You may have heard the adage, “Hire for fit; teach skills.” It’s popular because it’s true. I speak from experience: Now that I am running my own company, I find it’s not the world’s greatest coder I’m after, but the person willing to bring a smile to a difficult job every day, look at issues in totally new ways, and take feedback regularly.
Also speaking from experience, I know there are specific qualities for which I can screen candidates to determine if they will be a good fit. Here are the ten questions that help me uncover these qualities:
1. Is the Candidate Enthusiastic?
I always give the employee the chance to reach out to me again after the phone interview. While this may not work for all companies, it works well here. I only want people who want to be here, and I tell candidates as much. I won’t schedule a follow up to the phone interview until the candidate contacts me.
2. Can They Adapt to Our Agency Model/Corporate Environment?
We use a tool called Vitru to help identify candidates’ levels of adaptability. I know other companies use CliftonStrengths. However, you don’t necessarily need tools to assess candidate adaptability. You just have to pay attention to how candidates behave when you mess up – which I inevitably do at some point during the hiring process.
While I don’t recommend playing mind games with a nervous candidate, I do recommend you take note of how they react to their potential workspace and colleagues. If someone brings them the wrong coffee, what is their reaction? If you schedule them for the wrong time, how do they react? If you are interrupted during the interview, what do they do or say? Any change to the norm is a great opportunity to see if a potential candidate is adaptable.
3. Would They Be a Team Player?
Take your candidate around and introduce them to the team. How do they act? Do they remember names or bring up topics that might be interesting to the team members?
While making small talk is not a prerequisite for any job, it’s useful to observe whether the candidate really recognizes the other team members or is simply focused on you, the interviewer. I usually name-drop some of my people during the phone interview to see if the candidate will bring them back up later.
I’m not of the school that everyone needs to be a team player all the time, but if you do need to know your candidate’s teamwork skills, this is how you can find out.
4. Do They Ask Meaningful Questions?
I am a master B.S. artist. On more than a few occasions, I’ve drifted off when someone else was speaking and found myself having to pull ridiculous questions/responses out of my you-know-where. As a result, it’s pretty hard to pretend like you are paying attention to me if you are not. I know the tells. If a candidate parrots your own words back to you, but slightly out of order, it’s a guarantee they are paying very little attention.
Another indicator is lack of specificity. If your candidate talks in broad terms about success, clients, lessons – all the usual job interview fodder – pull back and ask for really specific points or cases.
A meaningful question, to me, is one where I (the interviewer) need to think for a minute before I can answer. Questions like this not only mean the candidate is listening, but also that they are thinking through more sophisticated concepts than the ones I’ve put on the table.
5. Are They Willing to Acknowledge Mistakes and Learn From Them?
Every job interview has that fun question about a time when you screwed up. Every recruiter you know has heard “I think my biggest weakness is that I am a perfectionist” more times than they care to admit.
To me, this question can be a huge indicator of whether or not a candidate will be a fit. Do they blame their boss, their team, their mom? Is it the traffic’s fault? The computer’s fault?
If a candidate cannot give you a specific example of a time they failed and what they did to get back on the horse, they are either lying or unwilling to accept responsibility for mistakes. That behavior will kill whatever team you put them on.
6. Are They Willing and Excited to Learn New Things?
Does the candidate’s resume show them leapfrogging, or at least moving up at a company? Do you see examples of interesting work they’ve done that is clearly outside the scope of their former or current job title?
I can tell if someone is interested in learning more than the usual stuff by whether or not they ask to shadow more than one person during their onboarding week. (If you don’t implement mentorship programs or onboarding buddies for new employees, I would highly encourage you start doing so.)
You can also ask the candidate about a project that wasn’t successful or a giant failure – just one they absolutely loved. This alone can give you tremendous insight into their passion for learning.
7. How Resilient Is This Person?
Resilience is hard to assess in a few interviews, but you can uncover some clues by paying attention to the candidate’s work history, asking pointed questions about a time they’ve failed, and keeping an eye on their body language.
If you are truly looking for unique talent, the candidate’s resilience now is the only thing that matters. Focus on how they would handle a difficult situation today versus one that happened five years ago.
8. Can They Show Their Skills?
Our mini-assignment in between the phone and in-person interview is the best indicator of this. While skills are not the most important piece of the puzzle, a candidate’s ability to follow directions, adhere to deadlines, and get the job done is certainly valuable. If you are able to add an assignment into your process, do so!
9. Are They Concerned With Work Being Done Well and on Time?
If the candidate asks about deadlines and work timelines or explain how long projects typically take them, you can get a good idea of whether or not they are used to working on a deadline. Organizations small and large need to hit milestones and adhere to deadlines, so hiring someone capable of doing that is crucial.
10. What Is Their Passion?
Ask your candidate the question, “If you could do anything in the world (professionally), what would it be?” Obviously, we’d all rather eat hot Cheetos and watch Who’s the Boss? reruns, but what does the candidate want to do professionally? Write? Create? Build? Work with people?
Once you have a view into their passion, you can mentally gauge where they might be the happiest inside your company. The brain of a person feeling positive is 31 percent more productive than the brain of a person feeling negative, meaning passion and happiness are important drivers of productivity.
To hire really great people, you have to go beyond skills and resumes. You must understand your candidates’ motivations and desires, and then connect those to the company. Only then will you find great hires who are ready and willing to give their best to you!
A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.