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Ingredion's VP of HR isn't interested in your weaknesses

Craig Shirley is vice president of corporate human resources at Ingredion, which supplies ingredients for food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. Ingredion is big — 11,000 employees in more than 40 countries big — so Shirley has experience overseeing hiring at every level. He shares the recipe for a successful interview.

Don’t spin weaknesses

Some interviewers ask candidates to name their greatest weakness, but for Shirley that’s just an invitation for puffery. “What are the developmental opportunities that you would need to accomplish to be able to reach your goals?” The question gives potential hires the opportunity to share where they could improve, with the right guidance, and gives Shirley a more honest view of their weaknesses. “People are always very forthcoming with that [question],” he says.

Eyes on the prize

Shirley wants to know not just why candidates want to leave their current role, but why they left the one before that, and the one before that. Job hopping is okay, as long as there’s an end in sight. “If a person is looking for a long-term goal and they’re not achieving it within their organization, and they feel they can within another, I think that’s a good sign that they have an objective plan in place,” he says. A word of warning: a bigger paycheck doesn’t count as an objective plan.

Good timing

Questions about benefits, flex hours and vacation days don’t belong in the first interview Shirley says. Instead, candidates need to spend their time in the hot seat investigating Ingredion. “Why is the position open? Was it through attrition? Was it because of promotion?” Shirley likes questions that call for telling answers. “That type of question also tells us this is somebody who’s interested and motivated to growth with the company.”

Long term growth

“Not everybody can be a CEO,” Shirley says. “We need to have a good balance. It has to be a good mix.” But even if a candidate isn’t looking to make it to the tip-top of the company pyramid, Shirley looks for personal growth. “We all have things that we can develop, we all have things that we can improve upon,” he says. Shirley will have an easier time seeing a future with Ingredion if candidates can point to a moment when they’ve improved a process, a project or even a whole company. To do that, they’ll need to prove their diplomatic chops. “How do you get buy-in from your colleagues? How do you get buy-in on projects?”