The Eye of the Hunter

Mar 31, 2015

What I See When I See You

By Robert Godfrey


As an executive recruiter – or what some may call a “headhunter” - for the past 30-plus years, I have experienced or witnessed virtually every type of recruitment scenario, allowing me to see the characteristics of a vast array of organizations and individuals.

There are many tools we recruiters use to assess candidates:  resumes, phone screens, in-person of interviews, psychological testing, and now, of course, social media.  But regardless of the vehicle, through countless client and candidate interactions, I have identified five observable traits (not simply “communication skills” or “interpersonals” so frequently listed in job descriptions) you may not have measured previously.  I apply them in an attempt to discern whether a candidate will “click” with the client for the optimum “fit” and I prefer to incorporate client input into this approach.   These five specific behavioral traits augment the assessment process and are as follows:  intensity, passion, learning, listening, and compassion.

Trait #1:  Intensity

Intensity is generally described as the driving passion that enables some people to achieve amazing things, in any domain. Components include focus, sustained attention, creative problem solving, and advanced reasoning skills. Intense people are creative, emotional, and gifted. They challenge the status quo and do what others say can’t be done.

Example: Steve Jobs

Interview Questions:

  • Please describe the most amazing thing you have ever achieved in any area of your life?
  • When you focus, how would you describe your feelings? When executing strategy, how long would you typically remain in that mode?
  • What is an example of a problem you have solved creatively? What steps did you take, in what sequence, and why?

What the Hunter Sees:

  • How you physically appear when you answer. 
  • What your nonverbal and body language are saying. 
  • Whether you are animated, use your hands or facial expression or posture to punctuate your points. 
  • What the timbre, tone, and pitch of your voice is. 
  • Whether you are excited
  • Whether you truly care about what you are telling me. 
  • Whether you speak rapidly or slowly and methodically.

Trait #2:  Passion

Passion is having very strong feelings and emotions about something. Passion is characterized as demonstrating expression; focus; independent thought; learning; love of job/work; perseverance; productivity; risk-taking; skillfulness; and strong will.

Example: Oprah Winfrey (or example provided by the client)

Interview Questions:

  • In what ways do you maintain your professional expertise?
  • Where does your job/work/career rank in how you do life?
  • How long will you stay with a challenge?
  • How would you define productivity for yourself? What does a productive day/ week/month/year look like to you?

What the Hunter Sees:

  • Whether you consistently view your world optimistically yet at the same time realistically, as evidenced by the full range of physical expressions, e.g., firm voice, unwavering eye contact, and animated posture.
  • Whether your expression is sincere or surface.
  • Whether you sound like you love whatever it is you’re passionate about.
  • Whether you are convincing in your description of how you proceed from start to finish with a task.
  • Whether you are truly committed to a divergent view.
  • What your stated rationale is for your position.
  • Whether you are emphatic about why you feel it’s important to assume risk and the benefits thereof.

Trait #3: Learning

A learner is curious…pursues understanding diligently…recognizes that most learning isn’t fun…is frightened by failure but knows it’s beneficial…incorporates new knowledge into what’s already never satisfied and always questions…shares knowledge.

Example: Barack Obama

Interview Questions:

  • How do you keep abreast of new developments in your field?
  • Where – in what areas – do you feel you need to gain expertise and how do you plan to acquire it? How will you apply it once gained?
  • How would you assess your formal education?
  • How do you educate, train, develop, and mentor your team and others in the organization?
  • Have you ever assumed or been assigned a role as a trainer? How was that experience for you?

What the Hunter Sees:

  • How you explain your development beginning with your most recent formal educational level achieved.
  • What relative level of importance you place on each educational method: classroom, online, street smarts, hands-on, on the job, etc.
  • How you have performed academically at various stages.
  • How easy/difficult it is for you to learn.
  • What challenges you have faced in continuing your education and how you have addressed them and with what levels of success.
  • What your preferred method of acquiring new information is.
  • Whether you have engaged in teaching/training/mentoring opportunities and what the result has been.
  • How you instruct others and with what type of pedagogy you are most effective.
  • What your student evaluations have said.
  • The percentage of time you allocate as a manager to developing others.
  • Whether you evince an acceptable level of knowledge up to this point about my client and her/his operation.
  • What your questions are about my client organization.

Trait #4: Listening

Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. Listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear, whereas listening requires more than that: it requires focus. Listening means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses his or her body. In other words, it means being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages. A good listener will listen not only to what is being said, but also to what is left unsaid or only partially said. Effective listening involves observing body language and noticing inconsistencies between verbal and non-verbal messages.

Example: Your Best Friend

Interview Questions:

  • How would you rate yourself as a listener?
  • Which listening skills are most important to you?
  • How could you improve your listening?
  • What role does listening play in your current role?
  • Describe an instance in which better listening could have improved the situation?

What the Hunter Sees:

  • Who talks more in this interview.
  • How you demonstrate active listening.
  • What your posture says about you.
  • What your facial expression says about you.
  • How you signal your receptivity – good, bad, or indifferent – to what you are experiencing.
  • How the way you listen makes me feel about you.
  • How you react to subliminal messages transmitted via non-verbal communications and body language.
  • Whether you can accurately summarize and feed back information.

Trait #5: Compassion

Compassion is a benevolent attitude, a predisposition to help others, leadership with feelings. It is at the feelings level where many performance and productivity problems lie. Connecting with feelings first will yield committed action and superior performance. Connectivity is compassion in action. Compassion features respect and caring; empathy; selflessness; committed action; and benefit to others.

Example: Jimmy Carter (or example provided by the client)

Interview Questions:

  • How does compassion help you lead?
  • How is it possible to both lead and demonstrate compassion?
  • If you showed more compassion, how would it impact your results?
  • What are some barriers to being more compassionate in your role and organization?
  • How would your boss view a more compassionate side of you?

What the Hunter Sees:

  • Examples of how you help others, particularly locally or in the community, either individually or organizationally.
  • What your community and local involvement is.
  • How you behave during the interview. How you’ve entered the office, how you’ve spoken with and handled yourself with support staff you may have met, and how you exit.
  • What your interview follow-up comprises. How you say good-bye. Whom you thank afterwards. Whether you extend any courtesies. 
  • What the reaction of others you’ve met is to you. What their impressions of you are.


Throughout the assessment process, everything is important and everything is magnified.   However, I have found that many times the little things, which are so easily overlooked, can outweigh the big things.  What you do, what you say, how you say it, and how you look, for example, simply when entering a workspace for the first time.  As the saying goes, “Take care of the details and the rest will take care of itself.”

It is these factors – your intensity, your passion, your learning, your listening, and your compassion – that somehow loom large in the Hunter’s – my – mind.  The moral of the story:  check off the large boxes, like your resume, but don’t give short shrift to what you may view as unimportant.  You can be sure I won’t.   And I’ll be watching. 

Robert Godfrey is an executive vice president with DHR International, one of the world’s largest executive recruiting firms. With a current focus on education, Godfrey has previous executive recruiting experience in the healthcare industries, with functional expertise in the chief executive officers and in senior management positions in development, human resources, and finance.