Three years ago on this blog I suggested that asking candidates to describe their most significant accomplishments was the most important question any interviewer could ask. More than 1.3 million people read the post. The idea behind the question is to compare a candidate’s major accomplishment to the primary performance objectives of the job to determine ability to do the work, motivation to do the work and fit with the hiring manager and company culture. Due to the positive response, Lynda.com asked me to prepare a short course covering the concept. The intro is below.
Last week I came up with a new version of the question but you’ll need to try it out since I’m not positive it will work. Please put your results in the comments or email them to me at email@example.com.
To get started, here’s the original question.
Think about your most significant accomplishment in your entire career. Now can you tell me all about it?
To get a sense of the power of this type of performance-based question, consider your most significant career accomplishment. While you can probably summarize it in a minute or two, consider the other information revealed if you also had to describe your role in the project, how you got assigned to the project, who was on the team, the actual results achieved, how you prepared and managed the plan, where you took the initiative, the challenges you faced and how you overcame them, the problems you solved and the process you used to make important decisions. It’s the subsequent fact-finding that makes the question so insightful.
By asking a similar question for all of the other performance objectives defined as essential for on-the-job success you’ll learn even more about the person. Here’s how this same question is modified to handle this:
One of the major performance objectives for this job is (describe). What have you accomplished that’s most comparable?
Aside from understanding fit, viewing the accomplishments over an extended period of time reveals ability, growth, impact and what drives the person to excel. This is the type of information needed to decide if the person should be hired or not and if your job opening represents a true career move.
Now here’s the revision. Last week I heard about how some pilots are tested for competency when starting a flight simulator exam. The pilots are first told that the test involves an engine failure at takeoff and the examiner asks the pilot how demanding he/she believes this situation would be. The second question involves asking the pilot how confident he/she would be handling the situation. The pilots are assigned numerical scores for each answer and the stress score is subtracted from the confidence score. The surprise was that those with net positive stress scores far outperformed those with negative stress scores in the simulator test.
Here’s how this idea could be used when asking the most significant accomplishment question. Start by telling the candidate the importance of the job to the company and why the major accomplishment is essential for job success. Be specific in terms of the scope, scale and complexity of the job. Then ask the person how demanding he/she believes this job would be and why. Then ask the person how comfortable he/she would be handling it and why. Follow this up with this form of the most significant accomplishment question.
Which of your accomplishments best compares with this type of situation? Can you tell me about it and also why this type of job would be of interest to you?
If the person’s net stress score is positive and the person has accomplished something comparable, ask the person the second best interview question of all time to determine leadership and potential. This question involves finding out how the candidate would figure out how to solve a difficult job-related problem.
If the person’s net stress score is negative but the person has accomplished something comparable, I’d be concerned about the person’s confidence level. In this case I’d still ask the problem-solving question to validate or disprove the concern.
If the person’s net stress score is positive but the person hasn’t accomplished anything comparable, I’d be concerned the person was more bluster than ability. Regardless, I’d still ask the problem-solving question to confirm or disprove the concern.
If the person’s net score is negative and the person hasn’t accomplished anything comparable, I’d be very concerned. But to be sure something wasn’t overlooked I’d still ask the problem-solving question.
Whether the two-question confidence test adds more insight or not, I suspect you’ll discover that by asking the most significant accomplishment question in combination with the problem-solving question you will have all the evidence needed to make a confident and accurate hiring decision.