Don't Hire Anyone Who Can't Answer These 3 Questions

Three questions seemed to do the trick as long as the hiring manager first defined job success


Lou Adler

3 years ago | 3 min read

One of our clients asked if we could develop a short version of Performance-based Hiring that hiring managers would actually use.

Three questions seemed to do the trick as long as the hiring manager first defined job success as five or six key performance objectives (KPOs).

For example, something like, “Develop a new user interface for the budgeting system by year end,” is much more useful for assessing ability than saying the person must have a CPA or MBA, 3-5 years of budgeting experience and a strong attention to detail. 

In fact, the condensed version of the Performance-based Hiring process was so condensed we fit it all on just this one infographic. (CAUTION: these questions are so powerful, candidates can ensure they're asked them by prepping properly. In fact, they should send their answers in ahead of time to prevent confusion.)

The Three Critical Questions Every Candidate Must Answer Correctly

The first question: Can you tell me about your single most significant career accomplishment of all time including when it happened?

The second question: The biggest accomplishment required for success in this job is (describe a major accomplishment or KPO in some detail). Given this, can you tell me about something you’ve accomplished that’s most comparable including when it happened?

The third question: If you were to get this job, what would you need to know to put together a detailed plan for accomplishing (the major accomplishment asked in question two)?

It takes about 15 minutes of peeling the onion (i.e., what, when, why, who, how, where?) to fully understand the candidate’s answer to each question and if the first one isn’t even in the ballpark or close to it, you can stop the interview. However, I suggest you conduct a work history review first before asking the questions, but that’s optional. 

Based on the candidate’s answers you’ll be able to compare the two accomplishments to the required performance objectives on the job and if the person understands what’s needed to put together a comprehensive plan to achieve the most important one. Given this, here’s how to determine if the person should be considered a serious candidate for your job.

Assess the comparability of the accomplishments to the KPOs

Some of the fact-finding necessary to fully understand the candidate’s accomplishments involves understanding the scope and scale of the role, the person’s organizational responsibility, if it was a team or individual accomplishment, how the person planned and managed the task, the underlying environment (i.e., pace, depth of resources, company culture, the person’s manager’s role, etc.) and specific details about the results achieved. Most of these factors should match the needs of the open job. I’d be concerned if the accomplishments weren’t too recent or if they were much bigger or smaller than needed.

Connect the two accomplishments to see the trend of performance over time

I get concerned when the biggest accomplishment was long ago and the most comparable accomplishment is a lot smaller in terms of scope and scale, even if more recent. I’m less concerned in this same situation if the person is currently doing outstanding work and it’s work he/she finds intrinsically motivating. 

Assess the quality of the questions to assess critical thinking skills, potential and job-related problem solving

The most capable people are able to ask good clarifying questions about a project and gather the right information before implementing a solution. Asking the person to describe what information he/she would need to put together a detailed plan to achieve a major objective is a good way to assess this ability.

I’m concerned when the person doesn’t even know where to begin or the questions lack insight or are too generic. On the other hand, a great list of questions should qualify the person for another round of interviewing even if the accomplishments fall a bit short. 

While this is enough information to determine if the candidate is a possible semi-finalist for the job, there’s a lot more that needs to be done before making the person an offer including recruiting the person without busting the compensation budget. 

This post on using the Hiring Formula for Success describes all of the factors involved in making a complete and accurate hiring decision and this course describes exactly what needs to be done to make sure your offer is accepted. 

Despite the challenges in hiring a great person, you know you’re almost there when a candidate can properly answer these three questions.

At a minimum asking them will prevent you from hiring people you shouldn’t and, as important, you’ll see more qualified and diverse people by defining the work as a series of performance objectives rather than an arbitrary and generic list of skills and experiences. 


Created by

Lou Adler







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