The Granddaddy Question of them all …

Filed in HIRING ARTICLES by on June 28, 2019

The great majority of municipal administrators, mayors and counselors I’ve met in over 30 years of recruiting consider themselves pretty good at interviewing. While some do have a knack for interviewing, for most of them “pretty good” is definitely stretching the truth a little!

I’ve been through literally hundreds of interviews – some good and some bad. 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. Perhaps, like me, you have done a Google search for interview questions… so you already know a search will turn up an endless number questions of every kind . In my business, I have always needed to come up with interview questions that could prove that a candidate had the ‘right stuff ’ – essentially, the capacity and the motivation that my client was looking for.

I have noticed over the years that some of the VERY best candidates I have had going into an interview quite often fell flat at “showtime”. I observed too, that this often occurred when they had to answer the lame questions included by well meaning aspiring interview panelists who had Google searched questions like: “why should we hire you?”  Or “what is your greatest strength?” Or this gem, “Tell me about yourself?”

More often than not, this resulted in a candidate being hired who did the best job of interviewing rather than the candidate with the most skills and abilities … this is when I first coined the phrase:

“Never hire the best salesman unless you are actually hiring a salesman” dbm50

Being of Scottish decent and given to frugality, 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 out there -one that would contain the components necessary to prove to my clients that a candidate was motivated and able to handle the job.It would be that one question that would undo all those faulty assumptions many hiring managers inevitably make and the incorrect conclusions they quite often jump to … it would provide 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, my faithful Municipal Recruiting Report reader, to test this question for yourself . Find out why it works, and perhaps, like me, you will conclude that it is truly a great interview question!

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 over 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, for instance,  something about your attitudes, skills and knowledge? Would I have a pretty good handle on your abilities? Absolutely! The insight I would gain into you and what makes you tick 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 an insight into you – not the superficial, but 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 the job you 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 need 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. We operate coast to coast to coast in Canada, and we know more people in the municipal field than all of our competitors combined.

Bruce Malcolm

About the Author ()

Bruce's background includes 30+ years of human resource management experience covering all aspects of HR administration with a clear specialty in team building and recruiting. He created and developed the concept of “Ethical Head-Hunting™”. Bruce began his recruiting career in 1971 with Prudential Assurance.

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