Hiring for Independence vs. Networking
Managers naturally want team members who are confident and independent. These qualities are important and we look for them in the hiring process with common questions like: What is an accomplishment you’re proud of? What is a difficult situation you handled well? What are your greatest strengths?
But it’s less common that we see hiring questions designed to assess candidates’ ability to bring outside perspectives into the team or communicate information across teams. Qualities like these are characteristic of candidates who cultivate “entrepreneur networks” of connections in disparate groups instead of focusing on “clique networks” of redundant connections in an echo chamber. Team members who cultivate entrepreneur networks have access to more social capital, and research has shown that their networks are linked to higher team performance and more personal opportunities for advancement. In short, these are the types of candidates many managers are looking for during the hiring process.
Behaviors that Reflect Social Capital Competency
The following three behaviors may be indicative of candidates’ ability to cultivate diverse networks and put them to work for their organization. The importance of each of these behaviors will vary based on the organization and the position that the candidate will fill.
Behavior 1: Cultivating a strong and diverse network
Does the candidate pay attention to cultivating trusted relationships from which he can draw advice or support when the need arises? Is he willing to build relationships outside of a comfortable group of like-minded people? If candidates have difficulty discussing the strength and diversity of their networks it may mean that they need coaching in professional network development or that they tend towards clique networks.
Behavior 2: Tapping into your network for resources
Does the candidate recognize situations where she can strengthen her own contributions by drawing from human capital in her network? Has her network structure supported this in the past? If candidates have difficulty giving examples of tapping into their networks it may mean that they are unaware of the limitations of their own human capital, or they may be accustomed to an environment where independence and personal credit outweigh collaboration.
Behavior 3: Giving back to your network
Does the candidate understand the importance of reciprocity in cultivating professional connections? If candidates have difficulty explaining their strategies for cultivating professional connections they may need coaching on recognizing the unique value they bring to their organization, or they may have a competitive mindset that gets in the way of helping others.
Social Capital Hiring Questions
We’ve developed a bank of hiring questions to target each of the behaviors above. They are intended to uncover whether candidates are aware and engaged enough in cultivating their professional network to quickly call to mind examples from their career.
Cultivating a strong and diverse network.
- How do you know which professional connections in your life are important, and what is your process for maintaining those connections?
- Who is your most important professional mentor? Why?
- What is your philosophy on managing your LinkedIn connections, approving LinkedIn requests and requesting new connections?
- How do you build trust with your coworkers? How do you know when you trust a coworker or when a coworker trusts you? Why does it matter?
- Do you think it’s important to build connections with coworkers in other business units and teams in your company? Have you ever seen a positive outcome result from a connection like this?
- Can you tell me about a time when you brought an important piece of knowledge into your team from the outside? For example, maybe you shared a fresh perspective from a past colleague, or drew attention to duplicative work being done by another team.
Tapping into your network for resources
- When do you think it makes sense to ask for help in the workplace?
- Can you tell a story about a time when you recognized that a coworker had a skill/expertise that would help you get a task done better or more efficiently?
- Think about situations when coworkers have agreed to help you with something. What do you think are the driving forces behind their willingness to do that?
- When is the last time you reached out to someone in your network (outside of your team or company) to help with a task at work? Why did you do it and how?
- When is the last time you called on a professional mentor to help you think through a problem at work? What was the problem and how did he or she help?
Giving back to your network
- What skill or expertise do your coworkers most frequently ask you to share?
- What do you wish that people would ask you for help with more often?
- Can you tell a story about when a coworker asked for your help? Can you tell a story about when you proactively offered help to a coworker?
- Can you think of a time when you made an introduction between two people in your network to help one of them accomplish a goal?
Your team members’ social capital is critical to the success of your organization, and these questions can help you objectively compare how candidates would put theirs to work. Add just a few of these questions to your hiring process, and you’ll be ahead of the curve on cultivating social capital for your organization.