What Was Your Greatest Achievement?

Here’s an interesting question to ask an applicant:

“Alice, what was your greatest achievement at each of your last three jobs?”

I recommend you take notes on this one. Write down what the job was and the achievement for each.

Keep your antenna up for the two key pronouns: “I” and “we.” If Alice uses “we” more often than “I” — that’s a good sign that Alice respects the value of teamwork.

You can pursue this line of questioning a bit further with this:

“Alice, if we asked your previous supervisors about each of these achievements, what would he or she tell us?”

After an answer to that question, which should have three answers—one for each job—then ask the following:

“Would it be okay with you if we called each of these individuals to verify this?”

When you ask this last question, keep a close eye on Alice’s reaction. If she is uncomfortable with her answer, that’s not a good indicator. If she says “Yes” with confidence, this will mean one of two things:

1) She was prepared for the question and is doing her best to be convincing.

2) She really is confident that each person will give a stellar report of her.

Yes, I realize it’s a bit cynical on my part to question the candidate’s sincerity on this, but I have a strong view on this:

Making good hiring decisions is vital to the health of every business. If it means asking a few tough follow-up questions to ensure we get the real scoop, so be it.


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