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Three Questions To Ask Everyone You Interview

Posted by | May 22, 2015 | Employer, Hiring

Via Forbes : I’ve adopted a simple rule for all hires we make at BodeTree. We hire people we trust, respect and admire. It sounds trite, but I’ve found that if the candidate fits those criteria, everything from cultural fit to skills naturally falls in line.

The problem is that this is easier said than done. After all, trust, respect, and admiration are feelings that develop over time. It can be incredibly difficult to determine whether or not a candidate possesses these intangible values over the course of a traditional interview. The trick is asking the right questions and then reflecting on both the content and delivery of their answers. Here’s how we do it at BodeTree.

Trust is at the foundation of everything we look for when hiring. It’s an easy thing to look for when you’re just starting to build your team. More often than not, you already know and have developed a strong relationship with the people you choose to be your co-founders, partners, and key executives. I was fortunate enough to have worked for my co-founder for years before we decided to start a business together. By the time BodeTree was founded, we had already been through good times and bad, moments of joy and periods of sheer terror. I knew that whatever came our way; I could trust him without fail. Unfortunately, we can’t always hire people we’ve worked with in the past. When I’m interviewing someone who I’ve never met before, the first question I ask him or her is:

Tell me about a time when you stood up for your boss or coworker in front of a customer, even though you knew they were wrong.

I love this question because it provides a fascinating glimpse into the psyche of the candidate. Some people provide an example of a time when they simply lied to cover for a coworker, which calls into question the overall quality of their character. Others, however, provide examples that demonstrate decorum and composure that hits at trustworthiness. In asking this question, I’m looking for someone who can demonstrate the ability to maintain the trust of the people they work with while retaining their integrity. My favorite response of all time told the story of how the candidate and her boss were in a sales meeting, lining up customers ahead of their product launch. As with any software launch, there were elements of their product that weren’t fully baked, yet were in process. When her boss inadvertently committed to providing a feature that didn’t fully exist, she didn’t correct him. In fact, she thought on her feet and laid out an honest and reasonable path for introducing the feature and helped the client to understand why it wouldn’t be available at launch. This anecdote changed my perception of the candidate and led me to believe that she was someone who would have my back and maintain her integrity.

The level of skill that someone brings to the table is important, but it isn’t the deciding factor. We’ve turned away plenty of rock stars history because they weren’t necessarily people who believed in mutual respect. Skills can be learned and honed over time; respect is something that is more innate. I believe that effective teamwork comes from the ground up and that dealing with outsized egos, even when they’re justified by skill, simply isn’t worth it. In order to begin to understand how a candidate approaches the concept of respect, I ask the following question:

Who do you respect the most, and why?

When people answer this question, I’ve found they fall into one of two groups. The first points to a historical figure of some sort and relies on clichés. The second group points to a person they know personally and with whom they share a deep emotional bond. I’m always more interested in the second group because it shows that they’ve thought of the question before and have tried to learn from the people around them. When someone shares a story about how their parents sacrificed for them or taught them a valuable lesson, it shows me that they care deeply about respect.

Finally, we look for people that we admire. I’m a relatively young CEO, and I’m the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers. That’s why I surround myself with people I admire and want to emulate. I am always on the lookout for my replacement, and I urge others inside of BodeTree to do the same. Admiration is probably the most intangible and difficult to assess of the three key traits I’ve discussed. Here’s the question I ask to start to find out whether the candidate is someone I could admire:

Tell me about a time you failed at a goal you needed to achieve.

Failure is a universal experience, and I’ve found that the way a person deals with it is a great indicator of their overall character. People who are unable to display a strong sense of self-awareness and humility in describing their failures are usually not admirable. I think that deep down, managers want to work with reasonable people, and if you can’t be honest with your past mistakes it’s unlikely that you’ll take ownership of issues that arise in the future. That’s why I look for people who can recognize their mistakes, take ownership of them, and keep moving forward. I once asked this question to a candidate who was seeking a marketing position with BodeTree, and I’ll never forget his response. He told me the story of how he had applied at another startup earlier in his career and was passed over. However, rather than shrug it off, he set out to understand why. Fortunately, the hiring manager was willing to share valuable feedback regarding their thought process. From there, he embarked on a path to self-improvement in order to achieve his goal in the future. I was impressed by the story because it showed a strong sense of self-awareness and a willingness to work for things he really wanted.

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying things with this approach, but it’s proven successful for us so far. It’s so tempting to cut corners in these areas and compromise your principles because a candidate has incredible skills or valuable connections, but in the end it is never worth it. By focusing on the fundamentals of trust, respect and admiration, you can create a foundation for your team that allows you to overcome any challenge that comes your way.

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