The 3 Questions You Should Ask Every Job Candidate

Let’s face it, even Superman had a weakness – that glowing green ore known as kryptonite. You might argue that Lois Lane was another one, but for the sake of the argument let’s talk about that alien mineral that deprived him of his superhuman powers on earth.

It was his knowledge of his weakness that gave him his true strength – and the wisdom to avoid kryptonite at all costs. How does Superman relate to job interviews? It’s all about identifying whether a potential hire has the level of self-awareness to know what he or she excels at – and to know when he or she is better off deferring to someone with either a more skilled hand or higher immunity.

I’m not suggesting for one minute that a job candidate should shirk any of the required skills of a potential job, but they should be willing to work with others with stronger skills when necessary to achieve the best for your business. 

In my experience as a business lead recruiter, I’ve hired around 500 people and been involved in approximately 2,000 interviews. And in those interviews, I am really only interested in one thing: self-awareness. Does the person know his or her personal weaknesses? I look for strong employees, and I believe that true strength comes from knowing your own shortcomings. 

However, I’ve learned that asking a candidate to outline his or her weaknesses is not the optimal way to proceed, and it’s because it puts them in one of two positions. Either they:

a) open up: Good.

or

b) get defensive: Bad.

It’s human nature to either attack or give up when backed into a corner, which is why being so direct doesn’t get at their true character.

In the day-to-day working environment you want employees to speak freely and open up. You’re looking for fluidity and transparency. Putting the candidate in this compromising position within an interview scenario does not relate well to the real world. If a challenge exists, they feel obliged to show the best of them – and I am not interested in this. I can determine challenges from a portfolio or by asking good reference questions. Instead, you need to be able to try and find their weaknesses without being so specific, and this brings its own challenge: extracting this type of knowledge can be very difficult.

With this in mind, and in order to help you obtain this key information, ask anyone walking through your door looking for a paycheck these three questions. The answers will reveal more about this person’s character that anything else.

1) Will you select two colleagues that you have worked with before, and explain what you thought of them?

Here you’re looking for answers that bring to light collaboration, support and teamwork as well as an understanding of values in themselves and others.

You want to take note of how they weave themselves into a story that recognizes others’ roles in it. Someone who gives as well as takes. If all they do is decry co-workers and bang on about themselves, then it’s time to hit the eject button.

2) Tell me about the journey you took to achieve your set goals?

The purpose of this question is not only to determine whether or not a person is goal orientated. Hiring someone who is goal oriented is good for business because it facilitates target-setting, monitoring and appraisal, which allow for early adjustments should things be going off course. It also helps highlight whether or not a person sees a path to success as a straight line or a bird’s nest.  

If you ask a person about a future end-state or goal, but they omit the challenges en-route or fail to acknowledge others, then you are likely sitting across from a narcissist. This is not to say you can’t be successful when taking a straight path, but I do not think you can be a leader. 

The more enlightened candidate will realize the route to fulfilling one’s ambitions and goals consists more often of a series of setbacks and stop/starts than a perfect diagonal, which suggests an important ability to fail, learn from mistakes, and persevere. 

If you want to create a performance culture, that person needs to talk about results and how they have been achieved with the help of others.

3) What type of a work culture is important to you, and how do you contribute to that?

To create a sustainable business you need openness and collaboration, not egocentric personalities. An openness within and an openness to others are what I am looking for when asking this question.  

If the person values openness, then you get answers to problems. This stimulates discussion and clears the way for an effective process.

Sure, Superman is the one who saves the day, but he needs help from the his team, including love interest and tenacious Lois, the irascible Daily Planet boss Perry White, and the respectful photographer Jimmy Olsen to put him in position for triumph. You are seldom great at your job unless you are able to constructively rely on and partner on others.  

It is also worth noting that people should learn to prepare for interviews in which these questions are asked 😉


Robin Bade is the global client lead and founding partner of Mirum