Advanced interview strategies

Dec. 17, 2008

In our November issue, we took a look at basic interview essentials to take the guesswork out of hiring.

We covered nine important items on our interview checklist — mission, vision and values; job history; drive and ingenuity; integrity; judgment; ambition; personality; self-analysis and compensation.

In this article, we’ll examine some more advanced methods of choosing the perfect candidate for an open position at your dealership.

Interview techniques

Asking the candidates about their past jobs and money, let alone poking around under the psychic hood, is not enough.

Sometimes, candidates hide behind pat answers and the impulse is to move on to a new question. Instead, soldier on. The greater the resistance to answering a question, the more important it is to question the answer. Keep going deeper. 

Here are two techniques to squeeze even more information out of an interview:

Funnel Down Technique: If she hesitates, whether from pondering the question or not wanting to share the answer, it might be tempting to fill in the silence. Don’t. An awkward pause (and I’ve seen them go on for an eternity) usually gives way to a valuable outpouring of information. Thanks to the Funnel Down Technique, I quickly terminated an interview with “Janet” and saved both of us valuable time.

Me: How did you like your last position, Janet?

Janet: Oh, it was okay.

Me: Was there anything about it you didn’t like?

Janet: No, I liked it all right. It was pretty good.

Me: There was nothing at all you didn’t like?

Janet: Well, maybe my boss.

Me: Well, bosses can be that way. What didn’t you like about him?

Janet: He was too requiring.

Me: What do you mean, too requiring?

Janet: Oh, he really worked me hard.

Me: Yeah, sometimes bosses can do that. How many hours a week did he want you to work?

Janet: Forty!

Me: Forty, huh? (Red light. After a few more questions, it was a wrap.) Well, it’s been good talking to you, Janet. I wish you luck in your job search.


Get real with role playing. Can you imagine a director casting an actress in a starring role based solely on how well she talked about how talented she is? He needs to see her in character. That’s why our hiring honchos asked candidates to act out theoretical — but real-world — situations they might run into.

For a customer-service job, for instance, the interviewer assumed the role of an angry customer.

Trying to crack management? We thrust him into an employee conflict or budget dilemma.

Sales? We asked him to sell us a tire or chrome-plated valve stem. We weren’t looking for the next DeNiro; we just wanted to toss it back and forth for a few minutes.

Some applicants I interviewed were tentative: “Well, in that situation, I guess I’d say...” I’d stop him and say, “No, I’m the customer and you’re the salesman. Let’s get in character.” After a pause, he’d start again, “Okay, here’s how I would handle it...” Again I’d interrupt. “No, I don’t want you to tell me how you’d handle it, I want you to show me how you’d handle it.” Nobody ever walked out on me, but some found it difficult to get in the spirit of the exercise. I paid attention to that.

Unwillingness to project into a different mindset spoke volumes about a prospect’s comfort zone, creativity, and ability to think on his feet. No matter, every “audition” yielded valuable information.

Offers and counteroffers

Convinced it’s a magical match? Be ready to pop the question as the second or third interview winds down.

First, gauge his interest. Ask, “Do you think this position is a good fit for you?” Follow up with, “Are you interested in pursuing it?” If yes, say, “Great. We think it’s a good match, too.”

Next, confirm his compensation expectations. “What I heard earlier is that you’d be comfortable with a salary range of $X to $X. Is that right?”

Now that you’re both on the same page, close the sale. “So, if we offered you this position for $X with a start date of month/day, would you accept it?” If so, say, “Then that’s what we’d like to do. You’ll start on month/day with a salary of $X.”

There’s one more crucial piece of business to take care of before shaking hands and directing your new teammate to an HR rep for orientation instructions. If your new hire is as good as you think he is, you may have to fight a counteroffer from a jealous employer in the throes of re-falling in love. This sample script can help prep the prospect and get a stronger seal on the deal.

You: John, just curious, how would you react if your company promised you the moon to keep you?

John: Oh, I don’t think anything could change my mind.

You: John, I have to advise other candidates for this position that we’ve filled it. So, I have to ask: Is there any possibility you could be influenced by new promises? Because if you tell me later you’ve reconsidered, that puts me in a very tough position. I would have to call back my second choice — and nobody wants to be second choice.

John: No, Tom, this is firm.

You: (Extend your hand) Great, I’m really glad to have you on the team.

It only takes a minute. Don’t pass up the opportunity to cement the commitment with a verbal agreement. Finish up by giving him a tour and introducing him to people he might call teammates some day. Helping him feel at home will reduce the stress of a career move.

Goodbye and good luck

It’s only natural to close an article on hiring with a few words on firing — or, as I like to call it, freeing up someone’s future for more suitable work.

In the early days, I was so doggedly caring and loyal that I terminated people only for serious under-performance or egregious offenses. It was a major shift to realize that welfare management — failing to adequately hold people accountable and allowing the wrong people to stay in key positions — hurts everyone. It took years to learn to be both compassionate and tough.

Once I balanced my personal resolutions with my professional responsibilities, the termination process took on a life of its own. In fact, it often culminated with an underachieving employee offering to terminate himself.

Take one of my former top execs. Nice guy. He had been with us for years but repeatedly failed to provide accurate, timely reporting on critical issues.

After one too many broken promises, I called him into my office. I asked how important it was to reliably produce these reports. He agreed it was essential. He also nodded that we had established mutually defined objectives that he had consistently failed to meet.

Then I asked, “What do you think should happen here?”

Crestfallen but with honor intact, he said, “I think I should probably leave.”
I hesitated a moment, acknowledging how difficult it was for him. “Yes,” I said, “I think you’re right. Congratulations for that awareness. I really appreciate everything you’ve done for this company, and we’ll do everything we can to make this a smooth transition.”

Visibly relieved, he left to tap out his resignation letter. We supported him until he found another job.

Deciding whether to let someone go demands a detached point of view. Objectivity does not imply callousness. It simply means caring deeply, but from an unbiased place. Ask yourself, “Does this person have what it takes to get the job done?” Hopefully, you’re now better equipped to answer that question.

Personnel pioneer Robert Half had a nice way of putting it: “There’s something more scarce than ability; it’s the ability to recognize ability.”    ■

Next month, Gegax will look into how to become an enlightened and efficient leader.

This article is one of a series from “The Big Book of Small Business” by Tom Gegax with Phil Bolsta. Copyright 2005, 2006 by Tom Gegax. Published by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers.

Best-selling author Tom Gegax, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Tires Plus stores, served as that company’s chairman and CEO for 24 years. By the time he sold the company in July 2000, it had mushroomed from a concept sketched on a restaurant napkin to a market leader with 150 upscale stores in 10 states and $200 million in revenue.

Thanks to Tom’s warm-hearted, tough-minded approach to management, and his team’s relentless focus on customer service, the company’s turnover rate ranked among the industry’s lowest, and its guest enthusiasm index reached 98%.

He was named Modern Tire Dealer’s Tire Dealer of the Year in 1998 and a Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. magazine.

In 2000, Gegax founded Gegax Management Systems ( to help growing companies raise profits and reduce stress through fast and affordable business management guidance.

About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.