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How I Hire the Elites: 4 Good Interview Questions to Ask

How I Hire the Elites: 4 Good Interview Questions to Ask

In today’s highly competitive labor market, most hiring managers understand that identifying, vetting, and hiring top talent is a key priority––one a CEO must be invested in. Gone are the days when you can hang the “Help Wanted” sign on the front page of your website and expect dozens of quality resumes to show up in your inbox.

Certainly, in my role as President of my company BookBaby, I take the recruitment and interview process very seriously—not just because it’s important, but also because it’s difficult.

The truth is, anyone who takes the time and trouble to send you a resume and apply for your open position can probably do the tasks outlined in the job description. But that’s only half the battle.

What to Look for in a Candidate

A successful hire is one who can complete tasks while also succeeding within the context and culture of the organization that employs them.

For my company, that means being nimble, forward thinking, and having an understanding of the publishing world. More specifically, beyond having good interview questions to ask, I look for three things in every candidate I interview.

1. The ability to work autonomously

All of my employees would agree on this one fact: I’m not a micromanager. I don’t want to spend my time looking over my employees’ shoulders all day long––I’ve got my own job to do!

Thus, I need employees to be self-starters who can not only inspire themselves, but also solve tough problems on their own.

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2. The ability to communicate in various environments

Everyone expresses themselves in different ways. To succeed on my team, however, employees must be able to make themselves understood no matter their communication style.

This is true whether they’re communicating with their peers, managers, or especially customers. That means, of course, that new hires must also be able to adapt to different audiences––from those listening to their presentations in the office to those reading their words on Twitter.

3. The ability to make decisions

This might be the most important skill set that, truly, all managers look for. It doesn’t matter if you’re hiring a fresh-out-of-school marketer or a seasoned financial controller––candidates must be able to assess situations, determine the best means of achieving the optimal outcome, and make the call to move forward.

There’s a matter of trust here: as a company leader, you have to know that the people on your team will make the kind of choices and compart themselves in a way that is representative of your company, its ethos, and your ambitions.

Again, these priorities are not unique to me. These are things most founders, CEOs, and managers look for. They evidence, ultimately, abilities of reason and logic, levels of motivation, and self-awareness––the traits quality team members who’ll drive your company forward need to have.

Good Questions to Ask in an Interview

So the question then becomes: how do you go about determining if candidates do possess these qualities?

My strategy: ask the right questions.

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1. Tell me about your happy place

The first question I ask candidates is this: tell me about your optimal work environment. An experience in which you know you’ll thrive. The culture in which you are most productive and happiest.[1]

I also want to know the characteristics exhibited by the best boss they’ve ever had—or wish that they’d had.

If their sort of optimal vision aligns with mine––with the sort of environment and culture I’ve worked hard to build in my company––I know we’re on the right track.

2. Putting the boss on notice

Second, my very best hires have all been people who’ve helped to up my game, so to speak.

So I always ask candidates for three or four expectations that they have of senior leaders in an organization. What hopes do they have for the people they work with and for?

If they can speak articulately on that, I know that it’s likely they’ll be able to help me improve in that area, which is a good thing for me and for the company.

3. Serving the customer

At BookBaby, we depend on our people to provide world-class customer service all day long.

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It’s for this reason that I always ask candidates, then, to tell me a story about their most challenging customer and how they eventually made them happy––or didn’t.

You can learn a lot about the tolerance, patience, and one’s capacity for empathy and patience through stories like this. Plus, it’s important that candidates have experience to this end. Customer service is very much a skill.

4. That one decision

Finally, I do save one question for the end of every single interview. It’s a simple one––and I’ve received 100 different answers to it. Some amazing, some not so much.

Here it is:

Tell me about the very best decision you’ve ever made.

Was it a snap decision, or did you think it through? Were you happy with the outcome? Would you change it now?

This question reveals a lot about the applicant. Often it evidences their logic, and even gives you a glimpse of their creative capacity.

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If the answer is forgettable and cliché, for example––“When I decided to ask my wife to get married” (ho hum)––that shows you either that the applicant hasn’t done many impressive things, or that they lack the creative chops to ideate something exciting.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, of course more goes into whether or not you should make a decision as important as a new hire than just the interview––and four measly interview questions, at that!

But it remains that the interview––and particularly the interview with you, the leader of the company––is the most relevant and crucial opportunity a candidate gets to sell themselves. It’s inherently revealing, in this sense, and speaks to a candidate’s ability to perform under pressure.

Of course, you’ll only get useful questions out of an interview if you yourself put work into it on the back end.

It pays, in other words, to identify which questions, approaches, and strategies work best in helping you hire the right people for your company and its specific context.

More Resources to Build an Outstanding Team

Featured photo credit: Johanna Buguet via unsplash.com

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Steven Spatz

Steven is the President of BookBaby, the nation’s leading eBook and printed book distributor. He shares about entrepreneurial tips on Lifehack.

How I Hire the Elites: 4 Good Interview Questions to Ask

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways

How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways

Memory plays an integral role in our lives, both in the short and long term. If you’re wondering how to improve memory, I’m here to tell you that there are natural and effective ways to do so.

Despite what you might think, improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it.

Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve memory efficiently and reduce the risk of memory loss.

1. Meditate

We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts, and figures into our conscious minds.

Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder, then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. Research suggests that the more information and distractions you receive, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory[1].

Fortunately, meditation can help.

Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which, in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

While any amount of meditation will do something to help your memory, one study pointed out that “8 but not 4 weeks of brief, daily meditation decreased negative mood state and enhanced attention, working memory, and recognition memory as well as decreased state anxiety scores”[2].

Therefore, if you’re looking for the most benefits, try sticking with a meditation practice for at least 8 weeks.

However, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

2. Get Plenty of Sleep

If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then it’s likely that you’re not able to remember well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities, including your memory.

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If you want to learn how to improve memory, how much sleep should you be getting?

Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation[3], you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things[4].

If you want to improve memory, get plenty of sleep.

    Maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!), but if you care about improving your long and short term memory, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

    Try these three things to naturally improve your sleep cycle:

    • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
    • Don’t eat too late
    • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

    Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

    However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory.

    3. Challenge Your Brain

    When was the last time you challenged your brain?

    I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or under-sleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and memory games.

    To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

    Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-solving ability, and memory.

    There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

    • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
    • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
    • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

    If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

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    Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it; try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.

    4. Take More Breaks

    When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctly remember working all the hours under the sun—and many under the moon, too!

    At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat, and tears.

    However, if you want to know how to improve memory, taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative, and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

    Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

    One 2011 study from the University of Illinois concluded that “the brain is built to detect and respond to change…and prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance”[5].

    This is based on something called the “vigilance decrement.” This can be applied to many things. For example, we often don’t notice the feeling of clothing touch our bodies because our brain becomes accustomed to the sensation. However, if you change clothes, you’ll likely notice the difference in texture and temperature for a few minutes.

    When you take a break from memorizing information, it refocuses your attention and energy, leading to increased focus overall.

    It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart, and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

    Basically, make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

    5. Learn a New Skill

    I love this quote, as it’s 100% true but frequently overlooked:

    “Learning never exhausts the mind.” -Leonardo da Vinci

    From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

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    Let me give you an example of this:

    Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day, many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

    Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

    The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you rather than letting you work in your own way.

    Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction into learning a new skill (computer coding).

    It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career, and the ongoing learning made the call center job much more bearable.

    Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus, and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking out new information. When learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly becomes a habit, too.

    If you want to know how to learn something new every day, check out this article.

    6. Start Working out

    If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

    Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory[6].

    Regular physical activities increase blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. A well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

    Even if you don’t have much time, research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines[7].

    Interested in getting started?

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    Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

    • Join a gym
    • Join a sports team
    • Buy a bike
    • Take up hiking
    • Dance to your favorite music

    7. Eat Healthier Foods

    I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

    This applies to your brain, too.

    The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health, as well.

    Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery, and dark chocolate. But any fruits, vegetables, or foods high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory. Here’re some ideas: 15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

    Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain, leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

    If you want to improve your mental health, eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

    • Turmeric – Helps new brain cells grown
    • Broccoli – Protects the brain against damage
    • Nuts – Improves memory
    • Green tea – Enhances brain performance, memory and focus[8]
    • Fish oilFish oil supplements can increase your brain power

    Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

    Also, remember that your brain is about 75% water, so dehydration can have a huge effect on the way your brain functions. Stay hydrated if you really want to improve memory!

    Final Thoughts

    I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be helpful for you.

    You don’t need to implement them all, but you can try out the ones that appeal to you.

    But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory and avoiding cognitive decline, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested.

    More on How to Improve Memory

    Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

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