Faculty Spotlight: Robert Adamik, Master of the Job Interview

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Robert Adamik

Photo: Robert Adamik

Robert Adamik has sat in on hundreds of job interviews and he has the same advice for every hiring executive: don’t ask candidates the same old boring questions.

“‘What do you think about culture’ or ‘Why do you want to join the organization,’ are some of the basic questions that people ask,” Adamik said, “and I get frustrated with that because that’s not what I want to know.”

In his 40-year career as a human resources executive, much of that with Fortune 500 organizations, Adamik has put together a rigorous and effective interview technique that uses psychometric tools to analyze a job candidate’s personality, including behavior, persuasion skills and competencies.

The results, he said, guide organizations in picking the best person for a particular job while minimizing turnover. If that sounds intimidating, well … it is, he admits.

Adamik has also made a name for himself coaching leaders who have C-suite aspirations, and consulting with small to mid-size businesses that want to expand their HR departments. He’s also teaching at USC’s Bovard College, leading future human resource managers in his change management and leadership and development courses.

Adamik, who holds a doctor of public administration from the University of La Verne in California, is currently working as a full-time HR consultant for Nuvision Credit Union as the company navigates growth through mergers and acquisitions. He is also the founder of Ethos Networking Group that provides volunteer coaching for people in career transition. They’ve worked with more than 4,000 members, he said, mostly managers and C-suite executives.

“After all of these years, I love what I do,” he said. “I love working with people and really helping them grow, and to stretch and to be the best version of themselves.”

Read on for a Q&A with Robert Adamik in which he discusses what he’s learned in 40 years of human resource management and how the next generation of employees are changing the landscape of corporate America.

How did you get started in HR?

My career path started in a Fortune 500 company. I went into their management development program and was very, very successful for 10 years as a financial branch manager. Then the company was expanding and they needed somebody to go into a regional HR position, and I always wanted to get into HR. I stayed another 18 years in senior management in the HR role in that organization as they were going through growth mode and growth spurts. We had 3,000 branch offices in the United States and I was overseeing HR. I got into it slowly, one step at a time and, of course, got certifications and hands-on experience.

What about HR interested you and what has held that interest for 40 years?

When I was a branch manager for those first 10 years, I was doing a tremendous amount of hiring, training and coaching employees. I eased my way into it. I love working with people, I love hiring people. I love training employees and making them the best they can be. I was very successful at it and I built the reputation that this person particularly really likes HR and he likes HR work. I think it became more of a natural selection.

After all these years I still have an interest in helping people. My passion is to handle succession planning, development planning and just to really work with people to make them better. My whole natural tendency is to sit down with somebody, work with somebody and help them to be better than they really realize they are. So I work on competencies, skill levels, some behavior modification and just help them be a better executive.

What is your HR specialty?

My specialties would really be in the areas of talent acquisition, employee relations and then succession planning.

I’ve handled succession planning for 18 years at the Fortune 500 company level. I love identifying high potential employees, evaluating them and then putting together a career plan for them. I’ve spent many, many years doing that. That’s why I pursued my doctorate in personality assessment tools.

What makes a high potential employee? What qualities do they have?

Our pattern has been to identify those individuals that have a certain personality. And they have to have not only a passion for the business, but they have to have a sense of urgency. When I interview them there’s a feeling that they can do more than what they’re doing in the organization. There’s a feeling that “I can be a manager, I can be an executive someday.”

When I pick up that signal that someone really wants to be a manager or a future executive, that’s a person I circle around, do an evaluation and get feedback from supervisors and peers to make sure I hit the right target.

We actually measure them against two or three levels higher. For example, if you are a manager and you want to be a higher level in the organization, I’ll measure you against the competency of an SVP. The gap in between is what I need to fill. And that’s where my succession planning comes in to help them get to the higher level of competency so they’ll be ready for the position they really feel that they want.

What are the biggest HR challenges facing companies today?

Everyone keeps talking about the war on talent. It’s been around for a long time. I think the war hasn’t ended yet, because everybody that I know in HR is still looking and continuously looking for good people.

There’s been a lot of changes with millennials entering the workplace — there’s been more turnover as a result of that. There’s been a lot of workers coming in under the gig economy. That workforce has increased tremendously in the last 10 years, As a result of that, the workplace is a little fickle in that there’s a lot of people coming and going.

Wherever I go, the first person you talk to — the president, the CEO — the first thing they say is “I can’t find good people. Can you help me find some good people?”

That’s the first thing that we have to solve. It’s really just finding good people that will build an organization and stay with a company for a while to help it grow.

What is your top interview technique?

To do it correctly, we take the job itself, the job description, and we start building a list of a minimum of six questions around that position. We structure behavioral questions around the jobs they’re applying for. We want to see what the past behaviors have been. We have a philosophy that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior.

The questions vary depending on the job itself. Each interview is completely structured differently and I use a different set of questions for each position.

That sounds intense. What can candidates do to prepare for an interview like that?

That’s a real good question because they’re not prepared for me! (Laughs) I ask different questions than everybody else in the room asks, especially when we get into panel interviews.

When I’m working with somebody on the executive coaching side, when I’m helping them get a job, I focus on what they have done. I have them put together something called a career chart. And the career chart is something that talks about major activities that they’ve been involved in, and business initiatives that they were responsible for, that they can explain to somebody in an interview.

We might ask them the question, “What’s been your experience in diversity?” Well, I want to know what that person has done. What were the results of that activity and what was your role in that particular activity? By doing that, I find out exactly what they did, what their goals were and what their accomplishments were.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your hobbies?

I am married. I have two grown sons. I have 12 grandchildren. We all live here in Southern California.

In terms of hobbies, my wife and I, we do a lot of dancing together after all these years. We’ve been dancing together for 18 years. Every weekend we go out and dance together and just have a good time with close friends. I do a lot of reading and do a lot of research. My personal routine is to read every single morning before I go to work.

What excites you about teaching the next generation?

The students, I feel, are very, very bright today and asking really good questions. They bring this energy level and excitement level about human resources.

But I also hear from them their frustration level in organizations that haven’t changed, in organizations that haven’t moved forward, in organizations that have old cultures or old structures where they aren’t willing to change. So my job is to help them understand that, when they enter the workplace, they are going to find things as they are, but their responsibility is to influence change.

They should be the best version of themselves, is what I tell them. Bring the energy into the room and start making some solid recommendations for change in the organization. Be the leader for change. It’s exciting to hear their responses.

Professor Robert Adamik teaches HRM 515: Organizational Design, HRM 525: Total Rewards, HRM 535: Employee Relations, and HRM 550: Change Management and Organization Development.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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