The views and opinions expressed are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
My Secret Interview Questions Revealed
I have been blessed to serve with some amazing teams over the years. I have written extensively on teams because I believe that great ones are the key to individual and organizational success.
How do you recruit the right servant for your team? Here are the only three questions I ask in every interview. Yes, only three. I used to ask five to 10, but over the years learned that the answers to these three provide everything I need to determine if the person will be a good fit for our team or not.
Before I reveal the questions, some caveats:
- These are not foolproof. Despite solid answers to these questions, I have made hiring mistakes. I will make more mistakes.
- You will have better questions than I do. Share them in the comments section.
- There are no right answers. That said, the answers you receive do allow for key insights that might determine a good fit for your team.
- Yes, I have missed hiring some superb teammates given my narrow questioning focus.
- My existing team makes the final decision.
- Like all other interview questions, these are imperfect.
- I know some will have a violent reaction and leave a nasty comment or two. I am OK with this when comments are constructive. However, some people are generally unhappy and will look for any opportunity to vomit. We still post everything. (As an aside, I find it interesting that people who vomit never identify themselves, nor are they willing to contact me for constructive dialogue. They tend to be cowards.)
Here are my questions that have been effective in hiring the right team.
When was the last time you cleaned a toilet? Tell me about it.
- What am I looking for? I want to know that this person is willing to get their hands dirty, figuratively and in real life. If someone has not cleaned a toilet lately, I become skeptical.
- Answers I like: People who volunteer to clean toilets. People who admit it is not glorious, but it must be done. People who talk about how it makes them feel to make a toilet sparkly.
- Insights: A willingness to clean toilets tells me a lot about someone’s service orientation. A willingness to clean toilets tells me a lot about humility.
- Bottom line: Listen, if someone can’t quickly respond with anecdotes about the mundane things in life, they will be slow to clean up messes the team makes and feel that certain tasks are beneath them. I need teammates who are willing to do anything.
What does your ideal vacation look like?
- What am I looking for? My teams are action-oriented and if someone’s desire on their time off is strictly to lie around, that becomes a red flag. My teams tend to move at a high pace and slackers will be exposed.
- Answers I like: Of course you want to sleep in and lay at the beach, but tell me you mix it up and balance with adventure and exploration.
- Insights: People who visit new places and try new things have key traits I covet. Those who keep going back to the same destination and doing the same things may have the same propensity at work.
- Bottom line: There is no right answer and everyone is entitled to do what they enjoy on vacation, but those stuck in repetitive actions, avoid action, or who don’t like to try new things will be uncomfortable on my team.
Tell me three historical or contemporary heroes, each of whom I must have heard of.
- What am I looking for? What the key values of their heroes are. First, this will reflect their personal values and possible impact on the team. Second, answers to this question reveal thought and logical processes.
- Answers I like: Less important than whom, I focus on the values and traits the candidate brings up. Any succinct summation is key. Bonus if the hero traits coincide with team needs. If the team is up against insurmountable challenges and the candidate discusses someone who won against all odds, that demonstrates likely alignment.
- Insights: I am keen on the third hero discussed as this is where the person tends to go off script and personality is revealed. I look for a structured thought process. If they jump all over the place or become flustered I know a high-pressure environment is not for them. It also reveals someone who is likely to bullshit under the gun.
- Bottom line: If the candidate struggles to identify three heroes or has difficulty sharing why they are heroes, they may not have the introspective capabilities required for continuous self-improvement.
I used to be one of those candidates who would research the “50 top interview questions” and memorize my answers. Boy was I good at what I call beauty pageant questions. Strengths and weaknesses? Check. Tell you about the company? Check. Why should you hire me? Check. It didn’t take long to realize that other wise candidates were doing the same thing. The intent of the three questions above is to take people off script and listen to the story inside the story.
There are other great interview questions out there and I encourage you to share your favorite. Now, I need to develop new ones since I shared my secrets!