3 Ways to Spot Coachability in an Interview

Dec 03, 2015 - Joe Matar

Do you want to hire people who repeatedly succeed?

(Is the sky blue?)

Of course you do. But here’s the rub — past success isn’t necessarily the best indicator of future success.

[clickToTweet tweet="Past success isn’t necessarily the best indicator of future success. What is? Coachability." quote="Past success isn’t necessarily the best indicator of future success."]

“But Larry,” you might say. “If not past success, what should I be looking for?”

"Coachability,” I’d tell you. Easy question; easy answer.

“Okay. So how do I spot it?”

Hmm. Harder question.

How to Hire Coachable Employees

First, let me say that you can’t necessarily rely on skill, experience, or knowledge.

Candidates who have hit certain levels in these areas might win once or even a couple of times in their efforts to contribute by bringing what they already have to the team. But they won’t keep winning—achieving new and bigger career goals and producing the right results for your company—unless they keep improving.

The one behavior that defines serial winners, the people who are most likely continue to contribute in a constantly changing business environment, is coachability.

[clickToTweet tweet=""The one behavior that defines serial winners is coachability." -@larryweidel" quote="The one behavior that defines serial winners is coachability."]

So what do you look for in an interview? Here are three ways to spot coachability in your candidates.

1. Improvement

They acknowledge that they’ve been coached in the past.

People are usually afraid to admit that they haven’t always been the perfect package sitting before an interviewer. Talking about coaching they may have received implies that they needed it, which means that they weren’t great at something or maybe—the horror!—they’ve actually made mistakes.

To be coachable, you have to be humble and wiling to admit that you need to improve. Look for people willing to admit it. They should do so in a positive, growth-oriented way by mentioning changes or challenges that required them to take on new responsibilities or adjust how they worked.

A truly coachable person might say something like: When I was at company X, I worked for a great woman who helped me realize I needed to develop my Y skills. I had recently been promoted to Z position and it presented new challenges. What kind of support do you offer people when they’re promoted or given new responsibilities?

2. Eagerness

They responded to coaching with eagerness and appreciation.

One of the first traits I look for in new hires is not only their willingness to be coached, but their eagerness and appreciation for it. It tells me that they’ll work with me, that every point of potential improvement won’t be an arm wrestling match, and that I won’t be wasting my experience, knowledge, or systems on somebody who won’t use it to make progress.

If a candidate hints that he thought the coaching he received was unnecessary, lacked value or reflected a flawed assessment of his skills, he may be uncoachable. Instead, look for a candidate who describes the value of the coaching he received and how he engaged with his mentor or coach to keep growing.

A truly coachable person might say something like: I received a lot of helpful advice from a colleague and mentor at B company. I would meet with him occasionally to talk about areas where I felt like I was struggling. I’d keep him updated on how I was incorporating his suggestions. By the way, do you have a mentoring program here?

3. Initiative

They describe their “next steps” after coaching.

Being coached isn’t a passive activity. You have to actually do something with what you’ve been given. Highly coachable people are given a few ideas or insights and they’re off to the races. They do their own research, find their own development opportunities, and find others who can help with specific challenges.

Listen for signs that a candidate took the coaching she received further, on her own. It shows that she’s not only coachable, but also willing to go the extra mile to contribute.

A truly coachable person might say something like: After getting feedback from our team leader that I should focus on improving M, I signed up for a course with ABC professional organization that really helped. I’m exponentially better at M because he helped me see how it would improve my performance and career path. Do you offer employees a professional development program?

Know What to Look For

Not every coachable candidate will deliver a pat answer on queue (nor would you want them to), but you get the general idea. Candidates should be willing and able to talk about the fact that they’ve been coached, their eagerness to continue to be coached, and how they found opportunities to learn and grow on their own.

A cautionary note: If you want to hire coachable employees, you have to be willing to coach them. Serial winners seek out coaching. When they can’t find it, they’ll often move on to an environment with more growth opportunities.

Increase your odds of hiring a successful candidate by looking for these three qualities of coachability and watch your turnover rate drop and your ROI in new hires soar.


[avatar user="LarryWeidel" size="thumbnail" align="left" /]

Larry Weidel is the author of Serial Winner: 5 Actions to Create Your Cycle of Success (Greenleaf; October 2015). He has spent the past 40 years building a national financial services organization and helping the people on his team achieve the success they want. He helped grow A.L. Williams into the financial services giant Primerica. Today, Larry holds weekly coaching calls for leaders across the United States and Canada. His videos, articles, and other resources on career success, leadership, and sales are widely popular.


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