6 Must-Ask Questions To Hire Stars
You and your hiring team need to quickly and accurately assess the merits of a given candidate without involving them in a prolonged interview process, during which time they’re likely to find work elsewhere or lose interest.
It all starts with asking the right questions. Don’t waste time on surface-level conversation; instead, develop a series of thought-provoking prompts that, when used effectively, will naturally reveal your candidate’s character, values, skills, and motivations.
1. “Tell me about an instance where you’ve been #1”
School, sports, work – this prompt can be taken in a number of different directions depending on the person you’re interviewing. Regardless of how they choose to answer, the response will clue you in to their relationship to hard work, commitment, and success. Can they put in the hours, the effort, the emotional investment in order to be the best?
We find this question to be especially useful when interviewing recent graduates, whose professional history may leave something to be desired.
Follow-up questions should include: how did you do it, what did you do, what were the hours, what was the plan, what did you learn, and would you do it again?
2. “Tell me about an adversity you’ve overcome or something hard you’ve done.”
No, you’re not looking for someone to open up about a heart wrenching personal experience. But you also don’t want a cookie-cutter – and frankly ridiculous – response like ‘having to rely on my own wits while backpacking Europe’ or ‘bouncing back from a particularly bad quarter.’
The story of hardship is universal – it’s in exploring how this person moved forward and what they learned from their experience that you’ll get a better sense of their ability to cope with criticism, setbacks, and failures at work.
3. “Tell me about your happiest moment at work – where was it, who was it with, what were you doing?”
Having your candidate describe their happiest time at work will help you to better understand the conditions under which they thrive. Are those the same conditions you offer as a company? Will they excel on your team? Use their response to determine whether they’d be happy and loyal should you hire them.
Alternatively, you can ask the opposite question – ‘Tell me about your least happy moment at work – where was it, who was it with, what were you doing?’ – to elicit a potentially more genuine (but equally revealing) answer.
4. “What’s the last book you read and what did you take away from it?”
Depending on the job for which you’re hiring, this question may be more or less relevant. We use it at Proven Recruiting to:
- See if the person reads and is interested in life beyond their own experience
- Determine whether this person has a growth mindset
- Get some new book recommendations!
The question isn’t intended to judge the type or quality of book – it’s simply meant to determine whether the person values knowledge, possesses the capacity to distill complex subjects into bite-sized explanations, and can internalize or leverage that which they learn.
5. “Who do you want to be like and why?”
Do they want to be like their former manager? Howard Stern? Their mom? Press them to explain their reasoning – what do they see in this person that inspires them? What actions has this person done that makes them so worthy of emulation?
More than anything, this question shows what your candidate values and why.
6. “Tell me what you’re most proud of in life (either personal or professional) – what were the circumstances? How did it come about?”
The response to what are you most proud of in life should be as big as the question itself. If the person’s answer is small and inconsequential, their goals are likely small as well.
It also gives you a window into the person’s self image – how do they see themselves in the world? What are their priorities? Where do they most dedicate their time? Digging deep into this question can help to quickly render a more complete picture of the human sitting across from you.
Before you go asking these questions, consider your own responses. Put yourself in your interviewee’s shoes – do you feel challenged? Slightly uncomfortable? Energized? Try to understand how they’ll feel throughout the process so you can better engineer a situation that’ll elicit authentic, relaxed responses.
As a final note: if you’re as obsessed with interviewing as we are, you’ll already know of the growing concern over interviewer bias. Multiple studies have shown the shortcomings of traditional interview methods, even contending that unstructured interviews may be antithetical to an objective hiring process.
That being said, unstructured interviews aren’t going anywhere soon (though we do have some ideas about how to reduce bias and hire better professionals here!). Working within this (somewhat flawed) framework, it’s critical that you make your interviews as replicable and fair as possible. Stick to the same questions in each interview, and whenever possible aim for a diverse hiring panel. You can check out more ideas here:
- The Interview Process Is Broken & How To Hire Smarter
- What CEOs And Leaders Are Missing About Hiring
- Why You Should Let Your Best Employees Leave
- 3 Questions To Ask In Every Interview (Job Seeker Edition)