Interviewing for Wonderland: best practices at Navgati

August 3, 2023

Navgati turns 25 years old soon and over the years, we’ve evolved our own unique ways of assessing who would be happy being a Citizen of Wonderland . That’s the designation that all of us at Navgati carry. If this reference seems utterly bemusing, please stop and go take a look at our website (modeled on the book Alice in Wonderland).

Years of helping organizations develop robust, humane and fair interviewing practices has to rub off on how we interview for our team so here are some of our learnings over the years. I rejoice in the team we’ve built over the years (including the people who’ve moved on to do their own things) so this is a post I’m very happy to write.

To start with, I want to clarify that we practice what we preach – we have a set of competencies we’re looking to assess and have STAR questions designed to elicit data on how the person has demonstrated these behaviours in the past. The best practices I’m talking about here are above and beyond those.

Really, really listen

I like to start by asking “Tell me about yourself”.

I know, I know, this sounds like a total waste of precious interview real estate if the person doesn’t stop or launches into a rehearsed litany of their past. You could fine tune the question by saying “tell me about the last role you were in” or “tell me about who you are in a nutshell”

Asking the question can allow the person to ease into the conversation (remember you can always interrupt and say “can you give me an example of that” and move straight into your set of questions)

Most importantly, if you’re really listening, it can reveal a lot more about them than what’s on the resume.

When I ask this question, I’m watching for a host of things:

  • What aspects of their lives are they choosing to focus on and what does that say about them?
  • Is the level of detail they provide appropriate to the conversation? Do they use ten words when one would do?
  • Are they paying attention to my responses or are they absorbed in their own narrative?
  • How much vulnerability and authenticity do they demonstrate – are they presenting a glossy, smooth version or also describing missteps and stumbles?
  • How articulate and expressive are they?
  • Do they make it easy for me to understand them or do I have to keep interrupting them with questions?
  • Is there warmth in how they communicate?

All the behaviours I’m paying attention to are core to success as a facilitator (and if you’ve encountered a Navgati workshop you would have seen these in action)

  • Establishes warm connections quickly
  • Pays close attention to the needs of learners and responds to them
  • Explains themselves in a clear and crisp manner
  • Demonstrates authenticity and vulnerability

I’m reasonably sure that for most leadership roles, all these would be important as well and you would benefit from assessing them.

In Behavioral Event Interviewing, there is a lot of emphasis on data from the candidate’s past – the point I’m making here is that there is a lot of information that can also be collected from how the person is in the here and now. Provided the interviewer knows what they are looking for and pays close attention.

Get the individual to demonstrate the skills you’re looking for in a simulated environment

There is no substitute for being able to watch the person actually perform the skills you’re looking for. At Navgati we:

    – Ask prospective facilitators to facilitate two 30-minute sessions – one on any topic of their choice and one on material we provide them
    – Ask people who’d like to join our assessments and development centre team to listen to a recording of an actual assessment and write a sample report (on one competency)
    – Ask accountants to work with our system and generate invoices or account for expenses

It’s important here to be very sharply focused on the competencies you want to assess and be clear about what level they need to be demonstrated at. For example, with our facilitators, we are not expecting someone to have a beautifully designed session, but we are looking to understand how they apply their understanding of facilitation.

I would strongly recommend having one component of your interviewing process be a demonstration of skill. These need some effort to design but once set up, can help you easily differentiate between candidates and reduce the potential bias that strong communication skills could create. Here are some examples:

    – If you’re looking for a manager who needs to take on a challenging team, give them a situation in which they need to have a conversation with you playing the team member
    – If you’re looking for a leader who can coach, ask them to coach you on an issue that commonly comes up in the organization
    – If you’re looking to hire an HR business partner, give them a situation where they have to negotiate expectations with a business stakeholder and have them play out that conversation with you
    – If you’re looking to hire a PR person, give them a profile of a leader and ask them for the PR strategy they would devise to build that leader’s visibility

If any of this sounds interesting to you, please ping us and we’d be happy to brainstorm with you on this.

Pay attention to how the person is in all your interactions with them

Human beings are hard wired for honesty and consistency so how the person acts in all interactions can provide valuable data

    – Does the person find their way easily to the interview or do they need a lot of support (eg a candidate who asks “what is the nearest metro station” when given the address)?
    – Do they show up on time without confusion? (I once met with a candidate who forgot that the interview was scheduled)
    – How responsive are they when it comes to email?
    – How articulate are their mails to you?

Important here to note that we’re not looking for reasons to reject and this is certainly not a recommendation to plunge deeper into bias (“she wasn’t wearing formal clothes so she’s not taking the interview seriously”).

What I am saying here is that our patterns of thinking, feeling and acting tend to be remarkably consistent. Paying close attention, especially interactions where they are not feeling assessed, can yield a lot of data about how they are likely to be on the workplace. Take this information as one input along with all the other data you are collecting about the person.

Get multiple viewpoints to minimize bias

Atleast four people from Navgati meet a facilitator before they come on board. The two questions we pay attention to are

    – What strengths will this person bring to our team?
    – What support will we need to provide them to perform at their best?

Assess the conditions under which the person works best

Some of my favourite questions for this are

    – Tell me about a project you really enjoyed
    – Tell me about a time you felt you were working at your peak
    – What is one environment you did not enjoy?
    – What exemplifies the best and the worst manager you’ve had?
    – What is your favourite way of sabotaging yourself? How do you get in your own way?

In all these, there’s a lot of probing that follows – there are no right or wrong answers; we’re trying to see if there is a match between what this individual needs to thrive and what we can provide them.

Make sure the process is reflective of the culture of your organization

In our case, the culture we’re constantly trying to build is a warm, welcoming and psychologically safe one so our attempt is to make sure our interviewing process reflects that. The most important reason for this is that we want people to make a decision to join us with complete awareness of what they are getting into. A secondary benefit is that even people who have not been hired/have chosen not to join us have gone on to recommend us to friends/colleagues because the process has been a supportive one.

If you’d like to know more about our processes or how we can support you in strengthening your interviewing practices, I’d love to chat.

To know more about our Interviewing Skills program please click here –

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