Two Interview Questions that Help you Hire the Right People
Leaders tell me, “I can’t find good people.”
What if the talent war is the wrong war? Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place and asking the wrong questions.
Success is more about grit than talent.
Dumb people succeed and smart people under-perform. Your performance in school has almost nothing to do with your performance at work.
Hire for character:
“Character is, in the long run, the decisive factor in the life of individuals and of nations alike.” Theodore Roosevelt
“… one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. It wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.” Angela Duckworth
Hire based more on grit than on talent.
Duckworth continues, “… in our data, grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent.”
Talent and grit are usually inversely related? Really?
If Duckworth is right, highly talented people tend to give up sooner than people with less talent. Will Smith agrees when he preaches the value of hard work over talent.
“… where I excel is ridiculous sickening work ethic… while the other guy’s sleeping, I’m working.”
Should you hire dingbats who have grit? Probably not. Thomas NG and Daniel Feldman’s research suggest that education matters.
How to hire for character:
Helen Keller said, “Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
Interview question #1.: Tell me about a time when you struggled through adversity. What changed about you?
Interview question #2: Tell me about a time when you worked long and hard to develop a skill. What did you learn about yourself?
Require applicants to take two free assessments:
VIA Character Strengths Survey
Grit Scale (Angel Duckworth)
What interview questions might you suggest?
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when have you seen your tenacity/resilience really pay off in a professional setting? what was the outcome? &your learning?
I agree grit is a really important trait to hire for and it cannot be trained. I like the 2 interview questions. I believe I have a good idea of what response I should be listening for, but can you provide an example of what you think would be a strong response to each question that shows someone has grit? Thanks!
Thanks Marc. Any response that indicates an ability to stick with a difficult task for an extended period of time works for me. Even the ability to learn how to play an instrument might be helpful.
1. On a scale of 1-to-10, how do you rate yourself on grit or perseverance?
Follow up=what do you base your rating on? What would you need to do to move up from a 7-to-an 8?
2. In what ways do you practice continuous improvement? What are you currently working on?
3. When does it make sense to stop a project and pursue other initiatives?
Brilliant Paul. I’m a huge fan of 1:10 questions. The idea of moving the line up is powerful. Don’t tell people what YOU think they should do. Let them tell you.
Despite what you say above about dingbats, Dan, grit has become an end in itself. We seem to have lost the ability to distinguish perseverance from stupidity. The person who can spend all day trying to find a way to stand in the corner of a round room is seen as being the perfect example, not the horrible warning. I prefer Bill Gates’s idea of hiring lazy people, because lazy people find easy ways to do things…
Thanks Mitch. So true. I’ve been the victim of my own passion – refusal to change direction. The Gates approach is interesting and might help. I’m still shooting for grit. I’ve found that asking gritty people what they need to stop doing can be helpful. A gritty person might not consider that option.
It is great to see behavioral type questions being used more. So many organizations ask too many open ended questions that tell nothing about the person and you end up getting endless philosophy dribble from the candidate….which in many cases they have never applied that philosophy themselves. Making them give examples of life/work experiences, in my opinion, has worked the best and tells a lot about the person you are about to hire.
Thanks Joe. It’s good to hire people who can actually DO things and beware of hiring people who are good at TALKING about doing things.
Dan when I interviewed for a senior job at a very private firm, the owner and I talked about the my young son and our Sheltie dog. I learned to interview to find the best people not necessarily the most qualified people.
Thanks Brad. Interesting and useful expression, “the best people, not necessarily the most qualified people.”
What a great entry on grit and success. I am very interested in one’s process to overcome challenge. I would ask an applicant the following questions:
1. When faced with a challenge, how do you overcome that challenge?
2. How do you lend yourself to your colleagues as a resource?
3. What character trait are you most proud of and explain how you have used it in the past to bring the team across the finish line?
Thanks Kishla. Wow, great questions. I’m particularly fond of #3. Cheers
Helen Keller said, “Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Stands out for me. I can definitely say its true. One has to experience trial and suffering to truly learn success.
Thanks Roger. I’m always glad when you chime in. Best wishes.
Great post! I’m pretty sure I’ve been asked similar questions for almost every role I’ve interviewed for.
I love the idea of having applicants take a character survey. Any ideas on how you might use those results? For example, the VIA survey says that everyone has all 24 strengths but in a different order. Would you look for specific strengths to be near the top? I just took the survey, and my top 3 were hope, love of learning, and honesty . . . not perseverance. If I was using the survey to assess grit . . . I might not hire myself!
Thanks Kasey. The best use of the VIA survey might be discussion. How do you see these character strengths in yourself? How have they helped you succeed in the past? How might they help you succeed in this new role?
I would be concerned if someone used the survey as a quick tool to rule people out. I’m so glad you jumped in.
BTW … hope might be connected to grit. (Just a thought)
Wow very insightful love the post.
One question could be “What does success look like to you?”
We seem to forget that interviews are a two way dialogue: they ask why should we should invest in you, and we ask why should I trust you?
I’ll always answer the question in the way it is asked, and then turn it, “What’s an issue that you are dealing with now, and I’ll tell you how I’d go about resolving it to your satisfaction.”
(Admittedly, it works better as a prospective consultant than direct hire, but, hey, so what?)
If, or when, they realize that YOU are interviewing THEM, their reaction will tell you all you need to know (i.e. what their functional character is … if they can trust you to be looking after their backside, you can trust them to take the risk of engaging).
Will THEY persevere?
Dan, I have a problem with the Grit test. While it says that there is no wrong answer at the beginning, it seems to me that an applicant would tend to say that they are not distracted, not discouraged, focus on their goals, are a hard worker, etc. Can you speak to this?
I do like the interview questions and am always looking for effective ways to get people talking about themselves. It is not always the easiest thing for people to do.
Should you define ‘grit’ in skills? Something you work to learn and apply properly. Dan, I argue to adopt a Skills Culture and approach every experience as an opportunity to apply skills… This is a past post on my thoughts on “hire character and skills”…
I could not agree with this post more. I am not currently in a leadership position, but I hope to be in one soon after I complete my Master’s program. Once I am in that position, I will be a part of the hiring process and can use the great questions you provided. I have been on many interviews since obtaining my undergraduate degree six years ago, and not once have I been asked those questions. While an education is extremely important and has its place in the workspace, I believe character and work ethic make better employees.
I interviewed with my current employer over 4 times before I finally got a job there. My supervisor has told me that she wishes she would have hired me sooner because my work ethic is not something that can be trained. I also share the belief that work ethic and grit cannot be trained. I think those characteristics have a lot to do with how a person is raised and the traits they observe in their guardians.
I agree with your statement about hiring dingbats with a lot of grit. I have also experienced that combination and it is not feasible. So persistent and passionate, but yet so ignorant. While grit is a great characteristic to have, I also think you should be aware that you will not always be able to perform your job adequately with grit alone. I think another question you could add to an interview to ensure your candidate has grit but knows when to defer to those with more experience is “Explain a time when you were challenged at work, but you were not able to overcome the challenge. What did you learn from the experience and how did you handle it?”