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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

Reference

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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 July 10, 2020

Feeling Stuck in Your Career? How to Break Free and Get Ahead

Feeling Stuck in Your Career? How to Break Free and Get Ahead

Have you ever caught yourself in a daydream where you’ve gone for that upcoming promotion, and you’re now the boss at work? Or how about the one where you’ve summoned up all your courage to quit a job where you’re feeling stuck in your career and live your dream instead? Or when you’ve changed career paths to do what really makes you happy?

Then, you snapped back to reality and realized that you’re not the boss, not living your dream, and not even happy in the career path that you’re on.

Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of individuals who’ve told me they feel stuck in their careers, that something had to change for them to break free and be happy, but they lacked the confidence to take that step. My mission is to make sure that nobody feels stuck in their career because of a momentary lapse in bravery that’s dragged on for too long.

Read on to find out how you can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free, and get ahead at work. .

Here are my top ten tips for becoming unstuck in your career.

1. Make Time for You

If you’re feeling stuck, frustrated, or unhappy with how your career is panning out, the first step is to work out why.

Maybe you’ve arrived in your current career by accident and haven’t ever made time to deliberately think or plan what you’d love to do and how you’d get there.

Prioritizing time to think is the first step you need to take to stop feeling stuck and start getting ahead. Book some time into your day where you can have an uninterrupted meeting with yourself. This is your thinking time.

Work out what makes you happy at work, what doesn’t, and where you might want to go. Decide on the steps you want to take to progress your career in the direction that you want it to take.

For example, are there training days, evening courses, or online learning that you can do? Have you considered getting a mentor to help you get ahead?

By booking in a meeting with yourself, it signals it’s important (to you and your colleagues) and also stops others spotting a gap in your day and filling it with a meeting.

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2. Grow Your Network Before You Need It

Who you know is more important than what you know for career progression. Don’t wait until you’re feeling stuck in your career to start expanding your networks. Do it now.

Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take, says you’re 58% more likely to get a new job through your weak ties than through your strong ones. Your strong ties are those in your immediate circle whom you interact with often. Your weak ties are your friends of friends. They move in different circles to you, they know different people, make different connections, and are more likely to introduce you to new and different opportunities[1].

When I was thinking about setting up my current company, Lucidity, I turned up to every networking event. I drank a lot of coffees with a lot of different people to understand what they did, to ask for advice, to unpick what their problems were, and to look for opportunities for collaboration and connections.

It paid off because, when I launched my business, I let my network know how I could help them, and soon I had my first clients.

Pay attention to building and nurturing your networks and focus on how you can add value to other. That’s where your next career opportunity is most likely to come from.

3. Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You

According to Tim Ferriss, “You are the average of the five people you most associate with,” and his associations with different people ebbs and flows depending on what he’s working on and trying to achieve[2].

For example, if you are trying to be fitter, it’s easier if you hang around with people who love doing exercise–they help you to up your game.

If you want that promotion, a career change, or to set up your own business, seek out people who are excelling at it already. They’ll have valuable things to teach you about breaking free and getting ahead.

4. Work on Your Personal Brand

Jeff Bezos defines a personal brand as “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” People will talk about you when you are not in the room anyway, so you might as well be deliberate about what you’d like people to say!

Your personal brand isn’t about pretending to be something you’re not. That can actually keep you feeling stuck in your career. It’s really about being your best “real you.” It’s about owning your strengths and being purposeful about how you want to be perceived by others.

What do you want to be known for? By being more deliberate about how you want to come across and what you’re looking for in your career, you’ll increase your chance of attracting the right opportunities.

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Once you’ve given your personal brand some thought, make sure that you show up online. Is your LinkedIn profile up to date? And if you don’t have one, get one. Make sure it communicates what you want to be known for and that it’s consistent with your other social media profiles.

Try these 5 Steps to Master Networking Skills and Perfect Your Personal Branding.

5. Be Accountable

Achieve your career goals faster, and grow and learn by making yourself accountable. Tell other people your goals and a timeline. and have them to hold you accountable.

For example, you might want to get a promotion by the end of the year, have decided the sector you want to move to by the end of the month, or have got your new business idea before the next pay day. Whatever your ambitions are, you can tell a friend or a colleague, or share this with a mentor or a mastermind group.

When we tell other people our goals and intentions, they hold us accountable, and we are more likely to make progress faster.

6. Make Sure Your Values Are Aligned With Your Company’s

All the professional development, goal setting, and networks in the world won’t make you happy if you’re working for a company that ultimately has opposing values to yours.

Figure out what’s important to you in a job. For example, does your company’s product help people live a better life? Do you feel strongly about your company’s ethics and social responsibility? Does the company culture allows employees to be themselves and shine? Or maybe flexible working and more holidays for employees with families is where your heart is?

Some companies put their employees well-being at the core of their business; others put profits first. If you feel that your values don’t match the core values of your employer, it could be a reason why you’re feeling stuck in your career and unhappy.

It’s important to work through this and identify whether it’s the job that is not right for you, or if it’s a great job but the organization or sector is wrong for you.

7. Get out of Your Comfort Zone

Your comfort zone is your safe place. For any change to happen, you have to step out of your comfort zone.

It’s actually much easier not to change anything and to keep grumbling on about how you’re stuck and unhappy in your career than to step outside of your comfort zone to address the fearful unknowns associated with change. It’s part of human nature that we’d put up with the devil we know rather than risk the devil we don’t.

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This is true even if the devil we know is a boring, unfulfilling job because we’re wired to think that making a change to find a better option might actually leave us worse off.

If you feel stuck, it might be that your confidence has got the better of you.

To get ahead at work, start taking small steps outside of your comfort zone. Consider what you’re scared of that is stopping you from making a change. Then, tackle that in small steps.

For example, if you know that to move into the job you want, you’ll have to do more public speaking, but public speaking terrifies you so much it’s stopping you from going for the job, then start small to build your confidence. You can speak up more in team meetings, then slowly build from there.

You might also choose to set up or be part of a specific group. One of my clients, who found that confidence was holding her team back in achieving work goals, set up a “get out of your comfort zone club,” where they challenge and support each other to build their confidence by regularly leaving their comfort zones.

8. Learn to Embrace Failure

Failure is part of life. A New York University study found that children learning to walk averaged 2,368 steps and fell 17 times an hour[3]. Failure is simply the natural path to success.

The truth is that we don’t get everything right the first time. We fail, we learn, we pick ourselves up, and we try again.

In my experience, it’s common that whilst the theory of learning from failure is supported, the reality of being open about failures to enable personal learning is much harder to achieve.

We don’t like to admit that we’ve failed. We have a fight or flight response to failure. It’s a normal gut reaction to ask ourselves: “Will I get away with it if I don’t tell anyone?” We are fearful of criticism, of losing face in front of others, or even being fired for failure.

However, if you’re going to stop feeling stuck in your career, you must be open to learning from failure.

Reframe failure by viewing everything as an experiment because you can’t have a failed experiment—you just learn whether something works or not. Think of Edison inventing the lightbulb, when he said:

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“I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

9. Build Your Resilience

Resilience is the ability to tackle difficulties and setbacks, to bounce back, regroup, and to keep going.

Getting unstuck in your career, taking a different path, and achieving the results you want will take resilience. Having resilience is also the capacity to choose how you respond to the unexpected things that life throws your way and adapt and thrive in times of complex change.

Given that the world we live in is in constant flux, and the only thing that is certain is uncertainty, the ability to adapt and bounce back is an important life skill, as well as a career skill.

In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth’s research shows that when measuring success, the ability to persevere beats talent every time.

Learn more about how to build resilience in this guide: What Is Resilience and How to Always Be Resilient (Step-By-Step Guide)

10. Ask for Help

It can be hard to ask for help, as it can make us feel vulnerable.

No one person can be expected to have all the answers. That’s why we need a group of people that we can go to for help, people who can pick us up when we have setbacks and also help us to celebrate success.

My advice is to be deliberate about creating your group. You can do that with a tool called a “Me Map”:

  1. Write down all the things that you might need support with, like help with career progression, interview practice, making new connections, talking through business plans, learning from failure, etc.
  2. Next to each thing, write the names of the people you go to when you need that particular thing.
  3. Make sure you get in touch and regularly connect with them.

Final Thoughts

You can stop feeling stuck in your career, break free, and get ahead at work by applying the tips in this article. Start small by incorporating three new things in your first week, and then adding more as your comfort zone and capacity expands.

Remember, no matter how stuck you feel, it’s never too late to make a change and land the career that you truly want.

More Tips to Stop Feeling Stuck in Your Career

Featured photo credit: NEW DATA SERVICES via unsplash.com

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