The 1 Best Question to Use in an Interview

There is a single question that you can use to assess whether candidates understand the job and if they are A or C players.

The secret to hiring your next great employee might come down to how someone answers a single question. And you won’t be asking what kind of tree the person would be or about her Myers-Briggs profile. It all comes down to measuring performance. Let me to us

The authors of the book Who suggest you can immediately begin to distinguish A players from B and C players, beginning with your initial phone screen. You do so by telling a candidate exactly how you will be measuring his or her performance in the job you’re hiring for.

How candidates react will tell you plenty about them. C players, for example, probably won’t be able to hang up the phone fast enough, since they don’t want any part of being measured. A players, on the other hand, will take your bait and get excited for the chance to excel. They might even up the ante by asking you what’s in it for them if they really crush it and exceed your expectations.

It turns out there’s an even better question you can ask candidates to help assess if they are true A players once you have them in for an interview. I learned about this magic question from Joel Trammell, the CEO of software company Khorus, who I wrote about in my book Great CEOs Are Lazy.

Joel believes that CEOs can’t delegate hiring decisions to someone else like HR. He perfected his hiring method by interviewing every single one of the hundreds of employees in his company.

Doing those interviews, Joel found that there was a single question that helped him assess whether a candidate understood the job being applied for and what he or she needed to do to excel in it.

“If I was to hire you, how would I know if you were doing a good job?”

This is a great question because it forces the candidate to put herself into the job and be thoughtful about how she might be measured by you, her boss. The answer you get will tell you a lot about the candidate’s maturity and comfort level with having her performance measured.

If you ask a C player this question, for instance, you might get some stammering followed by some noncritical metrics such as he will show up for work on time and not take extended lunch hours.

A players, on the other hand, will give you exactly what you’re looking for. Let’s say you are hiring a software engineer. When you ask an A player the magic question, he might respond by saying you will know whether he is doing a good job by using three metrics: the total volume of software code he produces on a weekly or monthly basis; the quality of the code based on a limited number of bugs; and his on-time delivery rate in which he hits the targets he said he would.

This would be a great answer because each of the metrics is measurable and quantifiable. You know if you had a group of engineers who were all willing to be measured on those metrics, you’d have a high-performing team.

Similarly, if you were hiring a salesperson, you might want to hear her answer the magic question by saying that you could tell she was doing a good job if she was exceeding her quota and selling profitable business, and her customer satisfaction rating was off the charts.

A key point here is that while you might know what you want to hear from a candidate, leave some wiggle room to be surprised and to learn something new about the position from an A player–someone who might think of a metric you’ve never considered.

The beauty of asking the magic question is also that, after the candidate gives you his answer, you pause for a second and say: “Let me write these down because, if I hire you, this is exactly how I will measure you after you start your new job.”

In other words, you can use the answer to the magic question as a great onboarding tool in which you have eliminated any chance that your new hire will be surprised about what is expected of him after he starts his new job.

How magical is that?


3 thoughts on “The 1 Best Question to Use in an Interview

  1. I agree. What a great question. It works for senior and even mid-level staff. For novices, not so revealing since they just don’t know nothing yet.


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