Last week, I read an article from Inc.com discussing the four specific questions a CEO asked potential job candidates. For the hundred or so people he has hired, he said these four questions provided the most reliable predictor of success at his company.

In reviewing the questions, along with the results from the thousands of people I have interviewed and hired throughout my career, I offer my take (and in some cases, revisions) with the goal of helping you hire the best employees for your organization.

  1. How did the culture at your last company empower or disempower you?

I hope you know how important hiring for culture is in your organization. Whether you have been intentional about it or not, your organization, regardless of size, has a culture. That culture can either be one of design or default. Certainly my preference is for a culture that is intentionally designed and practiced, not just a culture which is stated on a plaque somewhere in the lobby.

The candidate’s answer to the above question allows them to talk about their previous employer through the lens of how they were affected by the organizational culture. Hearing what they say about their last organization can be very revealing:

  • Did they openly trash the company, its leadership, its brand or its stated values?
  • Did they recognize the positives and negatives of the culture in a balanced way?
  • How much ownership did they have in actually promoting the culture?
  • Did they take the role of “negative Ned or Nancy” by acting as an internal cancer spreading doom or gloom?

You want to hire someone who will fit with and thrive in the healthy workplace culture you are trying to create.

2.  What were the characteristics of the best boss you’ve ever had?

The answer to this question tells you the kind of boss that is most effective for the candidate to achieve whatever level of performance they delivered. If you, as the prospective boss, have many of the same characteristics AND the candidate can document strong performance, you will likely have a good match. If, on the other hand, the characteristics do not describe you, the relationship will be rocky at best.

A good follow-up question is to ask the candidate to identify the characteristics of the worst boss they have ever had. This answer is also quite telling and will help to ensure a good match for you and your organization.

3. Describe a conflict you had with a co-worker and what the outcome was?

Who hasn’t experienced a conflict with a co-worker? We are all human, subject to our own habits and quirks. If the candidate cannot relay an example, I’d suggest you wrap up the interview soon and not waste any more time. The candidate is either dishonest, or terribly limited in their self-awareness. Understanding how they actually dealt with a conflict can give you insights into what they perceive as their role in the conflict, their willingness to actively address it, and their desire to further enhance a relationship.

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable but healthy conflict is a good thing. If their response includes unhealthy techniques of blaming the other person, ignoring the obvious, or passively hoping things would just work themselves out, you probably don’t want to add the role of mediator to your job responsibilities as the boss.

4. What has been the most insightful, constructive feedback you’ve received in the past 3 years?

This question is one I changed significantly from the original Inc. article. The candidate’s answer to this question will reveal what they believe is their role in their development as a person and as an employee. The more self-aware the candidate is, the more they will have a very specific instance to relay to you.

After the candidate provides what hopefully is an insightful answer, ask the follow-up question of, “What did you do differently as a result of that feedback?” The answer should bring a deeper indication of not only their level of self-awareness, but also the level of personal responsibility they have to make improvements.

What are some of your “killer” or go-to interview questions? I’d enjoy hearing about them and how they have helped you hire the best, and avoid the rest.

Best regards,

Bill

PS, the author of the Inc. article I reference above is David Walker, CEO and co-founder of Triplemint.

PPS, if you are interested in learning more about the topic of hiring the best, I have a half-day workshop that is guaranteed to immediately change your hiring results. Let me know if you’d like to learn more.