Bennett: The Right Interview Questions: Your Secret Weapon for Successful Hiring

Aug. 11, 2023
Why hiring character over skill can help you find your next shop superstar.

Every individual's impact is magnified in a small business. A great hire is like a shot of adrenaline, bringing new energy, driving production and progress—and significantly boosting morale. They seamlessly integrate into the team, enhance the company culture and can help to turn satisfied customers into loyal advocates. On the other hand, a bad hire acts as an anchor, pulling down team dynamics, stalling progress and even impacting the foundation of customer trust. They can create a ripple effect of negativity, causing strain within the team and potentially damaging long-cultivated client relationships. Indeed, the contrast between a great hire and a poor one in a small business environment is nothing short of night and day. I have certainly had my share of hiring misfires. You find the "ideal candidate." They have all the skills, training and expertise you want, but it doesn't work. It may be as simple as potential unrealized and expectations not met, or it can be disruptive to damaging to the business and team. If you have been in business for any period, you've likely experienced some similar version of the "bad hire" syndrome. This occurs when we focus too much on skills and experience and “need” more than on personality, character traits and cultural alignment.  

It took me a while and some real struggles to gain insight on how to be more intentional in targeting more suitable candidates who I could be confident would become valued team members I envisioned for the company and the position. From my experiences, I've gleaned a crucial insight: moving from a traditional, skill-focused hiring process to one that prioritizes character and individual traits can revolutionize your business. It's clear to me now that it's not just the technical abilities but a person's inherent characteristics that determine their potential and influence in a business. These characteristics drive their contributions and profoundly impact a company's culture, growth trajectory, and overall success. 

The primary focus in recruiting and evaluation should be to find people whose natural tendencies, motivations and personalities fit your company culture. Skills can be trained and developed. Knowledge and experience are akin to a muscle and can be grown and developed with effort and work. In contrast, changing someone's character and traits is extremely difficult. You're far better off targeting and hiring eager, fast learners who want to grow, even if they still need to check every box of required qualifications. The benefits of prioritizing attitude over aptitude are immense. Employees who thrive in their roles and align with company values will be more engaged, loyal, and productive over the long term. They'll support your customers better and spread positivity to their coworkers. Meanwhile, one toxic employee, even a highly skilled one with the wrong attitude, can destroy morale and damage your reputation.  

The Wrong Hire Can Wreak Havoc 

Through the rollercoaster of my hiring missteps, I have honed and perfected my candidate interview process. After witnessing firsthand, the havoc a wrong hire can wreak, I realized that the ideal addition to my team was about more than just the skill set or work experience. It's the character, the grit, the spirit of an individual that makes the real difference. I knew I needed to overhaul my recruiting and evaluation process by putting character traits before skill sets. And let me tell you, this perspective shift has been a game-changer. My team and I have identified the qualities that define an A-player in our culture. Our focus now is on attracting and recruiting the best fit for our team. Our ideal candidate must have self-drive, resiliency, adaptability, humility, integrity, practical intelligence, and a team player spirit. For us, it's about finding those hungry for growth, brimming with curiosity, and radiating emotional strength. And how do you uncover these traits, you may ask? It all comes down to asking the right questions. 

Traits You Should When Interviewing Each Candidate  

  • Drive 
  • Resiliency 
  • Adaptability 
  • Humility 
  • Integrity 
  • Practical Intelligence 
  • Team-ability 
  • Curiosity 
  • Emotional Strength 

Here are some interview questions for each trait that I've found incredibly insightful: 

Drive: the unrelenting need for achievement and continuous self-improvement

Interview Questions

  1. Can you describe a time when you went above and beyond to achieve a goal or complete a task? What motivated you, and what was the outcome?  
  2. Tell me about a long-term goal you set for yourself. How did you go about achieving it?  
  3. Can you describe a time when you took on a task or project beyond your job description? What motivated you to do it?  

What to Listen For 

Look for clear examples of the candidate showing initiative, determination and a willingness to put in extra effort to achieve their goals. Their motivation might come from a desire for personal growth, passion for the work, or commitment to the team or company. They should demonstrate a pattern of proactively taking on challenges and persistently pushing toward their objectives, despite obstacles or setbacks. (Their enthusiasm while sharing these experiences can also provide valuable insight into their drive.)  

Resiliency: the ability to persevere in the face of challenges and bounce back from setbacks 

Interview Questions 

  1. Can you share an experience where you faced a significant setback or failure at work? How did you bounce back?  
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to deal with high-pressure or stressful situations at work. How did you handle it?  

What to Listen for 

Look for evidence of their ability to handle stress, recover from setbacks, and adapt to changes. Candidates should show they can remain positive and productive, even when facing difficulties.  

Adaptability: the ability to adjust to the situation, learn new things, and try new methods  

Interview Questions 

  1. Can you describe a situation where you had to adjust your approach due to changing circumstances?  
  2. Tell me about a time when a project or task didn't go as planned. How did you adapt?  

What to Listen for 

Listen for their ability to adjust to new situations, respond to unexpected changes and learn from these experiences. They should show flexibility, creativity and a problem-solving attitude.  

Humility: Self-confidence in one's ability while understanding there's always room for improvement  

Interview Questions 

  1. Can you share a time when you received constructive criticism? How did you handle it?  
  2.  Tell me about a time when you had to admit a mistake.  

What to Listen for 

Look for their willingness to accept criticism, learn from their mistakes and put the team's success before their ego. They should display self-awareness and a desire to improve.  

Integrity: Adherence to not only what is legal but also what is right  

Interview Questions

  1. Can you share an example of when you had to make a tough ethical decision at work?  
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to be honest, even when it was difficult or uncomfortable.  

What to Listen for 

Pay attention to their sense of honesty, responsibility and ethics. They should be able to display moral courage and stand up for what they believe is right.  

Practical Intelligence: The ability to apply one's knowledge to real-world scenarios 

Interview Questions 

  1. Can you describe how you solved a complex problem at work by developing a practical solution?  
  2. Tell me about a situation where you had to use your judgment on the spot to handle a situation. 

What to Listen for 

Look for their ability to use common sense, think on their feet, and develop practical solutions. They should demonstrate good judgment and decision-making skills.  

Team-ability: the ability to function as part of a team and place the success of the whole over self 

Interview Questions  

  1. Can you share an experience where your contribution to the team made a significant impact?  
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to collaborate with others to achieve a common goal or meet a deadline.  

What to Listen for  

Listen for their ability to work collaboratively, respect others and contribute to a team. They should show they can work effectively in a group and put team success before personal gains.  

Curiosity: A desire to explore the unknown and question the status quo in pursuit of better solutions

Interview Questions 

  1. Can you share an example of a time when your curiosity led you to discover or learn something new at work?  
  2. Tell me about a situation where asking questions or seeking more knowledge helped you at work.  

What to Listen for 

Listen for their desire to learn, ask questions and seek new information or experiences. They should show an open-minded attitude and a passion for continuous learning.  

Emotional Strength: A positive attitude, high empathy and control over one's emotions in chaotic and stressful situations 

Interview Questions 

  1. Can you share an example of a time when you had to manage your emotions effectively at work?  
  2. Tell me about a situation where controlling your emotions was key to achieving your objective.  

What to Listen for 

Look for their ability to manage emotions, maintain composure and behave professionally, even in challenging situations. They should show they can control their reactions and handle situations maturely and gracefully.  

Now, I shouldn't suppose that all of the character traits my team has identified and that I've shared here with you are the same ones you might identify if you were to really look at your team and your A-player traits. I encourage you to explore and research for yourself. Identify those key core characteristics that define your team and your culture and develop your script of questions to help you target and identify your future rockstars.  

The secret is to be intentional about recruiting, your culture and the team. With a focus on finding the right personality and mindset, you'll build an unstoppable team driven to take your business to the next level. Getting hiring priorities right starts with an understanding that who someone is matters far more than what they've done. The next superstar for your team is out there—you have to know what truly makes someone a superstar in your world. Be committed to traits before tools and I promise you that you will have a far better outcome and team.   

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