The Best Answer for the Most Important Interview Question of All Time

The Best Answer for the Most Important Interview Question of All Time

One of my first posts on this LinkedIn Influencer site, The Most Important Interview Question of All Time, was read by more than 1.5 million people. It’s still worth checking out. Following is the quick summary with a helpful twist for job seekers.

The interviewer first needs to describe a major challenge in the open job and then ask the candidate to describe something he/she accomplished that was most comparable. For example, on a recent search project I asked a candidate for a VP Marketing spot to describe how she expanded the lead development program at her current job and how she ensured these leads were converted into actual sales calls. These types of questions take about 15 minutes of fact-finding and peeling the onion to fully understand the accomplishment.

If the person answers this first question properly you then have to repeat the question for 3-4 other major team and individual problems or challenges the person hired is likely to face on the job. Based on this information you’ll be able to see a trendline of the candidate’s performance over time and compare it to the real job needs of the position.

While this questioning technique is effective it does require a knowledge of real job needs before interviewing candidates. To address this, I suggest that all job descriptions include the top 5-6 KPOs (Key Performance Objectives) or OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) required for on-the-job success. As a minimum each KPO/OKR should describe the task in some detail, some measure of success and the required change. For example, for the VP Marketing spot the major OKR was “During the first year develop new lead generation programs to increase market share by 30%.”

After the interview, it’s best to have each interviewer share their evidence using this type of Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard to make the assessment for ability, fit and motivation. Bias is quickly revealed by the open sharing of evidence. This becomes an essential step in order to increase objectivity and interviewing accuracy.

The graphic scorecard shown is from our Performance-based Hiring learning platform. It includes the factors we have seen best predict on-the-job performance, fit with the company culture and job satisfaction.

While the technique is highly accurate for predicting on-the-job performance, most interviewers won’t ask the appropriate questions nor dig deep enough. In these cases, job seekers need to take matters into their own hands. Following are some ideas on how candidates can ensure they’re being interviewed accurately. (These are from a free course we’ve put together for job seekers to prep for the interview.)

How Candidates Can Ensure They’re Being Interviewed Without Bias

  • Ask about real job needs. Early in the interview ask the interviewer to describe some of the big challenges in the job and how the newly hired person’s performance will be measured.
  • Give 1-2 minute answers. Forget the long-winded answers or two-sentence responses. It’s best to talk in paragraphs giving examples of accomplishments related to real job needs.
  • Ask forced-choice questions. By asking if a critical skill is important for job success you can proactively ensure the interviewer knows your strengths. For example, if you’re strong at collaborating with non-technical people, ask if this will be an important job need. Then give a few examples of how you successfully used the skill.
  • Answer trick questions with a question. When confronted with any question that doesn’t seem reasonable just ask how it relates to real job needs. If it’s a problem that needs to be solved first get some clarifying details before giving an example of something you’ve accomplished that’s most comparable.
  • Find out where you stand. At the end of the interview ask about next steps. If the interviewer says anything other than you’ll be invited back, ask if there are gaps in your background that don’t meet the real job requirements. Find out what these are and then, if possible, give examples of accomplishments that best meet the performance needs of the job.

While knowing real job needs and asking about the candidate’s most comparable accomplishments is a valid interviewing technique, most interviewers still ask generic or pet questions that focus more on personality and presentation rather than performance. In these cases, candidates must take matters into their own hands to ensure they’re fairly and accurately assessed. As important, the initiative shown by the candidate in these instances will brand the person as an insightful and motivated person who understands how to deal with people and what it takes to get results. Surprisingly, you’ll discover this will be more important than giving the right answers.

Posted in: Performance-based Interview, Quality of Hire

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