Using Covey’s 7 Habits to make great hires

Prospective General Managers must have the requisite skills to bring the best individuals into their team, and hiring skills is an essential part of this.

I’ve written a few posts on interview techniques because I believe that there’s no one perfect way to interview. You interview style depends on the style and preference of the interviewer. Some hirers prefer to get a holistic view of the candidate, others want to dig deeply into the candidates performance, others prefer to take a group approach, still others use questionnaires and other formal means of assessing a candidates suitability.

The technique I would like to explore if for those of you who would like to dig more deeply into a candidates background, and to find a means of structuring this discussion. It will involve spending 15-20 minutes digging into each of the candidate’s most significant accomplishments and using a template to ascertain whether the candidate uses the style or behaviour your are seeking. After doing this for 2-3 different accomplishments, the person’s trend of performance and impact over time is revealed through a hoped for consistency of answers. After obtaining a complete word picture of the candidate’s major accomplishments, they can be compared to the performance requirements of the job to determine if the candidate is a fit or not.

So how can you create a useful template to match the candidates description to your needs.  One way of doing this is to use Steven Covey’s 7 Habits.


By looking for examples of the candidates use of Covey’s seven habits forms part of the fact-finding, it’s easier to separate those who are a reasonable fit and those who are exceptional. Here’s a quick summary on how this can be done for each of the seven habits.

1. Be Proactive. Purpose- Seeking evidence of the candidate take the initiative, not  waiting for things to happen evidence of them making things happen.

Questioning approach- As candidates describe their major accomplishment, have them describe where they took the initiative, went the extra mile, exceeded expectations, and did more than was required. From this and asking the same question of other accomplishments, patterns emerge revealing the types of work the person finds more satisfying and motivating. Map this to your job description to determine best fit.

2. Begin with the End in Mind.  Purpose- To see if the candidate defines the outcomes before they created the process to achieve this.

As the candidate describes a major accomplishment,  ask how the person developed the plan, how they managed against the plan and if they were successful. The best people always begin any major activity with a thorough plan giving full consideration to all of the various alternatives.

3. Put First Things First. Purpose- ascertain whether the candidate prioritizes what’s important, not just reacting to what’s urgent.

Use this to find out how the candidate can multi-task, getting specific examples and details. As part of this, consider how the candidate sought to prioritize different activities and how the person balanced competing objectives. Collectively this is all part of the decision-making process.

4. Think Win-Win. Purpose- to consider the impact of their actions on all involved in the accomplishment they are describing; how the person deals with superiors, subordinates and peers; and how the person deals with conflict.

Typically, you receive a bland  “I’m a people person” when you ask about relationship building. But this approach can dig into how the candidate develops team-based consensus. Seek specific examples of when the person persuaded people in other functions, including higher-ranking managers, executives, vendors and customers to change thinking or support the candidates ideas. Thinking win-win is not about giving in, but about persuading and convincing others, and being persuaded and convinced themselves.

5. Seek First to Understand, and Then Be Understood. Purpose-  see if the candidate just doesn’t offer solutions or simply assume their approach is the best. Seek examples of how they sought to understand the problem first.

One of your starting questions should be “Can you describe the biggest problem or challenge you’ve ever handled?” As you listen to the response it’s important to find out how the person figured out the root cause of their specific problem and the process the person used to put together a solution. To best understand this habit, focus on how the candidate reached out to others, modified his or her approach, and achieved group consensus.

6. Synergize. Purpose-  discovering how the candidate works with, influences, coaches and develops people.

In assessing leadership skills, focus on the types of teams the candidate has been assigned to, participated in, and led. Those who can “synergize” are typically assigned to important cross-functional project teams far more often than their less “synergistic” peers. During your questioning, ask who was on the teams, the person’s role, and why the person was assigned to the team. If these teams are growing in size and importance over time, you’ve found someone who can synergize.

7. Sharpen the Saw. Purpose- assess whether the candidate is able to self-develop and has a focus on self-improvement enabling them to remain current and relevant.

In your questioning of major accomplishments of of biggest challenges ask the candidate how they’ve become better. Be wary if they have not taken any proactive self-development action or just left their development to their company. On the other hand, keep a very open mind to someone who has done something exceptional when they were underemployed or unemployed. These are the diamonds that others have failed to recognize or hire.

I like Covey’s simple approach to assisting people work and work in teams.  Its simple and its effective.  I would  encourage you to employ candidates who show these habits, and as an interviewer its worthwhile to focus on discovering them.

Good luck using this technique in your next interview.