The Worst Question You Can Ask in an Interview

March 1, 2016, 4:50 PM UTC
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you avoid hiring the wrong people?” is written by Rick Crossland, founder of A Player Advantage.

Perhaps nothing is more devastating to an entrepreneur than hiring the wrong people, yet we’ve all done it at one point or another in our careers. The wrong people on your team hurt not only the culture of your organization, but can also set back the growth and bottom-line profitability of your firm. So what are proven methods for preventing the wrong people from being inadvertently hired by your company?

Here are seven proven steps:

Hire only A players
This a simple, but very powerful point. Only hire the best. A players are defined as employees in the top 10% of their profession for the compensation offered, and are those you would enthusiastically rehire. So what if they cost you 10% more? They are two to three times more productive than B players. Nothing great was ever accomplished with average.

Define the position
This is a common mistake many companies make. Do not post a position without defining it through a detailed job description, or what I call an A Player Agreement, which lists in detail all of the skills and activities to get an “A” in the position. Without defining the position, even established businesses get murky on what candidate skill sets and experiences are needed for the job. This is a sure-fire recipe for hiring the wrong person.

Build a robust candidate pool
The more candidates you have to look at, the keener your eye will be in selecting the right talent. That said, some searches will have a very finite candidate pool. One that I am currently working on for a client has perhaps only about two dozen viable candidates in the country at any one time, but it’s important to be patient and selective. Don’t get impatient and settle for a B player.

Check their intrinsic “DNA” with a robust assessment tool
In my profession, assessment tools are the “sport of kings,” meaning every consultant or Ph.D. has his or her favorite. I’ve used several good ones over the years. Find one that is easy to understand and straightforward to deploy to candidates. I prefer the Caliper hiring assessment because it’s easy to interpret and comes with a consult from an outside professional as part of the service. A good assessment tool is like taking a DNA sample from the candidate. Since the tools are validated on thousands of candidates, you can screen out those who don’t have the right behavioral characteristics to be successful in the role before they come in for an interview.


Use a rigorous behavioral-based interview approach
One common interview mistake is to ask hypothetical or vague questions. One of the worst: “Tell me about yourself.” Instead, ask questions about actual situations and results (conduct a behavioral-based interview). If you use hypothetical or canned questions, even just average candidates can make up good-sounding answers. My firm uses one two to four-hour interview with the entire executive team using author Brad Smart’s structured, Topgrading interview guide, which includes asking about the candidate’s career history. With the longer interview, you get more data to successfully onboard your candidate. You’ll find that people who you would hire in a 45-minute interview cannot keep up the facade for a two to four-hour interview. Their answers become vague and nonspecific, which is the hallmark of the B or C player. Paradoxically, A players love the vigor of this process because their answers are specific, they get to learn about your firm, and they can tell you are serious about top talent.

Interview references
During the actual interview, ask the candidate for the names of key managers they have worked with over the course of their careers. The best candidates will be happy to set up reference interviews for you with these managers. Be sure to budget at least 30 minutes per interview and ask the same kinds of behavioral-based questions about the same situations the candidate was interviewed on. If the references only validate employment, the candidate probably isn’t the best fit.

Pass on the candidates who don’t excite you
This is a simple but powerful point: Pass on any candidates you aren’t excited about. Hiring a candidate who just ticks the boxes but doesn’t excite is a formula for a mis-hire. Great candidates should get you excited about their skills, results, and know-how, as well as the cultural fit they bring to the party.

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