My New Favorite Interview Question
We’ve done a lot of hiring over the past year. And with hiring comes interviews…lots of them. And with lots of interviews comes lots of practice, so much that I now have a lengthy bank of questions to pull from as needed when I’m talking to candidates.
More recently, I started asking a specific, 3-part question:
“How would each of the following people describe you: your direct reports, your peers, and your manager?”
The answers someone gives to this question, in my opinion, provide a lot of insight into a candidate that you wouldn’t normally receive. Below are 3 specific qualities that I think this question allows an interviewer to better gauge:
One of the qualities we like to hire for at IFP is a high level of self-awareness. People with low self-awareness are typically less equipped to receive constructive feedback. They’re also less able to sense how their actions or behavior rub off on others. Asking someone their perspective on how three different types of people would describe them allows you to get a sense for how aware they are of how others perceive them.
In terms of the response, I don’t look for a specific answer, but rather authenticity. You can tell whether someone is giving you an honest opinion of how their coworkers perceive them vs. just providing what they think the interviewer wants to hear. I’d rather someone say that their manager finds them “annoying sometimes” vs. “hard working” if the former response seems more authentic. I’d rather someone be honest than placating; to me, someone who’s honest is going to contribute more to the organization vs. someone who says what they think people want to hear.
Another quality we hire for is thoughtfulness. We support clients who, like most people, want quick resolutions to problems and accurate answers to questions. Having thoughtfulness is important when addressing those needs because it means someone is sensitive to what someone else is asking for and makes it a priority to deliver a thorough answer. The more thoughtful people you hire within an organization, the happier your customers and clients will be.
One of the reasons I like the above interview question is because the way someone responds provides insight into their level of thoughtfulness. For example, if someone responds saying that all three people (direct reports, peers, and managers) would describe them as the same quality (hard-working, productive, dependable, etc), I feel like they’re not really listening to the question or thinking about their answer. Understanding that I’m asking for three different answers and providing those different answers takes a certain level of thoughtfulness that we want in a potential employee. The ability to truly understand what someone is asking for allows one to better provide an answer or solution, which is what we want to do for our clients.
3. Attention to Detail
Attention to detail is an oft sought out quality by organizations in potential employees. And understandably so, as attention to detail is often the difference between successful organizations and average ones. Apple’s high-quality products and the New England Patriots’ consistent success are byproducts of extreme attention to detail. Our company isn’t on the level of either of those organizations, but I’d hope that we would strive to attain their level of attention to detail.
I think the above interview question allows an interviewer to get a glimpse into a candidate’s true level of attention to detail. When I pose it to a candidate, they most often start addressing one of the 3 parts and will elaborate for a while. If they elaborate for so long that once they’re done explaining they forget the other 2 parts of the question, that shows they weren’t listening closely, or they assume that their answer suffices. If they provide succinct answers, and they address each component of the question without droning on for too long, it shows the candidates listens closely and understands the nuances of the question. That type of attention to detail is what we want in our employees.
Asking the right questions is an important skill to learn in life, and one that is particularly useful for interviewing. Getting a candidate to reveal as much honest information about themselves as possible is the best way to get a true read on that person in a very short time frame. If you only ask the standard questions that everyone asks, you’re often going to get the standard answers. If you ask questions that make a candidate pause and for which they may not have a canned response, you’re going to see how they think on their feet and you’re going to get a better feel for their true personality. We want self-awareness, thoughtfulness, and attention to detail to be hallmarks of our organization, so I hope we continue to ask questions in interviews that let us find those qualities in candidates.