The One Most Important Question to Ask Candidates

As an author of 5 books on hiring, all with the emphasis on the most revealing interview, the long, chronological Topgrading Interview, I’m hesitant to suggest one question being most important.

But here is that all-important question:  KNOWING THAT A FINAL STEP IN HIRING IS FOR YOU (CANDIDATE) TO ARRANGE REFERENCE CALLS WITH YOUR MANAGERS IN THE PAST 10 YEARS, WHAT IS YOUR BEST GUESS AS TO WHAT EACH WOULD SAY WERE YOUR STRENGTHS, WEAKER POINTS, AND OVERALL PERFORMANCE?

Most Important and Most Revealing: If the candidate has had 8 bosses, that’s sort of 8 questions, not one, but you get the point.  This is by far the most important, most revealing question you can ask candidates.   It’s important because about 25% of candidates, who hyped their resume to cover mediocre performance, will drop out.  They know they can’t get bosses to talk with you and they wouldn’t want them to talk with you and give “so-so” references.  Good!  At least 25% of resumes have deliberate falsehoods, and you don’t want to waste time with those candidates!

And the question is the most revealing.  At Topgrading, Inc. we’ve interviewed over 20,000 candidates for executive positions, and so we know what questions are revealing.   Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Candidates who are willing to arrange reference calls with managers are sharp and honest.  They might not be the best fit for your job but that’s what interviews can reveal. By asking the big question, 25% have dropped out, leaving you with the best candidates to evaluate.
  • The negatives (failures, mistakes, what bosses would say are your weaker points, not just strengths) reveal what you are MOST interested in knowing.  Every book on hiring tells job hunters to lie on their resume and in interviews, because reference checks are generally worthless.  So, a question that ACCURATELY reveals the negatives, not just positives, is extremely important to you.
  • Realizing THEY will have to arrange reference calls, candidates that did not drop out tell the truth – the whole truth.  High performers naturally share their accomplishments but they are happy to reveal their failures and mistakes because they’ve learned from them and because … they know that bosses will list them.  Literally millions of reference checks, organized by candidates, have been done and Topgrading companies always say that candidates did NOT hype their responses to the question.  Of course not, because the reference call would show that hype!

When to ask that question: Let candidates know in your first communications with them that their arranging reference calls with bosses is a final step in hiring.  The Topgrading Snapshot is a screening tool that informs candidates of this requirement and produces valuable information like full salary history and those boss ratings.  An online screening tool can ask the question for you … and give you answers even before speaking with them.  The 25% or so will drop out (good).  Then invite candidates with the best-looking Snapshots in for interviews.  The most important interview is the Topgrading Interview, and the Topgrading Interview Guide has questions for you to ask including appraisal by the candidate of bosses, what bosses would list as strengths and weaker points, and how each boss would rate their overall performance (a deliberate repeat of what is shown in the Snapshot).

Summary: Getting the “negatives” and not just positives for candidates avoids costly mis-hires.  Let candidates know THEY have to arrange reference calls with bosses assures HONEST answers to that most important, most revealing question.

Click (here) for more information about the Topgrading Snapshot.

 

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