We Need to Recruit Now

Filed in HIRING ARTICLES by on June 1, 2015

The vast majority of the municipal administrators, mayors and counselors I’ve come across in my 30 years of recruiting believe that, when it comes to interviewing, they’re pretty good at it. Over the years, though, I’ve learned that that’s definitely stretching the truth a little!

I’ve been through literally hundreds of interviews – some good ones and some bad ones. But, over the years, it became important to me to become the best interviewer I could be. Always working on interview questions and trying to come up with better ones, I needed to come up with interview questions that would prove that a candidate had both the capacity and the motivation necessary for the job.

Then it occurred to me that one unusually good question might be the solution. This led me on a mission to find the single best interview question. One that would contain the components necessary to prove to my clients that my candidate was motivated and able to handle the job … that one question that would undo all those faulty assumptions and incorrect conclusions many hiring managers inevitably make and jump to … some hard evidence that a particular candidate was the best person for the job.


Through years of hard work and some trial and error, I believe I’ve done it: here’s my “Granddaddy” question of them all:

Q. What is the one thing you can point to (an assignment or project) that has been the most significant accomplishment in your career so far?

I would like to invite you to test this question for yourself to find out why it works, and why I believe it’s so strong. Imagine for a moment that this same question has just been asked of you! What accomplishment would you come up with? Then consider what your responses might be, as I probe – exploring your accomplishment for the next 20 minutes or so, digging deeper with the following queries. How would you respond to these?

  • Can you give me an overview of the accomplishment?
  • Describe your accomplishment step by step.
  • Whom were you working for, what was your job title … what part did you play, describe the team you were working with?
  • What was accomplished?
  • When did it start and how long did it take?
  • Why were you chosen?
  • What challenges did you face, how did you deal with them?
  • How did your work ethic and initiative manifest themselves?
  • Step by step, tell me about your plan … how did you manage it? Did it actually work?
  • What was going on around you, and what resources did you have?
  • Tell me about your immediate boss. What was his style … did that work well for you or not, and why?
  • What skills were needed for this accomplishment and how were they put to use?
  • What was the biggest single error you made?
  • What did you enjoy most about this experience?
  • How were you able to handle the less enjoyable aspects of the accomplishment?
  • Give a number of examples of how you involved others and managed them.
  • Give a number of examples of how you were managed and influenced by others.
  • How did this accomplishment change you? How are you a better person?
  • If you had it to do over again what would you do differently?
  • How were you recognized for this accomplishment?


Okay, in 15 or 20 minutes, what might I know about you using this approach? Would I know something about your attitudes, skills and knowledge? Would I have a pretty fair idea of your abilities? Absolutely! The insight I would gain would be invaluable. Of course, you’ve figured out by now that the Granddaddy Question was asked just to get things started. It’s all the details that came out of the subsequent probing questions that really gave me what I should be looking for in you – what matters the most.

In a nutshell, this is what real interviewing looks like – getting a good understanding of what your candidate has actually accomplished, and comparing her answers to what you really want to get done. Trick or clever questions may show how smart you are, but they very likely won’t get you what you want! Try asking just one question for your next interview. My bet is you’ll have a much better idea of whether the candidate can do the job …. because one question is all it takes!

Here’s another equally important question:

Why wouldn’t you simply call on Ravenhill Group the next time you go outside to recruit?

We’re the ONLY company in Canada that focuses exclusively on municipal recruiting, and the ONLY company that offers three guarantees: performance, “hands-off”, and quality guarantees. We operate coast to coast to coast in Canada, and we know more people in the municipal field than all of our competitors.

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