Best Interview Question:

‘How’ tells you a lot about the potential fit of a candidate

As leaders, one of the key roles many of us play inside our organizations is trying to find the next A player to hire to help transform the business. Finding top talent is also a classic struggle to prioritize skill or will. In other words, do you want to find someone who has the best technical capabilities for the job, or would you rather prioritize the person who is the better cultural match?

While technical skills are critical, you often don’t need an interview to assess them. They’re already on the résumé. That’s why, in an interview, you should be prioritizing ways to assess whether the person will be a cultural fit for your organization. (The truth is that this same logic should apply to candidates as well: No one wants to work someplace where they don’t fit in.)

That’s why it’s crucial not to pull punches in an interview and avoid asking the hard questions or delivering the hard answers.

But, as an interviewer, how can you dig more deeply into whether someone is truly a fit for your job? It turns out, it all comes down to a single question: “How did you do that?”

Getting Past the Résumé

Imagine that you’re looking to hire a new sales manager. And the person you’ve called in for an interview has a résumé that checks all the boxes in terms of their experience. They even list out key bullets such as growing revenue by $XX in just one year by leading a cross-functional team.

It looks like an impressive list of accomplishments. So, as the interviewer, that sets you up perfectly to ask the question: “How did you do that?”

The kind of answer you get back is truly informative. And don’t be afraid to keep asking the question multiple times.

You might learn, for example, that the accomplishments the candidate took credit for happened because they were part of a team. And, after further questioning, you might learn that they not only didn’t lead the team, but they also weren’t in the position to close the sale either.

In other words, if you had hired this person on the basis of their résumé, and you were counting on them to land big sales for you, you would have quickly been disappointed.

Finding the Perfect Fit

The more you ask how the deeper you can dig and learn about the true stories behind the résumé bullets. You can also learn a lot about what the person actually likes to do at work and how they get their job done.

Asking “How did you do that?” to the point of annoyance is not a gotcha technique: It’s all about ensuring that you are hiring the right person for the job. You might even discover you like the person–but that they might fit better in a completely different role.

Making Better Hires

Asking “How did you do that?” is related to another set of questions I’ve written about before that I call the 5 whys. These are questions designed to help you get to the bottom of someone’s experience. They also allow you to cut through some of the art of interviewing, because you can combine the answers to them with other hiring tools, like data analysis, to get past the notion of making hiring decisions based only on your gut.

As a result, you’ll make better hires–which will not only save you the countless dollars and headaches wasted on bad hires but will also help strengthen your organizational culture.

In the end, your goal should be to make sure you’re hiring the right person. And one of the best ways to get to that point is to focus on how someone does their work. So don’t be shy about asking them how they got in for their interview in the first place.

Jim Schleckser

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