To hire great employees, use these 3 military special operations strategies

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The assessment and selection process for U.S. Military Special Operations is designed to pressure-test candidates because under pressure, an individual’s true character comes out.

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While the tactics for hiring in business won’t involve physical challenges to push candidates to the limit, the strategy is the same–turn up the pressure to reveal a candidate’s character traits, especially those like drive and resiliency.

All too often, people make the mistake of hiring someone who can interview well. Unfortunately, a good interview doesn’t always translate to someone who will be great on the job.

No matter the role, using the tactic of scenario-based and behavioral questions, practical challenges, and pushing candidates outside their comfort zone will help identify the best new hires.

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Scenario-Based and Behavioral Questions

One of the simplest ways to pressure-test candidates is to use scenario-based and behavioral questions—something you’re likely already doing.

Mike Sarraille, former Recon Marine and retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer with 20 years of experience in Special Operations, including the elite Joint Special Operations Command. Sarraille is CEO of EF Overwatch, an executive search and talent advisory

To turn these questions into a pressure-test, simply ask about high-pressure or stressful situations that are real-life scenarios from your company and have the candidate walk you through how they would handle it.

All too often, people make the mistake of hiring someone who can interview well. Unfortunately, a good interview doesn’t always translate to someone who will be great on the job.

Character is revealed in the problem-solving process, so make sure to ask questions that don’t have a straightforward solution.

Instructors in Army Special Forces Assessment and Selection place students in complex, uncertain, challenging environments and present them with problems without clear solutions.

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You can do the same in interviews. Even more important than the candidate’s solution is how they reached it. What was their decision-making process? How did they approach the problem, and what did they prioritize?

Practical Challenges

Scenario-based and behavioral questions reveal the ideal reaction of a candidate—what they believe they should do in a stressful situation. To see what the candidate would actually do, you need to provide a practical challenge that reflects the duties of the job they’re interviewing for.

Challenges are a particularly important strategy of pressure-testing because they give you a sneak peek at how the candidate would perform in the role.

Case studies are utilized by Special Operations and are one of the best practical challenges. Depending on how much time you want to give the candidate, they can range in complexity from a 15-minute exercise to a several page report and a prepared presentation.

George Randle, former U.S. Army officer, Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition at Forcepoint and co-author, “The Talent War.”

You may also want to ask a candidate to prepare a writing sample or to give a presentation on a topic they’re unfamiliar with. One of the most well-known challenges for salespeople is to hand them an object—like a pen—and ask them to sell it to you.

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No matter which practical challenge is utilized, focus on the candidate’s thought processes, the way they deal with time-constraint stress and their ability to clearly, concisely, and confidently communicate.

Don’t get hung up on minor technical or process errors, as these are things you can train the candidate in after hiring.

Pushing Candidates Outside their Comfort Zone

Most candidates will come to an interview prepared with answers for traditional interview questions. This is their comfort zone.

You can see how the candidate handles the unknown and uncomfortable by asking unexpected and nontraditional interview questions.

Just like in Special Operations, a candidate will likely need to operate outside their comfort zone in the course of the job, so you want to know ahead of time how they will handle it. Uncomfortable questions allow you to assess how a candidate operates under stress, as well as evaluate their authenticity and integrity.

Some examples of unexpected questions include, “Who would you hire for this role other than yourself, and why?” and “If you were to gather your best friends, what would they unanimously say is their pet peeve about you?”

Another strategy is to delve into any red flags the candidate has shown on their resume.

People typically don’t like talking about their weak areas but it’s a great way to gain insight into their character. There’s also a twofold benefit here: not only are you able to determine the strength and validity of any red flags, you also get see how the candidate acts under pressure in an uncomfortable situation.

By tailoring interviews to reflect the realities of the work environment, you can better assess how a candidate will perform in the job. But no matter the role from Special Operations to back office, to CEO, the key to revealing a candidate’s potential is pressure testing.

Mike Sarraille is the CEO of EF Overwatch, an executive search and talent advisory firm, and leadership consultant with Echelon Front. He is a former Recon Marine and retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer with twenty years of experience in Special Operations, including the elite Joint Special Operations Command.

George Randle is a Strategic Advisor to EF Overwatch, former U.S. Army officer, and Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition at Forcepoint, a human-centric cybersecurity company. George has more than two decades of experience in talent acquisition at Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 firms.

Sarraille and Randle are co-authors of the new bestselling book, "The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent."

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