The Answer to this One Simple Interview Question Predicts On-the-Job Success

Being assigned to important cross-functional teams is a good predictor of success. If this trend continues with more important teams and across different companies, it's a great predictor.

I just came across a article by Michael Simmons, "The No. 1 Predictor Of Career Success According to Network Science." My immediate interest was that it might put in doubt all of the work I had done for the past 40 years on how to interview candidates and predict their on-the-job performance.

It doesn't.

Here's the essence of the article: People who are in open networks are far more successful than those in closed networks.

My simplistic interpretation of this is that a person with more diverse exposure in terms of experiences and interactions brings a broader perspective to any team-related issue or business problem. This diversity of experience and exposure allows them to influence their work teams more effectively than those with a more narrow or insular point of view. As a result, they get assigned to more important projects and lead more important groups ahead of their peers who have equivalent technical skills and more years of experience.

I offer the following as a means to accurately assess this important ability during the interview for any person for any role.

During the performance-based interview process, I advocate we dig into a candidate's major accomplishments over a five to 10 year period. By focusing on both individual and team accomplishments, we can observe the person's relative growth over time as represented by the graphic. To determine fit for a job, we compare the candidate's accomplishments to the performance requirements of the job.

As part of our questioning, we ask candidates to describe their team accomplishments in detail, focusing on the size of the team, the person's role, the purpose of the team, and how the person got assigned to the team. A key aspect of this line of questioning involves the candidate drawing a 360° work chart for each team accomplishment. This work chart describes all of the people on the team, including peers, subordinates, superiors, and people inside and outside the company.

What's surprising about this approach is that it not only reveals team skills but also the person's strongest technical skills and dominant personality characteristics. In many cases, these are the reasons the person was assigned to the team. As you'll discover for yourself in a moment, I contend that this performance-based approach for assessing team skills is a far more direct and accurate approach for predicting fit for a specific job than the open network idea represented in Simmons's article. The reason will become obvious once you answer this team question about yourself.

Can you please describe a recent major team accomplishment?

Now use the following prompts to clarify your answer.

  • Who was on the team and what roles did they play? Be very specific.
  • When did it occur and what was your assigned role?
  • How did your role change during the project?
  • How did you get assigned to the team and did you select any of the team members?
  • What were the objectives of the team and were they met?
  • Describe the plan or project and how the team was managed. Were you part of this?
  • What was your biggest contribution to the team? How were you recognized formally for this?
  • Whom did you influence the most? Did you coach anyone? Did anyone coach you?
  • What did you like most about the team? Least?
  • What would you change, if you could, about the team makeup?
  • Who were the executives on the team and did you influence them in any way?
  • What was the biggest team problem or conflict you faced and how did you handle it?

By itself, this type of question and the associated fact-finding reveals a lot about the team skills of the person being interviewed. Asking similar questions for different team accomplishments is how the trend line is determined. What I like most about this line of questioning is that it helps you understand how and why the person was assigned to more important and more diverse cross-functional teams. The questioning also reveals how and if the person developed a multifunctional perspective and a true understanding of the differences between strategy and tactics and cause vs. effect. The person's persuasive, communications, and business acumen are revealed by how the team changed its direction due to this person, especially how the person influenced more senior level executives and/or important customers.

Collectively, all of these factors are used to compare the person's fit with the open job and the potential for continued growth.

Drawing up a work chart as described reveals a lot. Asking how it got built reveals a lot more. And understanding how it changed over time reveals just about everything you need to know about whether to hire someone or not.