be very basic to/up to at the highest level, what is more of a customized package.
  • I will continue to be flexible if/when I feel it is necessary in terms of options, prices, services offered for all of our highly valued clients.

Julian Brachfeld

  • the most important thing is having a plan
  • brainstorm with coworkers or colleagues or mentors on what you can do to add value to your products or services

Cassie Williams

  • Most important, staying positive, and keeping my branding going forward

Vikram Jethwani

  • buy a firm that is under financial pressure and yet offers me value
  • bring down my costs, luxury overheads, and improve performance of myself and all my people

Mark Noske

  • Rightsizing
  • Diversification
  • Marketing
  • Pricing

Fuel The Story- How To Grow Your Business In A Down Economy


Few of us will be insulated from the looming downturn. Demand is not likely to increase...for anyone anytime soon. It's already started in my neighborhood...Lazy Boy...out of business, Linens and Things...out of business, Circuit City and Sharper Image...going, going, gone. So, what to do. Lower price? Cut expenses? Lay-off staff? Perhaps. Unfortunately, these aren't new, big ideas...just about everyone will be doing it. And, if that's all you've got to compete with...you'll probably lose too.  But, fortunately for you, while most of your competitors built bank accounts and milked the cow during good times, you saved some, reinvested in the business, fine tuned your craft, developed meaningful customer relationships and built something remarkable. Now, because you're not average, because you have a loyal audience that trusts you, it's your turn to smile. Now, you can step on the gas...fuel the story...give people new reasons to rave about you.

  1. Maintain Your Service Edge- Do more to move away from sameness. Greet people at the door, not from behind a desk or podium. Answer the phone like every call meant life or death. Give children more than crayons. Do more...otherwise, price is your only weapon...not good.
  2. Protect existing customer relationships...at all cost- Do not let a competitor lure your customer away with a "better deal". You know they'll try. Call them now, invite them to lunch, show them how much you care...ask them what you can do to help them through the down cycle...treat them like they're grown-ups. Point is...be attentive. And, do it first.
  3. Execute, Execute- You're already remarkable. Now, make it better. That doesn't mean spend a pile of money. That means...think, stretch, demand a higher level from everyone on your team.
  4. Add More Value- Not by lowering price. Instead, use interesting, meaningful packaging...things someone will get excited over and talk about.
  5. Sell- Don't Spin...Sell. There's a huge difference. Selling is an art...getting someone who wants to hear from you comfortable with an idea. It's not pestering everyone to convince them they can't find something better...maybe they're not looking.

Unfortunately, none of this works so well if you've been average all along and have no story to sell. Spin-ups and gimmicks aren't good plays, especially in bad times. So, if you're in that boat, sorry...it's probably too late.

Sunday, November 9, 2008 at 07:23 AM

The fastest way to lose in a down economy is to ignore the obvious...new demand is almost non-existent and your competition will lower price and do everything they can to steal your fan base. Steady as you go and trimming expenses will not get the job done. On the other hand, you have an excellent chance of survival if you can retain your current customer base without getting into a price war.