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The 20 Most Powerful Interview Questions to Land Top Talent

February 10, 2021 Joe Mechlinski

The 20 Most Powerful Interview Questions to Land Top Talent 2

Last week I thundered about the importance of finding candidates with Heart, Hustle, and Humility; and I promised I’d share proven secrets on HOW to drill deeper during an interview to find out which candidates have those characteristics.

I’ll start with the question we hear over and over from our clients: What is the VERY best interview question to ask a candidate to REALLY see if they have the “it” factor and what sets them apart from all of the other candidates interested?

But of course; these people are looking for a job after all—so no matter what question you ask, it’s their job to sell themselves, so it's tough to gauge who these folks really are… And if they are good at selling themselves, you need a bulletproof approach for methodically asking questions to really understand if this person fits your company, your culture, and the open job opportunity. More importantly, does the person have the heart, hustle and humility to be successful?

Two women talking in front of a table with a laptop

Hiring decisions are among the most important that any organization makes… and the toughest. Let’s be honest, hiring a candidate after a few short interviews is like getting married after only a few dates. That’s why organizations, large and small, owe it to themselves and their stakeholders to do their due diligence by asking the RIGHT questions versus basing the decision on surface level answers that give zero insight into the candidate’s capabilities.

We tell our clients: You should leave the interview process confident about the answers to two questions: CAN the candidate do the job and WILL they do the job?

The question: Can they do the job, relates to the ABILITY a candidate has to apply his or her skills and attributes to the new situation, job, and environment.

Will they do the job, is a question of MOTIVATION and MINDSET. Does the candidate have the Heart, Hustle, and Humility?

Leadership IQ  found that 46% of all new hires fail within their first 18 months. But here’s the real shocker: 89% of them fail for attitudinal reasons—not skills. Similarly, Hireology.com  reports that 80% of turnover is a result of hiring and interviewing mistakes.

Hundreds of other studies reveal the profound limitations of traditional interview styles (think games and right/wrong answers) and traditional interview questions (3 biggest strengths, 3 biggest weaknesses)—these interviews favor candidates who are attractive, sociable, articulate, etc., but they aren’t taking into consideration that surface attributes (being attractive, sociable, articulate, etc.) are easy to fake—people with these qualities are just good at selling themselves. So, the issue many companies face when using traditional interview methods is that the interview process favors manipulative candidates, or ones who know how to make a positive impression even in a brief interview.

Man interviewing for a job

After interviewing thousands of people and knowing what we do about the current market, SHIFT knows that finding out who the person is, their attributes, character, and how they relate to others in terms of work ethic, mindset, and aspirations (think Heart, Hustle, and Humility here) is far more important than their current skills and experience.

Before we dig into the best questions, it’s important to note a few things about interviewing:

• Interviews should always be conversational: PLEASE do not read straight through this list in your next interview—if you do, the interview will feel like it starts and stops and won’t paint you in the best light for the candidate.

• The first question you should ask is: Why do you want to work here? The answer to this question will help you decide if you should spend even one more minute with this candidate. If someone doesn’t have a good answer; he either: hasn’t researched your company or is just looking for a paycheck.

• Find the opportunity to give the candidate critical feedback whether it’s on her resume, what she says, or on a story she tells. The candidate’s response will tell you how coachable she is. For example, during an interview for a position at SHIFT, I asked a candidate to describe her relationship with her past manager. She used words that didn’t paint this gentleman in a very nice light. I gave her feedback that this was unfair to her boss in that he wasn’t here to defend himself and her perspective is one-sided AND it is an interview best practice not to ever say anything negative about a past employer. EVER. This particular candidate took a deep breath and paused for a moment to follow-up with a “thank you” for the feedback. She was obviously VERY coachable which is still true today!

• Be sure to watch the non-verbal body language. For example, if a candidate is telling you a story and is shaking his head “no”, there may be something about that story that is untrue. Or the candidate may not be confident in what he is saying.

Now that we have the basics covered, let’s talk about HOW you’re going to drill into a candidate and find out if they have what it takes (Heart, Hustle, and Humility) to help your company succeed. We all know the traditional questions—“What is your biggest strength/weakness,” “Where do you see yourself in five years,” and, “Tell me about yourself.” But these questions only graze the surface in terms of finding out who a person is and what makes them tick. In order to really understand someone (in a very short amount of time) and figure out if they meet your specific needs, you need to focus on their mindset and behaviors.

Two women talking in a professional setting

So, to cut to the chase, here are the 20 VERY BEST INTERVIEW QUESTIONS (divided between mindset and behavior) based not only SHIFT’s experience, but also the latest research in social science, behavioral economics, neuroscience, and psychology:

Mindset Questions: Mindset questions are critical to hiring the RIGHT people—these questions will help you dive deeper into who the candidate really is and help you decide if he or she will fit your culture and help drive the overall mission and vision of your company. When asked correctly, these questions will give you the best sense of a candidate’s work ethic by focusing on their overall mindset and outlook on life. Be sure to look for: how they describe things, experiences, and words. Is it with a negative tone or positive? Is the candidate’s outlook “glass half full” or “glass half empty”?

Here are SHIFT’s top 10 Mindset Questions to Ask:

1. What's most important to you about your next position? You are looking to see if what they say matches up with what you are offering.

2. What would you do if you didn't need money? Will tell you what their true passion is.

3. How do you define success? Gives you insight into their standards for success.

4. What does a company owe its employees? Gives you insight into what you are going to be on the hook for to retain him/her.

5. If you were to be hired, what do you think would be a reason you may not stay in this position or with the company? Mindset: what would make them quit?

6. What's most important to you about your relationship with your boss/manager and what type of management style works best for you? This is normally a great opportunity for coaching.

7. What are you most proud of? Again, you are looking for their standards. Also, have they done anything they are proud of?

8. What are the 3 boxes that must be checked for you to accept a position? Their answer should give you a sense of what they are motivated by and what’s most important to them. If they are interviewing for a sales position and money isn’t in the top 3, pass on them.

9. Describe the perfect company culture for you and why? Their description needs to work with your culture, but doesn’t need to be the exact same.

10. Who are you outside of work? Less about what it is, more about what their answer means. Are they passionate? Do their eyes light up?

Two women interviewing another woman for a job

Behavior Questions: Behavior questions are also critical to hiring the RIGHT people—simply put, they help you predict future success by looking into past behavior. These questions allow you to look at previous behavior (not potential behavior) and use that as in an indicator for future behavior. For example, if you start a question with, “What would you do if…” you’re leading candidates to say what they think you want to hear, instead, try, “Tell me about a time when…” This gives them the opportunity to give you a real-life example that provides insight into their personality and work ethic. Past that, it’s very difficult to make up stories about past experiences on the fly.

Here are SHIFT’s top 10 Behavior Questions to Ask:

1. Tell me about a time when you overcame a significant challenge? Looking for what they think is “significant”.

2. Tell me about a time when you were recognized by your peers for your hard work? Get a perspective of how they feel others view them.

3. Tell me about a time when you worked with difficult people? These are normally my favorite, as most people try to take a middle of the road approach and not give an actual example.

4. Tell me about a time when you failed, but learned an invaluable lesson? What’s their view on failure?

5. Tell me about a time when you were wrong in front of a lot of people? Are they humble and do they have humility?

6. Tell me about a time when you helped someone win, but did not get the credit? How much of a team player are they?

7. Tell me about a time when you worked really hard, but missed your goals? Look for excuse-making.

8. Tell me about a time when you hit your goals without working hard? What comes easy or natural to them? Or how much structure/process they need in place to be successful?

9. Tell me about a time when you read a book you loved and couldn't put it down, why? Who are they as a human being?

10. Tell me about a time when read a book and did not finish it, why? Look for excuse making and how they make decisions to not finish something they started.

If you already ask these questions—great, I’m sure you have hired some rock stars. If you don’t ask these questions, start and see how they impact your decisions. Again, the goal is to identify those who CAN do the job and more importantly, those that WILL do the job. There’s a lot of people who fall somewhere in between and those are the people you are trying to weed out. Getting good at interviewing is just like getting in shape—it takes a lot of repetition and discipline.

TOPICS: High Performance, Client Experience, Employee Engagement