By: Helios on January 3rd, 2014

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The Best Interview Questions and Techniques to Identify Top Performers

Best Practices | Employee Relations | Talent Acquisition

We’ve all heard about the high cost of hiring the wrong person. How can you prevent these costly mis-hires? When interviewing, focus on the candidates’ qualifications and fit with the organization and team. Here are five interview questions and six techniques which will help you identify top performers in your interview process.

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Interview Questions:

  1. What will your previous manager tell me about your performance, both areas in which you excelled and those areas which were a focus for your development?
  2. What was your reason for leaving previous positions? Probe for any issues candidate says were “mutual.”
  3. Tell me about a successful project you managed. How did you add value or ensure its success?
  4. Tell me about a mistake you made and what you learned from the experience.
  5. What are you currently doing to improve your professional knowledge and expertise?


Do your own reference checks. When you speak to candidates, make clear that you will personally be speaking to their references (which will be previous managers). As Brad Smart says, this is like truth serum. In fact, ask the candidate what they think the manager will say about their past performance, both areas in which they excelled and those areas which were a focus for development. If candidates know you will be speaking with their previous managers, they will be forced to be more honest in their answers to you.

Dig. In general, be sure that for any question you ask, follow up with additional questions digging into the answers you receive. If you do not probe more deeply, you may walk away with a false understanding of the candidate’s qualifications.

For example, a candidate tells you that she won the President’s Cup for 2013. That candidate response should be followed up with another question, i.e., “Congratulations. How many other sales reps were awarded the President’s Cup in 2013?” In this case, about 50% of sales reps received this award. This is a significant difference from an award in which only one or two sales reps were recognized.

Take note - top performers usually leave positions for pull reasons. When probing for a candidate’s reason for leaving previous jobs, note patterns of “push” or “pull” reasons. An example of a pull reason would be if a previous manager contacted them to follow him or her to a new company.

Look for examples of engagement. Top performers are engaged in their work. It shows when they speak about past projects/work. Many times, interviewers find they ask fewer questions as these candidates tend to provide the necessary information through the course of discussion. Look for individuals who show ownership of their work and projects.

How did the candidate handle mistakes? Top performers make mistakes, but they learn and improve because of them. When discussing previous mistakes, take note about where candidates lay blame and, depending upon the scope of the problem, how they worked under high pressure.

Top performers seek to improve their skills and knowledge. They are typically reading about the latest industry trends, utilizing professional development opportunities and are well-networked.

By utilizing these interview questions and techniques, you can significantly improve your ability to identify and hire top performers.

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