3 Interview Questions to Hire the Best Job Candidate

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3 Interview Questions to Hire the Best Job Candidate

I definitely made my share of bad hires in the early days as a business owner: The salesperson who never made a sale. The admin who stole our software for her sideline business. The marketing rep who continually fell asleep at her desk and did her personal errands while out of the office on “company business.”

At the start, I hired people based on “experience,” likeability, and references. Later on, I discovered that very competent people often fail due to character issues. And while a values match is critical, toxic personalities can poison your entire culture. So I’ve learned to look for both emotional intelligence and character to make the best hires.

Success often depends on the emotional intelligence of those you hire in strategic positions. That means making hiring decisions based on solid information––not just gut instinct and first impressions during an interview.

Those interviews demand well-planned questions that solicit genuine answers which surface real opinions, character traits, and values, as well as critical job skills. Consider the following questions to produce meaningful information about your potential candidates:

3 Interview Questions to Hire the Best Job Candidates

1. Tell me about a particularly bad day you’ve had this past year—a day when everything went wrong, a horrible day, a terribly bad day!  Follow-up question: How did you deal with all the stress and calamity?

Their response gives you some perspective on what happenings they consider “routine” versus “horrible” “calamity” and “terribly bad.” But what you’re really looking for is their coping mechanisms—both emotional stability and resourcefulness.

Listen carefully to their retelling. Pay attention to words like “so angry,” “so upset,” “had a major meltdown,” “frantic,” ”went ballistic,”  “beside myself with worry.”

Did they personally solve the issues, or did someone else have to take charge? How much and for how long did this problem or these issues affect their work and life? How does their idea of “serious” compare with yours? Does their reaction seem appropriate or extreme? How did their judgment and solution compare to how you would have handled the situation?

How does their idea of stress compare with what occurs every day at your workplace? Would their level of competence in coping be sufficient?

2. Tell me about a time that you failed—either at work or in your personal life. What did you learn from that situation?

If they’ve never failed, either they’re lying or they’re extremely risk-averse. Do they blame others or accept responsibility for the failure? Do they seem teachable? What does their attitude say about humility or arrogance?

Certainly, your interview questions have to meet the job criteria. Of course, these questions assume the job candidate must interact with people and use sound judgment. Given that’s a valid assumption, these questions, among others, can mean the difference between a great hire and a costly termination.

3. Who are 3 people in the public arena, your personal life, or your social life whom you admire? Follow-up question: Why?

Responses here reveal several things: How informed are they on local happenings, current affairs, politics, or pop culture? Does their response suggest they can’t think of anyone, or simply that they can’t narrow the choices? Are all choices from public life rather than from their personal or social circles? That may suggest few mentors or role models in their life. Why? If all choices are personal acquaintances, that may suggest noninvolvement in the community or activities outside the home. Why?

At least, their answers will reveal their values and their network—or lack thereof.


For additional interview questions as well as more thoughts on hiring and coaching top talent, get a copy of Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done.