7 Questions to Ask in an Interview

“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” – Jim Collins

In all my time as a manager, every employee I hired reaffirmed the same principle: You can teach skills and knowledge, but you can’t teach character.

Interviewing often consists primarily of questions about qualifications, experience, knowledge, professional skills, and the like. But I have not often seen a manager ask an interview question that requires any deep level of thinking and human engagement.

After a while I learned to stop asking the usual questions, because those are the questions people are expecting. Anyone can list 3 strengths they have. They are selling themselves. Typical questions will tell you very little about a person. Everyone knows how to answer “What are you passionate about?” or “How important is your work to you?”

If you really want to see what a person is made of, you have to ask unusual, thought-provoking questions. Questions they haven’t found on Google and prepared for. You have to ask questions that require them to tap deeper into their minds and show you what they’re truly made of.

Here are my 7 favorite questions to ask in an interview (try not to put them in a predictable order):

     1. Tell me about the biggest challenge in life you have had to overcome.

How competently they answer this question can tell you a lot about how self-aware they are, how much attention they pay to their own personal development. Hearing what they considered a challenge, how they went about beating it, and how they are better for it will give you insight into their character.

     2. What drives you personally? Why are you really here?

It seems like it should be the first question on every boss’s mind, but it’s amazing how infrequently it’s asked. A year down the road, after the honeymoon stage is over, it’s important to know what is driving the team member during the tough times. Are they internally or externally motivated? Do they love and believe in what they are doing? Are they personally invested?

     3. If I asked all of your former co-workers and managers, what would they tell me is the biggest thing you need to work on?

It’s a variation on the typical “list your weaknesses,” but this one goes a little deeper. It catches your interviewees off guard. Plus, you’ll get to see how good they are at stepping back and examining themselves from the view of others, and it may get you a more accurate, thoughtful answer. It’s interesting to hear how honest and self-aware people are when they answer this question.

     4. What do you really want to know about a company and environment you might join?

Generalizing the question (instead of asking “what do you want to know about us?“) puts people at ease. It’s easier for them to say “I need to know a team gets along” than “Does your team get along?” So it will give you the opportunity to address their actual concerns, and it’s also helpful to hear how much thought they put into their teams.

     5. What do you know about our company?

How much people have done their homework and learned about your team will tell you a lot about them. Do they really want to work with your specific team? Do they engage and invest in their causes? Do they plan ahead for their success?

     6. What have you been learning lately?

It’s absolutely essential to know that your potential team members are eager learners. You only want to work with people who value continuous self-improvement. I have rarely gotten a confident answer to this question, but the few people who gave the good answers turned out to be excellent additions to the team and very open to feedback.

     7. Are you sure this is the right fit for you? Are you sure you still want to be here?

Between the beginning and the end of the meeting, your interviewees’ minds may have changed drastically. They’ve learned a lot about the team, revealed a lot about themselves, and gotten to interact with their potential new boss. But they might feel committed–it’s tough to back out. So it’s important to be very honest and open with them. Let them know you care just as much about whether this will be good for them as you care about whether they will be good for you. If they’re not going to be truly excited and enthusiastic, it’s not a smart hire.

(Notice the questions are of a general nature. Where it comes to very specific qualifications and focuses of their job, the questions will likely be a lot more obvious and straight-forward.)

Those 7 questions helped me learn a lot about people before it was too late. They helped me find great team members and avoid wasting time and money on poor fits.

The bottom line, though, is this: If you ask typical interview questions you will hear rehearsed answers. You need to really get to know the person and whether they will be a good fit for you. You need to engage them at a very deep level. You need to know what makes them tick.

It might be helpful to try this: Don’t just “interview” them, talk with them.

Coolest Reason to Do Public Speaking

A while ago a member of my Toastmasters club was asked to give an impromptu on why he wanted to do public speaking. His answer was one of the coolest I’ve ever heard.

His first language is Korean, and delivering a smooth speech in unbroken English is still quite a challenge for him. So he explained: Public speaking was one of his greatest fears. He didn’t like it, didn’t feel comfortable, didn’t feel safe.

And that’s why he does it.

He does it because it’s a fear and a challenge. And why not practice beating your fears and challenges?

What a Closed Mind Looks Like

One day long ago, a man walked along a dusty old road. Soon a lion approached and met him. They struck up a conversation and began walking together.

“Tell me,” said the man, “Of lion and man, who do you consider to possess the greater strength and cunning?”

The lion walked silently, considering the question. There is great power and cunning to speak of for both, he thought. But hard to tell which is greater.

Unable to wait, and considerably more interested in his own opinion anyway, the man answered his own question. “I think it is reasonable to say man is greater,” he said. “You lions possess not the cunning and strategy that make us great. We will always be conquerors, and you will always fear and serve us.”

The lion purred in obvious annoyance. “That is quite a statement,” he replied.

“Follow me,” said the man, “I will prove it to you!”

The man led the lion into the beautiful public gardens and up to a great statue of stone. The god Zeus was depicted ripping apart a lion’s jaws, slaying the stone beast. The man pointed smugly at the statue, waiting for his companion to concede.

The lion stopped in his tracks and stared at the statue in some confusion. Then a grin began to spread across his face. He chuckled and turned to the man. “You are blind, silly man! Look at the inscription! It was a man, like you, who carved this statue,” he said. “Had a lion fashioned this statue, you can be sure that it would be Zeus who was slain. You have proved nothing.”


In this old fable, Aesop taught an important lesson: We can easily represent things as we wish them to be. Our minds are shaped by the statues around us. Each statue has its own maker whose mind was also shaped by statues.

Now that does not prove there is no “truth,” no reality. But it warns that we must take care how blindly we commit ourselves to the statues that have shaped us. Why, after all, do we so desperately need to believe our statues are accurate beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Like the man, we are often by nature too confident in our own presuppositions. Too sure of our opinions, too convinced by our own logic.

So it’s time to ask ourselves: Are we blindly following the statues made by our own kind? Or are we truly opening our minds to other ideas–ideas that may be valuable for us, may help us, may change our lives completely?


There’s a verse in the Bible that I’ve tried to live by for the last seven years:

“Let your gentleness be known to all men.”

Gentleness. It’s the first word my girlfriend uses to describe me. But as a kid, I was never gentle. I was very angry, sometimes even a little violent (as violent as a ten-year-old can be, anyway). Everyone and everything around me made me mad, and I didn’t bother hiding it.

I grew up feeling like I had to win every argument and fight. I thought I had to fight for myself whatever the cost. My weapons were sarcasm and a loud voice. If we’re honest, becoming an adult doesn’t fix any of that.

But try living by that verse for a while. When I first read it, all the conflict and stress became a little more black and white. I understood why I had a hard time leading and keeping peaceful friendships.

So I memorized it and thought about it every day for months. I stopped talking as much, stopped insisting on being right, and stopped expressing anger.

I can honestly say, that may have been the biggest turning point in my life. I don’t live in stress and conflict anymore. I don’t drive people away.

“Let your gentleness be known to all men.”

I still refocus on that verse regularly, still live by it. And I can tell you from my own experience: For the sake of your own peace and the peace of your relationships, gentleness is one of the most valuable characteristics you can create in yourself.

2 Salespeople

In every sale there are at least two parties doing the selling.

The “sales” professional pitches the product. He lists its benefits, excuses its weaknesses, and pushes the customer to buy.

But he doesn’t ultimately “sell” the product. Sure he helps, but he doesn’t change the customer’s mind, and he doesn’t make the customer’s decision.

The second salesperson is the customer. And he’s the one who decides the sale and closes the deal.

The customer has different ultimate concerns than the salesperson: The customer thinks, “Is this product good for me?” while the salesperson thinks “How much money can I make selling this product?”

An effective sales professional puts himself in his customer’s shoes so that he can get inside his customer’s head. He asks himself not, “Why do I think he should buy this?” but, “Why would he think he should buy this?”

Because your customer will never care why you think he should buy your product.