Only One Question Matters When Interviewing Candidates

February 18th, 2015 | Articles, Hiring Resources | No Comments »

Hiring Candidates

It’s hard not to get excited when interviewing candidates with lots of promise. Believe me, I’ve been there before. You see a candidate who (on paper or in pixels) leaves you awed and in the interview says all the right things.

Yet don’t let your impression cloud your judgment. Months down the road, the damage of a bad hire will have already been done. That’s why I keep asking questions until I can safely say you’re hired and this one question is what’s made the difference in the majority of my recent hires.

Learning Exactly What You Want

First, let’s do away with one big illusion: when interviewing candidates, there isn’t one ingredient that makes the pie.

Look at all the articles on interviewing and the different interviewing techniques that exist. There is no single question that makes good candidates reveal themselves. However, certain questions are better at achieving your end goal.

Personally, the one big question that makes sense for my process is “What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made and what did you do to rectify it?” All in one package, it identifies a candidate’s accountability, maturity level, problem solving skills, and multitasking ability. Plus, each candidate’s response speaks volumes.

What Each Big Mistake Says

Want examples? Here’s what I heard in response to the question when interviewing candidates a few weeks ago. Let’s call my two examples Candidate A & Candidate B.

Candidate A had strong credentials, but when I asked her “what is the biggest mistake you’ve made?” her response wasn’t encouraging.

She said it happened while bringing new business to her employer. Candidate A promised a first-time client she could deliver 10 mechanical engineers in 3 weeks. That’s without having done any research into an entirely new market. She just gave a blind estimate. At the end of the 3 weeks, Candidate A only found one engineer.

Logically, her boss wanted to know why she wasn’t successful and what she intended to do to rectify the situation. Not too surprising, she didn’t come up with any solutions. On the whole, the response showed her lack of accountability and resourcefulness.

Candidate B was another promising talent. Before our interview, I noticed a job on her LinkedIn profile that wasn’t on her resume. I asked about the discrepancy and her explanation perfectly transitioned into a response to “what is the biggest mistake you’ve made?”

Within the last month, she worked at and left a business that encouraged a number of immoral and unethical practices. Candidate B admitted that the mistake was her failure to do enough research. Sounds familiar, but there was a huge difference: she took her lesson to heart.

For starters, she respectfully and immediately resigned from her role. In the interview, it was clear she had taken action to avoid it in the future. There was plenty of information she knew about our company in advance. Moreover, she asked numerous questions to gauge our environment and ethical business practices. In the end, we both passed each other’s tests.

Measuring What Really Matters

Candidate A and Candidate B are leagues apart in the way I measure candidates. I saw my major criteria (accountability, maturity, and informed problem solving skills) in the way that Candidate B handled the aftermath of her mistake. Candidate A slipped up in other regards, but I ensured that she wouldn’t be a mistake haunting me for months or years to come.

So yes, one question isn’t the whole recipe for success when interviewing candidates, but it can be the base of your pie (the flour) that holds everything else together.

by Teresa Olsen, Branch Manager of Ashley Ellis Naperville.

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