Stay Positive: 5 Questions to Gauge Candidates’ Attitudes During Interviews

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Just about a year ago, the job market looked very different. With unemployment numbers at record lows, qualified candidates were difficult to come by. Now, employers and hiring managers are facing a unique situation that no one could have anticipated. We’re about 11 months into a global pandemic, and the pool of active job seekers is overflowing. The country’s unemployment rate has doubled, now hovering around 7 percent.

As the economy slowly begins to recover, hiring managers will have their pick of hundreds of high-caliber candidates. It can be difficult to choose just one when all the contenders look promising on paper.

However, one defining trait can almost always lead to a good hire: attitude. Positive personalities and attitudes drive company cultures and healthy work environments, and candidates with great attitudes are a must-have on any team.

That said, attitude is one of the most challenging traits to identify through an exchange of emails or a handful of virtual interviews. Below are five interview questions I use to gauge a candidate’s attitude.

1. What’s Something You’ve Learned Recently or Are Learning Right Now?

I often fall back on this strong initial question, as it helps to immediately open up the conversation and steer it in a productive direction. This question does double duty, helping you determine whether the candidate enjoys learning beyond the confines of the workplace and what they’re interested in pursuing outside of work. If people struggle to come up with an answer, encourage them to chat about something they recently learned on the job.

Learning is a humbling act in itself in that you’re acknowledging that you don’t know something, or maybe that you don’t know it well enough. Lifelong learners make great team players and often approach issues with solution-seeking attitudes.

2. If You Could Be Any Animal in the World, What Animal Would You Be and Why?

This is just an example, but I always throw in an odd question to catch candidates off guard (typically in the first interview if you’ll be holding several rounds) to see how they react. Having a sense of humor and rolling with whatever is thrown at you are two very strong indicators of a positive attitude.

These types of questions often lead us down interesting rabbit holes of conversation, allowing me to get to know more about candidates, their families, their pets, their hobbies, and more. On the flip side, it can be equally revealing when an odd question makes a candidate feel awkward and they respond with a more closed-off answer.

3. What Makes a Manager Effective?

Candidates’ answers to this question will most likely mirror the type of manager they are or aspire to be. Pay attention to the qualities and traits they list, and ask probing follow-up questions to get an inside look at how they manage their teams. Responses should include specific details on operations and leadership, and they should also include phrases like “seek to add value to the company,” “incredibly supportive,” or “responsible for boosting team morale.” These kinds of keywords are often tied to a positive attitude.

4. Give Me an Example of How Your Listening Skills Have Helped You Lead a Team

Listening is a critical part of having a positive attitude and being a team player. With this question, I’m aiming to see if the candidate is open to receiving feedback and if they’re empathetic. Being able to not only hear but understand your team is essential to smooth business operations and a happy workplace.

At the end of the day, we work for our teams. That’s not always easy, so it’s important to hire a candidate who can approach every situation with an open mind and an even-keeled attitude.

5. Who Was the Best Employee You Hired, and Did You Know They’d Be the Best Employee at the Time of the Interview?

People with positive attitudes often genuinely care about their teams. They’ll go the extra mile to get to know each and every one of their colleagues or subordinates. That’s why I ask candidates to think about the best employee they themselves had a hand in hiring. This helps me determine whether they know their teams and whether they develop strong bonds with them. I want to see their eyes light up when talking about some of their favorite team members. Nothing says “positivity” like a candidate’s sense of pride when talking about their team.

It can be easy to fall into the routine of asking the same questions in every interview, but I’ve learned over the years that each interview is an opportunity to make the hire of a lifetime. When I lock in new hires with exceptional attitudes, their presence on the team is immediately felt; they elevate the entire workplace. Be mindful in crafting interview questions that not only touch on tactical experience, but also uncover candidates attitudes.

Eric Kardon is director of operations at Angry Crab Shack.

By Eric Kardon