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July 21, 2014  |   Comments (5)   |   Post a comment

Interviews: Getting at what’s not on the resume

by Nicole Schlosser - Also by this author


Summer seems to be a good time to be working on a story on interviewing best practices, with quite a few transportation directors I am talking to currently in the throes of the interviewing process. Many are looking to hire more substitute drivers, a pool from which they will eventually select permanent drivers.

I’m trying to identify for this story some of the key best interview practices to help our readers. So far, some of my sources have emphasized that, while possessing the skills and abilities to be a good driver, technician or administrative assistant as well as caring about safety and the kids are, of course, essential, two major qualities that they screen for in candidates are a positive attitude with values that match those of their organization and a strong personality.

Pete Meslin, director of transportation for Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, California, shared a story with me that he had heard a while back about an interview practice that Southwest Airlines once had, in which they weeded out candidates they didn’t think would be the right fit based on attitude.

The supervisors brought all the hopeful pilots-to-be in one room for a screening and training. They then explained that since they would be outside for part of the interview process, they might want to get comfortable for the eight-hour day ahead of them and change out of their formal job interview outfits into some shorts and T-shirts they provided, available in all sizes. The people who didn’t want to change were dismissed, because the organization valued being comfortable and having fun while working.

Meslin likens that anecdote to working at Newport-Mesa: “If you’re a reserved person who's comfortable in a suit, you’re not going to enjoy working with us because we have a lot of fun serving students and sometimes we have to get dirty doing it.”

He added that, to him, this anecdote also shows that a candidate having a good attitude is critical.  

“If you don’t have a good attitude we don’t want you, no matter how skilled you are,” he said. “We can change skill level through training. We can’t change attitude.”

Additionally, Orange (Calif.) Unified School District's Pam McDonald, director of transportation, and Ellen Johnson, transportation supervisor, look for candidates with, as they put it, “a bit of an edge to them.”

“A person who works for a transportation agency, [such as] a secretary or driver, has to have some strong virtues,” Johnson says. “You have to be able to hold your own. If you are a school bus driver and you don’t exhibit those characteristics, the kids will chew you up and spit you out. You have to have an air of authority about you, or you can’t control 80-plus kids behind you.”

She added that that makes for a very interesting, challenging group of employees to supervise, but it instills confidence in the driver’s ability to handle whatever comes their way out on the road and call for support when they need it.  

This “edge” is also important for office staff members, McDonald explains, because without a backbone, “the bus drivers, since they’re so independent, will walk all over them.”

I am looking forward to learning more about what you look for when hiring new candidates, whether drivers, mechanics or office staff. Please feel free to share any interesting interviewing practices that have worked for you in the comments section below.  

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When hiring bus monitors I look for candidates that appear child friendly, safety conscious, have medium to high energy, and want the job because they enjoy what they do. I steer away from people with negative attitudes, low energy, and are only in it for a paycheck.

Natalie    |    Jul 23, 2014 09:51 AM

The amazing thing is, external qualities does not always truly tell the story. In an age where 'fake it till you make it' is so apparent, first instinct is always best. Go with your gut. People will pretend until they get the job. Nervousness can play a huge role in one not being able to interview well. Sandra

Anonymous    |    Jul 23, 2014 12:02 PM

I try to get work references done prior to setting up an interview with applicants. This gives me an insite of their work ethics. We strive to be positive and believe in each other and all of our passengers.

Doris Bean    |    Jul 23, 2014 03:24 PM

So lets all get this straight, there is a magic formula available to hire only the best most suitable job candidate. Uh-huh. Well some of us bus drivers have been in past jobs where "we" also needed to select the best job candidate. The best thing that worked for me was a gut feeling after a 20 minute interview. All these personality rating and hidden agenda apptitude tests are theory based and will not always work. I guy I know was subjected to one of these pre-screen personality tests. He was told he'd be a terrible person to operate a school bus. Guess what; he drove a bus for ten plus years. The large school bus operators are the worst offenders giving blind faith to these minimuum threshold based, personality or aptitude tests.

BeeBopEh    |    Jul 24, 2014 09:16 AM

Thanks to all of you who weighed in. I appreciate your comments. This was a particularly interesting story to work on. Keep an eye out for it in our September issue.

Nicole Schlosser    |    Aug 12, 2014 02:54 PM

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