Interviewing potential job candidates can be a tedious process, but one you want to get right.
So, what if you could determine whether they will be the right fit for the role, and the company, simply by asking them one question.
Business Insider asked 40 Australian executives to share the one interview question that they always ask job candidates.
The next time you have to interview someone for an opening within your company, hopefully one of these interview questions will help you on your quest to find the perfect employee.
Gary Elphick, founder and CEO of Disrupt asks: 'If I call up your current employer right now what three things are they going to say about you?'
I like this questions because there is so much to it, those that know me know I’m quite likely to actually pick up the phone and find out there and then, that element on enabling social proof means they are honest with their answer. Having to think about their current employer and their point of view also helps them consider themselves and the role in a more rounded manner
I care more for the truth, I can handle flaws and imperfections (we all have them), but I need to know what they are.
Working in a complex business such as ours means you need to be able to empathise with artists, local manufactures and various third parties along the way, the only way to see their point of view to understand yourself well enough.
That, and 'who’s the better Surfer – John John or Slater?' This one normally catches the engineers of guard!
Justin Dry, co-founder of Vinomofo asks: 'Tell me about one of your passions outside of work and why you love it?'
I want to see their eyes light up and hear the excitement in their voice. We want passionate people at Vinomofo and this is a good indication.
It also changes the feeling in the room. A nervous interview becomes a connected human experience. It's amazing how much of a difference it makes to the rest of the process, it becomes more real.
I like to see research and understanding of our space, and some questions about our clients, strengths or weaknesses. In the response I'm looking for a genuine spark of interest and passion in the company. Someone who is a good fit for the company and culture will always answer this question well.
Beau Bertoli, joint CEO of Prospa asks: 'What are your individual values and what culture do you want to be a part of?'
I want to see if the applicant’s values and cultural aspirations match our company. This isn’t about 'sameness'; it’s about cultural fit. I hope to hear someone with a clear set of values and who can succinctly describe the environment they want to work in.
We pose this question to all our potential employees as it gives us a good sense of whether they're the right fit for the company. There is no right or wrong answer, but if they respond with a 'no', it's a sign that they are not confident with their own skills.
If they say 'no' and follow up with someone they believe is smarter than them, we tend to reach out to that person. Not only is this question helpful in determining the fit of a potential employee, it can also be a good recruitment technique.
I’m interested in why, because I want to hear that the candidate’s motivations align with our company vision. We want to change the world by making healthcare more accessible and only want to hire people who want to change the world with us. This is not just another job where you get paid well to do interesting things, this is a job where you actually can make a difference on a global scale.
It gives me an insight into what they consider good and bad and how they respond to challenge.
It’s easy to paint the perfect picture of work, but the truth is we all experience highs and lows. For me, a candidate that stands out from the rest is one who has a positive attitude and trusts in his or her capabilities on hard days. There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. I just look for a sincere response that highlights what they consider a challenge and how they deal with it.
James Wakefield, co-CEO of InStitchu asks: 'If you were the CEO of InStitchu, suggest one sales & marketing campaign you would implement in the next 6 weeks and why you think it would be effective?'
This question forces the potential employee to think on their feet and come up with an impressive answer on the fly. Their response gives us a clear indication of how well they understand our business model and gives them an opportunity to really make an impression on Robin and I. I’m impressed if they can come up with either : an impressive sales and marketing idea that we had never even considered or a sales and marketing idea that we may have considered internally but not yet implemented.
In an entrepreneurial company like eWAY, employees must be able to move at lightning pace. We need employees who can pivot and change direction fast so we can take advantage of opportunities. We have a fun culture at eWAY where every employee values success, so the ideal candidate for us is one that shoots for big team goals.
The reason we ask this is to search for their passion. It doesn’t matter what that passion is: dress-making, bonsai, motorsport, baking. What matters is a capacity to be absorbed, fascinated and dedicated to a pursuit. We are looking to hire people with that level of zeal to join our firm.
This is always the first question that I ask because it allows me to very quickly learn the candidate's behavioural aptitude and assess their ability to meet the brief of the role we are filling.
Th e question also allows candidates to demonstrate communication skills , time management, passions outside of work, and how they like to work (morning or evening person), along with sociability, humo u r and most importantly , their ability to shar e insights with a level of transparency.
It ' s a wonderful way to understand the person outside of their key workplace skills and competencies and gives me a holistic picture.
Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice and Retail Zoo asks: 'Can you give me an example of a time that a disaster happened and what you did about it?'
I am looking for someone that is calm under pressure, not a drama queen/king, is not a victim and is a problem solver.
Ryan Bonnici, director of Marketing, APAC at HubSpot asks: 'Tell me, who is *insert interviewee name*?'
I love opening up the interview with this question since it's incredibly open ended. What I'm looking for in their response is:
Do they ask for clarification?
Do they jump in and start talking, or do they ask for clarification? Neither is right or wrong, each tells me more about how they would be to work with. If they ask for clarification, they might be more naturally suited to a role that is more analytical, favouring precision over speed (e.g. Marketing Analyst). If they confidently jump straight in – and are not fazed by the ambiguity of the question – they might be more naturally suited to a role that requires interpersonal skills.
What is the focus of their content?
Do they talk predominantly about who they are at work, outside of work, or both? What I look for in their response is symmetry between their interests and attitude both in and out of the workplace, to gain an insight to their personality. While there isn't a textbook response to this, I think candidates whose responses highlight elements of work and life tend to work well with my team. It's important to me that my team knows the organisation cares about their interests both in and outside the workplace and respects their work/life balance. Furthermore, references to life outside of workplace is indicative that candidates understand the requirements to connect socially with team members, contributing to a strong workplace culture.
How do they close off their answer?
Does the candidate wrap the question up confidently, or ask whether they answered the question appropriately? This response provides a greater insight to the candidate and their requirements for feedback. I personally seek ongoing feedback from my team, and challenge my team to do the same. A candidate whose response invited me to share information about myself or discuss whether we have mutual interests –anything at all – shows to me that they're open to two-way dialogue around these things.
David Raitt, commercial director of Criteo ANZ asks: ‘Please can you describe eCommerce as if you were talking to someone your grandparents age?’
I hope to hear candidates shine a light on what is a highly complex environment – delivering a distilled response that connects with the audience through anecdotes and examples. The ability to make complex challenges accessible to a wider audience are really important skills for Criteo – something that helps us inspire C level execs to act and drive change.
Sure, bananas don't have much to do with business but you can discover a lot about a person from their answer to this question: their level of personal organisation, how much care they display for their wellbeing, and even how well-prepared they are for the interview in terms of how they deal with unexpected questions. At Koala, we are building the best team possible so, a successful interviewee would have allocated time to have a healthy breakfast. This shows me that they’re organised, care for their own wellbeing and committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Alec Lynch, CEO of DesignCrowd asks: 'What would your previous employer list as your strengths and weaknesses?'
This question tends to get interesting answers and an honest self-assessment from candidates of their own strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, the strengths you hear fit what you're looking for, the weaknesses you discover aren't deal breakers and there are no red flags or issues hiding in the closet.
David Hickey, ANZ area director for Meltwater asks: 'Can you give me an example of a setback you have faced that shows you have stamina?'
Typically, I am hiring for business development and account management roles. While there are certainly easier jobs out there, I like candidates that have been challenged and have faced hurdles. Even if they didn't overcome them, I want to hear that they have at least persevered. Of course, there is no perfect answer to this question, but seeing how candidates qualify challenge, how they qualify stamina and how honest they are gives me great insight into their character.
Fred Schebesta, co-founder and director of finder.com.au asks: 'What position in our company do you want to be in this time next year?'
I ask this for a few reasons. Firstly, it gauges their understanding of the current business by way of projection, which is a key reading to have on candidates. Secondly, I find the one year period an interesting time – not long enough that massive career progress is made, but enough time to identify the next breakthrough point and begin aligning yourself. This give me an indicator of how forward-pushing they will be in their role. Of course, depending upon the role, this answer will be different but ultimately drive looks the same from candidate to candidate. So, what position in our company do you want to be in this time next year?
Robert Kawalsky, CEO of Zeetings asks: 'What’s an example of a recent problem you’ve identified inside or outside of the workplace, and what did you do next?'
I try look for people that are passionate about solving problems. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, it can be professional or personal, or something completely out of left field. The important thing is to understand if they are the type of person who simply accepts things as they are or do they have the curiosity (and chutzpah!) to question the status quo, right a wrong, or even just make some seemingly arbitrary process a little bit better.
Lana Hopkins, founder and CEO of Mon Purse asks: 'You are faced with a serious challenge and need to make a decision here and now - you can't reach your immediate manager what do you do? Walk me through a recent example.'
Why: I want to see how people think on their feet.
Answer I hope to hear: Proactive problem solving.
Heidi Armstrong, head of consumer advocacy at Liberty asks: 'What is one thing about yourself that we don’t already know and that we are unlikely to learn about you from the interview process? Possibly something only your friends might know about you?'
The idea – it tells us something more about them personally. Can often illicit unusual insights into people… what people are prepared to share says a lot, not just about their personal lives, but about the way they work.
Lachlan McKnight,CEO of LegalVision asks: 'In 60 seconds, explain a complicated topic to someone who knows nothing about it.'
The subject matter isn't important - I want to see how people think on their feet and communicate. I've had responses about International Law, startups and the structure of a novel. Traditionally, law is characterised by incomprehensible jargon that alienates many clients. We are committed to democratising legal services through our free documents and articles and we need to be able to communicate with a broad church of people. We don't want our employees using latin maxims or overcomplicating concepts when speaking with clients.
I ask this question because I believe building a culture of employees who truly love and are passionate about their work begins during the hiring process. Whether it’s running the whole company or just selling the product – passion always produces the highest-quality results. Discovering what people are passionate is also a great way of determining where they will best fit within your company and be the most valuable. Different ways of identifying passionate candidates includes paying attention to hobbies and interests, professional-growth goals, test their mettle, gauge what thrills them, and more.
We want potential employees to be truthful in their response because we need to know that we are bringing passionate people into the business that are going to put in 100% and love representing our brand. People have a different tone in their voice when they’re talking about something they have a passion for, so it can be easy gauge their level of passion.
It may seem like an obvious one, but you would be surprised at how many applicants have not had a hard think about what really sets them apart. I want to know the ways in which they have demonstrated their unique skills and experiences in the real world in order to understand how that could benefit the company.
I want to know what ideas they had, or how they executed on a project that led to a tangible (and positive) business result.
Ned Moorfield, CEO of GoCatch asks: 'Have you used our service (GoCatch) before and how much do you know about it and our competitors?'
If people haven't bothered to use our product before the interview, it is obviously a massive red flag. Anyone with their ear close to the ground knows about the big battles happening in the transportation booking and ride-sharing space so if they are knowledgeable about us and our competitors, it tells me they're passionate about startups and are engaged with what we're looking to achieve.
Klaus Bartosch, CEO of 1stAvailable asks: 'What are you passionate about - both professionally and privately?'
I find it reveals useful insights into what drives someone. Building a company of people that have passion both personally and professionally makes for a very exciting and positive team dynamic, especially when innovation is such an important part of your business as it is with 1stAvailable.com.au, which is seeking to enhance everyone’s experience accessing healthcare services -- often complex and mysterious, albeit important to ensure that each and every person in the team has a voice, is heard and their contributions valued.
Most candidates spend countless hours on their resume, their personal pitch, what they should and shouldn't wear to an interview, how early they should show up etc. Some venture down the path as to why they would be a great Operations Manager, or perfect Business Development Managers etc. However, if they struggle to answer this very basic, but open ended, question - I pretty much end the interview there. What I am looking for is for them to demonstrate a deep understanding as to 'why' which can only be a passionate response backed up by their skill set, not the other way around. I can teach skills to almost anyone over a very short period of time, passion takes much longer than that - if at all.
Kate Morris, founder and CEO of Adore Beauty asks: 'If you were at Hogwarts, what house would you be in and why?'
We ask it for two reasons. One is to try and understand the potential for cultural fit (trust me, you don't want a workplace full of only Gryffindors). The other is that usually the candidate is not expecting the question, so their answer is not rehearsed and often provides insight that we might not get from the 'usual' interview questions.
John Winning, CEO of Winning Group asks: 'How have you helped out colleagues in the past?', or if they are in a customer service role 'How have you resolved a customer issue?'
What I hope to hear in their responses is how they went above and beyond for their colleague or customer and resolved a situation. Teamwork, honesty and effort is everything.
Dean Ramler, co-founder of Milan Direct asks: 'What makes you want to work at Milan Direct?' and 'What are the main types of furniture that we sell?'
We ask this as the very first question to see how much the candidate has researched our company and shown a genuine interest in the role. We simply won’t hire anyone who hasn’t researched our company, so this is a good way to keep those interviews short.
A good candidate will have almost an endless series of questions. Often by the time I am interviewing them, candidates will have met with quite a few people. But they should have specific questions that only I, as CEO and cofounder, can answer. The level of insight and understanding they have will come through in the questions they ask. It is not a sign of good manners, or eagerness, in my mind to have no questions, But rather the reverse. It suggests the candidate has not really researched the opportunity and not really serious about it, or is cavalier about their own career. None of these are good things. I want candidates who are deeply inquisitive about Redbubble, and assume they do not know very much but are passionate to learn. Come with a folder of engaging questions if you are serious!
It's a very open ended question which is what makes it so interesting. You learn a lot about people through the answers they provide. Do they talk about something personal or professional? Are they engaged by intellectual or physical challenges? Are they passionate about many things, one thing, or nothing? Usually you get a strong sense of cultural fit from the answer to this question and you learn something interesting about the person you're meeting.
Christian Mischler, founder and CMO of HotelQuickly asks: 'What would be your motivations for joining HotelQuickly?'
I press really hard on this one and try to truly understand what the candidate is expecting, what drives him or her, and how aligned the motivations are with the company. I expect honest insights and hope to get unexpected answers that positively surprise me of the quality of the candidate.
Trudy McDonald, managing director of TalentCode asks: 'Where do you see yourself three years from now?'
The candidate’s response provides a good insight into job fit which is one of the biggest predictors of job performance and retention.
I have had candidates tell me that they see themselves in another profession which then leads to the obvious question - what is the real motivation behind applying for this job? Others will discuss how they see themselves learning and progressing into more senior roles - this is a good indicator of personal drive and a desire to learn which provides some good clues around how to motivate and manage the person once hired. Others will share that they see themselves doing the same role. This type of response suggests that the candidate is likely to be stable however may not have a strong desire to learn which can be a challenge in some environments. There are no right or wrong answer to this question as it is all about the fit between the individual, the culture of the business and the role.
Ian Neal, NSW Chair of The Executive Connection asks 15 questions in 15 minutes, this includes: ‘What is the purpose of an organisation?’ and ‘What makes you happy?’
Getting the right people into the organisation is a critical success factor and one that is fraught. Most hiring methods have at best a 20 per cent success rate.
The ‘15 questions in 15 minutes’ technique offers rapid fire questions designed to find out how the interviewee perceives the world, what they believe and how they behave.
Simon Raik-Allen, CTO of MYOB asks: 'What are your pet projects? What are your proudest pieces of work outside of the job?'
This really demonstrates to me what a potential candidate is passionate about and whether the position I am hiring for is really within their interests or just considered a day job. I always look for candidates whose passions and personal goals align with the position description. At the end of the day, if you are spending so many hours doing a job, you have to have a thirst for it.
Tania Austin, CEO of Decjuba asks: 'What is one amazing thing you will do to create a difference, in your department at Decjuba?'
I love this one as its short and sharp and demonstrates the candidates ability to think on their feet.
Thinking on your feet, being nimble, fast and flexible is part of the Decjuba culture and I always find that this question exposes what drives the candidate. In the instance that we hire the candidate we then hold them accountable for making that difference and find with every team member being able to drive their own outcomes that they feel empowered which leading to amazing outcomes for the Decjuba brand.
Richard Appleby, managing partner of Conari Interim Solutions asks: 'Tell me a time when you had a strategy or proposal/project rejected by your superior. Describe the situation, what were the circumstances of the rejection and what did you do about it?'
I ask this question because I am generally dealing with senior people who will have significant responsibilities around capital, resources and staff for the jobs they are applying for. As such they will need to be putting up strategies and proposals to their boss quite frequently. No one gets everything right the first time so I am asking this question to draw out their attributes around handling rejection, their strategic and lateral thinking, their influencing skills, their competitiveness and their resilience.
You need the individual you’re interviewing to drop the mask so you can tap into the essence of who they are at their core. Having an authentic conversation around vision lets you see what really drives them to perform. Technical skill is still incredibly important, however the differentiator in creating a world class culture is finding people who are united by a greater purpose.
I always ask this as it gives the interviewee an opportunity to think creatively about their personal traits. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer, but I find it's a good way to see how a candidate can interpret their strengths or weaknesses, without me having to ask them what their strengths and weaknesses are.