Some job interviewers (including chief executive officers) take an unusual approach to interview questions, and most job interviews involve the most common questions and answers.
Yet most job interviews also include at least a few questions designed to reveal not just what a candidate thinks, but what he or she has actually done: Goals achieved, skills attained, situations encountered, actions taken.
Since the past is a reasonable indication of the future, here are some great interview questions intended to find out what job candidates have done. (And if you’re a job candidate, I’ve also included a guide to preparing your answers to these questions.)
1. “Tell me about a goal you recently achieved. What did your initial plan look like? What worked particularly well?”
This is a great icebreaker question. Any candidate who can’t talk in detail about a goal achieved is likely to be a terrible candidate.
Most candidates will describe a goal that was set for them, a plan that they were in large part given, and then the steps they took to achieve the goal.
And that’s fine, but what you’re really looking for are candidates who set their own goals, created their own plans, and then not only followed those plans but adapted to circumstances and changing conditions along the way.
After all, the best employees are able not just to plan well, but also to respond and adjust well.
2. “Tell me about a goal you didn’t manage to achieve. What happened? What did you do as a result?”
Disappointment, adversity, and failure are a part of life – both professional and personal. That’s why everyone has failed. (In fact, most successful people have failed a lot more often than the average person; that’s why they’re successful now.)
Most candidates will take responsibility for failing. (The ones who don’t, you definitely don’t want to hire.)
Good candidates don’t place the blame on other people, or outside factors. They realise that stuff happens, and a key element of success is having the ability to adjust.
Great candidates take responsibility but also learn key lessons from the experience, especially about themselves.
3. “Tell me about the last time someone got upset with you. What did you do in response? How did it turn out?”
Conflict is also a fact of professional life. Every job at some point requires dealing with conflict. (Possibly the last time someone got upset is the time the candidate raised an uncomfortable issue.)
The candidates you definitely don’t want to hire place the blame on other people – and place the responsibility for making the situation better on the other person, too.
Good candidates worked to address and resolve the problem; they didn’t shy away from conflict but dealt with it in a professional (and hopefully emotionally intelligent) manner.
And they can share what they learnt from the experience. (My favourite job candidates are the ones who consistently share what they’ve learnt – because those candidates are consistently working to improve themselves.)
4. “Tell me about the first three months at your last job. What did you do? What did you accomplish?”
The best employees don’t want to spend their first few weeks just learning about the organisation, getting their feet wet, and finding their way. They want to hit the ground running.
That means they can describe:
- how they determined their job created value, and how that helped them focus on doing the right things,
- how they immediately applied the skills they brought to the job,
- how they determined who were their key constituents, and how best to serve them, and
- how they identified practical changes – for greater efficiency, or quality, or customer satisfaction, etc – and then found ways to implement those changes.
The best candidates are self-starters. They don’t wait to be given tasks, duties, responsibilities – they dive in.
After all, every employee is an investment, so don’t you want to start seeing a return on that investment as soon as possible?
Jeff Haden is a ghostwriter, speaker, LinkedIn Influencer, contributing editor to Inc., and the author of The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win. The Motivation Myth overturns the beloved (but false) idea that motivation leads to success. Instead, small successes lead to constant motivation – and let you achieve your biggest goals while also having more fun. To share your thoughts with us, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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