The only 3 interview questions you need, Ever!

Oprah received more than a little criticism for the way she handled her interview of Lance Armstrong. I’m sure she prepared, but maybe not well enough for everyone.

I can’t remember how many people i’ve interviewed for jobs in the last thirty years- several hundreds… and I regret that preparation for interviews wasn’t my strong point.  I understand that preparing for hiring interviews is important,  but until the last minute it wasn’t urgent enough to do preparation when compared to the other urgent tasks on my desk and in my inbox.

Maybe you are well prepared for interviews, if you are- great, congratulations. And for the rest, here’s a simple process that identifies what you really must do to find out who the best candidate is. Its simple, can be cut and pasted and applied to any interview you do. Prepare once and then always be prepared. Yes, when you start the hiring process you’ll need specific work, but in the interview these questions are almost foolproof.

This simple approach, gets you and your team aligned with the real deliverables for the vacant role, and then ascertains whether the candidate has appropriate experience, can visualise solutions and can subsequently implement their ideas.

Pre-work : Figure out what you’re hiring for. 

Start by making sure you are clear on the performance-based job review. Make a list of the top 4-5 performance objectives required for on-the-job success. Forget job-descriptions which talk about the inputs. We get paid for outcomes; for results. So the job interview should find candidates that have the skills attributes and attitudes that can deliver these outcomes and your results. Ensure everyone on the hiring team is familiar with this list of performance objectives. Consistency is dramatically improved when everyone knows what they’re evaluating in a consistent way.

Question 1:  “Can you describe your most important accomplishment?” This Validates comparability with your needs.

You might want to try to answer the question for yourself to see why it’s so important. As you’ll see it involves asking candidates to describe their most significant business accomplishments in some detail.  The reason this question is important is that most jobs can be better defined as a series of performance objectives like “ “If you were to get this job, how you go about ensuring fast, accurate and comprehensive financial responses for the various departments of the business?” rather than a list of skills, e.g., “3-5 years of financial management experience, Submit reports;  hold a finance degree or ACA equivalent.” You need to know if your candidate is focused on outcomes.

Getting the appropriately in-depth answer to the most important accomplishment question requires a process to ensure you have the appropriate level of detail. One way to do this is to ask STAR questions. After the candidate provides the typical 1-2 minute overview of their accomplishment, look for answers to the following questions:

  • Situation; Can you describe the situation that this accomplishment took place in, for example in terms of (speed, resources, level of sophistication, the people involved, and your manager’s role)?
  • Task; Can you please describe the (task, challenge, project, or problem)?
  • Action; What did you actually do and what was your specific role?
  • Result; What was the actual result achieved and/or what was the required deliverable? What actually changed, or how could you measure your performance ?

While this only covers a small portion of the fact-finding possibilities, using just this STAR list will give you a more in-depth sense of the accomplishment and how it compares to your described performance profile. From my experience, it will typically take 10 minutes questioning this way, ensuring you are clear on the answer, to totally understand the accomplishment. Plus its really tough to fake a response to this line of questioning.

Question 2;  “How would you solve this problem?”  To determine Thinking Skills.

While our first question represent the candidate’s best example of their perceived comparable past performance in relation to the actual job requirements. Our second question uncovers another dimension of performance, including job-related problem-solving skills, creativity, planning, strategic and multi-functional thinking, and from there you can uncover the candidates possible potential within your organisation.

This question should link the candidate to an important deliverable of the role.  For example, “If you were to get this job, how you go about ensuring fast, accurate, and comprehensive financial responses from the various departments of the business?”  Based on the person’s response, get into a back-and-forth dialogue asking about how he/she would figure out the problem and a theoretical implementation plan.

After asking candidates this question a few times, you’ll discover that the best candidates quickly understand the core of the project or problem you’ve given them, and as part of this, they will ask logical questions to obtain a clearer understanding of the core challenges the problem presents. If they reel of a pat answer then they are unlikely to involve others and just implement their views without finding out the real situation. Another red flag in giving this pre-packaged detailed response is lack of consideration of the differences at your company, including the resources available, the culture, and the challenges involved. If they struggle to understand the scope of the problem then their skill set is incomplete.  Based on this, you’ll be able to ascertain if the person can put together a reasonable plan of action for your specific role.

Question 3; “Describe when did you did something similar?”  To validate that they have the necessary Implementation Skills.

While visualising a solution to the problem you posed, the candidate will identify the critical thinking skills your role needs, but question 2 only identifies those who can think of a solution to the problem or task at hand. Obviously, this is only part of the requirements for your ideal candidate. Accomplishing the task by successfully implementing the plan in your company with your people is the other, harder, organisationally sensitive, essential part.

After the candidate finishes answering question two, ask something like, “Can you now tell me about something you’ve actually done or implemented that’s most comparable to how you’ve suggested we handle this problem?”

Following up the problem-solving / conceptualising question by asking the candidate to describe a comparable major significant implementation accomplishment also enables you to reflect back on Question one which was to describe their major accomplishment, and ensures that they have appropriate experience in implementing things and are not just a thinker.

The ability to visualise a problem and offer alternative solutions in combination with a track record of successful comparable past performance in a similar environment is a strong predictor of on-the-job success. One without the other is a sure path for making a potentially bad hiring decision.

Your last words: If the candidate is someone you’d like to consider, describe the opportunity and present your job as a true career move. Then find out the candidate’s interest in further discussion. Presenting the move as a career opportunity is a good basis for future negotiation of terms and conditions and gets the candidate to consider long term rather than just this job in a series of potential job-hops.

Last word from acumen.sg; we’d suggest you validate your personal views by asking the last round candidates to complete a simple online DTV questionnaire. We can simply arrange this for you. The first part of the questionnaire focuses on the DISC profile of the candidate and ensures that his preferred work related behaviour matches his interview. T is the TEAMS review which is able to assess what roles in a team setting the candidate prefers. The V is a values preference questionnaire to ascertain the fundamental motivations to their behaviour. The questionnaire takes less than twenty minutes and can be completed in the office or at home and a comprehensive report will be available within the hour. Please check with us to take advantage of this.

Remember the purpose of hiring someone is to ensure that they can effectively and efficiently meet the performance objectives for the job. By structuring your questions in this way you are able to uncover, in some depth, how a candidate sees themselves compared to your business, whether they have the ability to visualise solutions to your problems and whether they have a track record of implementing these solutions. And its easy- other than coming up with an example of a challenge to solve- which will be top of mind for you, the candidate does most of the talking.

Unfortunately, too many companies and interviewers lose sight of the core purpose of the interview which is to hire the right person for you now and in the future rather than hiring the best qualified to complete the job-description- by using these 3 Questions you won’t lose sight of this.

So, what you your views of this process, agree, disagree, please share with us.

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