Making great hires is hard. So many leaders tell us that they spend hours and hours interviewing people in the hope they will find their best new employees. A great hire is a person who loves what your organisation does and wants to actively be part of the success today and in the future.

Searching interview questions will help you get to the heart of the individual differences between people. And in my top 10 list I want to highlight some of the important characteristics of great employees, regardless of the technical skills they need to do the job. I’m not suggesting you skip the technical questions needed to gauge competence. But there are common characteristics that some people have that are widely accepted as great for organisations.

1. Who trusts you at work and how do you know this is true?

It’s important to gauge quickly if the candidate is honest and trustworthy. When the person starts to discuss what trust means to them it may reveal the following... Do they talk straight? Do they demonstrate respect and transparency? Do they right wrongs and show loyalty. Ask yourself after the interview, do I trust you and will you do what you say you will do?

2. Tell me about our product/service? What are the benefits it offers our customers?

More commonly used with people applying for sales roles, this is an interesting one nonetheless for any function your recruiting for. In an SME, everyone needs to be commercially focussed. Also, this will give them the opportunity to demonstrate the research they’ve done on you as part of their interview preparation.

3. What did you learn recently that helped you work better?

The self-awareness to continue to learn regardless of experience is an important personality trait. As whatever the level being recruited for and whatever your industry, you don't want someone who sits complacently in their role as the world moves beyond them. This question will reveal just how ingrained learning is into their working pattern: be it from taking on board feedback from others, outside meetups and interests or just tinkering with technology.

4. What has been you most significant achievement in your career to date? What made it such a success? 

They will have prepared for this one so you should expect to be impressed by their ambition and sense of ownership, not to mention getting  a sneak preview into what motivates them (when people talk about success, it comes in many guises - financial, recognition, fame etc). No wo(man) is an island however, and good candidate should recognises the efforts of others in landing a successful project and give credit where it’s due.

5. Tell me about a project that didn't succeed. What happened and how did you recover from the setbacks? 

This is their chance to show their grit and determination in the face of difficulties. Again, they should be expecting this one too. Those that chose to reveal a true challenge as opposed to a soft/faux one ("I was just too much of a perfectionist"!) are the real keepers. Likewise those who choose to play the blame-game here, should be quizzed on this a little more closely.

6. What was the most productive team you worked with? Describe them to me and what made you so effective.

Weadle out what role they played in contributing to the team’s success and their part in steering the outcome. Probing around any past team conflict situations will help you gauge how harmoniously they work others.

7. What standout strength do you possess that makes your colleagues love having you on the team? What is your ‘kryptonite’ or the thing that drains your energy?

All small business need to have a tight team, with a balance of strengths and weaknesses. Questioning here will help ascertain if the individual is the right ‘fit’ for your team.

8. Tell me where you feel you made the most contribution to your business? 

Slightly different to 'your most significant achievement', this question allows you again to tap into not just technically skilled they are, but how aligned they are to the businesses they work with. Particularly if they work in a traditionally termed (and I am loathed to use this term!) back-office function.

9. Tell me of a recent major change you have had to cope with. How did you adapt?

This opens up the level of change people consider to be just part of life vs something pretty major.

10. What would you change about the interview process so far?

The interview process is a 2 way street. This is an opportunity to find out how you can make it better. Their answers will also show how obserbant they are and how engaged in they are in the process.

A final thought

No 'wacky' questions listed here I'm afraid. Trying to predict someone's future performance on the basis of a few questions is never going to be easy, but I'm afraid it won't be made easier by asking them ones such as "What purpose do eyebrows serve?" (a genuine question I have known someone to be asked - and no, they weren't going for any medical role!) or "How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the US each year?" (Goldman Sachs - allegedly).

Whichever questions you choose to use, expand on them with further probing questions. Way back when I was hiring graduates for a bank I was taught to always use the STAR (Situation, Task, Actions they took and Results) questioning technique to get to the nitty gritty of what role someone actually played in a given situation. It's not foolproof and is something many graduates are taught to prepare for now, so can occasionally just yield some well versed answers, however it's a useful probing technique for anyone when you feel someone's answer doesn't  quite stack up!

Photo Credit: Job Interview by World Relief Spokane

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