Since it's only one question, you need to know the answer before asking the question. In this case, it's essential to understand how fit relates to on-the-job performance. The Hiring Formula for Success shown below describes this relationship.

The quick explanation: Ability in relationship to fit drives motivation and ultimately performance.

The longer explanation: On-the-job performance is dependent on the ability to do the work in relationship to fit with the organization and it's this relationship that drives motivation. Since motivation is so important, it’s squared. The fit factors include cultural fit, fit with the job itself and fit with the hiring manager’s style. Ability in this formula consists of technical competence, team skills, organizational skills and problem-solving and thinking ability. As we’ve all seen, the ability to do the work without the right fit will demotivate a person pretty quickly and result in underperformance, dissatisfaction and unnecessary turnover. (Note: I'll be holding a webcast on December 7, 2016 describing this concept.)

In his book, The End of Average, Harvard Professor Todd Rose considers fit the driver of personal excellence. He refers to fit as the context of the job and without fully considering it for hiring purposes individual success is problematic.

As most of you know I consider the following to be the most important interview question of all time.

What would you consider to be your most significant career accomplishment to date? Could you please tell me all about it?

Using this question as the framework, here’s how to assess all of the factors in the hiring formula with specific focus on the fit factors. The best way to get the full value of this question is to first answer it for yourself using these fact-finding prompts to guide your answers.

  • Please give me a two-minute overview of the project. Be very specific including dates and how long it took to complete. What was the big deliverable?
  • Did someone assign you to the project or did you volunteer for it? Why?
  • What were the big changes you made or directed?
  • Describe the single biggest challenge you faced on this project and walk me through how you resolved it.
  • Describe who was on the team, their roles and your role. Who did you influence the most? Who did you coach? Who coached you? Who did you have the most conflict with and how did you deal with that?
  • Who did you have to communicate the results or status to on a regular basis? What form did this take?
  • Describe the single biggest decision you faced and walk me through how you made it. Was it the correct decision? Would you make the same one today?
  • What was the culture like in terms of pace, resources available, organizational structure, sophistication, decision-making and values and ethics? What did you like most? Least?
  • Give me some examples in which you took the initiative or did more than you were required to do. Did you ever take the initiative doing things that weren’t particularly motivating? If so, why?
  • In this project did you have a chance to do the type of work you like the most? Why do you like this type of work? What did you like the least?
  • What was your manager like in terms of coaching, delegating and supporting you? What did you like most and least about your manager? Who was your best manager? Who was your worst? Collectively how would you describe your ideal manager?
  • I assume you put a plan together for this project. Can you please describe it and how did you manage to it? Did you achieve the plan? If you didn’t have a plan how did you manage your daily activities and prioritize your work?
  • If you could do this project over again, what would you do differently? Why? What did you learn about yourself from this project?
  • What kind of recognition for this work, formal or otherwise, did you receive? In your mind was this sufficient given all of the work you did?

This is enough fact-finding to get some assessment of all of the factors in the hiring formula for success. It takes about 15-20 minutes to fully understand the accomplishment, but there's more. This same question needs to be asked at least twice more for different accomplishments to observe the candidate’s trend of performance and growth over time. Now you have enough information to complete the Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard which converts the hiring formula into an assessment grid. (The video explains how this is done.)

The key to assessing talent, fit and motivation is that all of the factors must be assessed in comparison to real job needs, not to a laundry list of skills, experiences and required competences. Ability without fit is a recipe for dissatisfaction, underperformance and turnover. With it, it becomes a great hire.