Susan Docherty of G.M.: What if You Were in My Shoes?

I have these little cardboard cards. And if I have an open position, and I’m considering a certain person, I grab one of these cards, and I write 1 through 10 on it. And I always try to get input about that person from other people. I don’t tell people necessarily, “Hey, I’m thinking about hiring so-and-so. What do you think about them?”

I might say, “Give me two great things that you like about this person, and two areas where you think they have a developmental opportunity.” And when you ask people like that, off the cuff, when you’re in an elevator or waiting for a meeting to start, you get some really candid feedback. So I get input from 10 different people — from the person’s supervisor to people who are on their team, and also from someone completely outside of the organization, like an ad agency or a supplier.

Q. What feedback have you heard about yourself through the years?

A. I will tell you that 9 times out of 10, people say that I’m impatient. However, I think in the environment that we’re in right now, coming out of bankruptcy, that has become a strength.

Q. When you’re gathering comments about someone, what phrases do you like to hear, and which ones scare you off?

A. The ones that scare me? If I hear the person uses sarcasm negatively, or is a constant second-guesser. The things that excite me would be team player, innovative thinker and a willingness to take risks.

Q. So you’ve got your input and you’ve decided to interview someone for a job. What are you asking them?

A. One of the first questions I ask is, “Can you describe a decision that you made, or a situation that you were involved in that was a failure?” And I don’t need to know how they got to the failure. But I need to know what they did about it. How they handled that is the best illustration of whether or not they’re an innovative thinker and are comfortable taking some risk.

Q. Any other acid-test question?

A. I always ask people, “If you could be in my shoes today, what would be the top three things you’d do?” When most people prepare for an interview, they’re very focused on their prior experiences and examples of what they’ve done. And I think that you really do get some very candid, on-the-spot thinking when you ask them what they would do if they had my job. It demonstrates to me how they think on their feet without being prepared.

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Susan Docherty,…

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