Here’s an interview question we ask candidates that can unintentionally derail the candidate selection process by obscuring the best applicants: Tell me about your greatest achievement. What’s wrong with it? It’s not a bad question, but on its own, it lacks context.
Let’s assume we’re meeting with a management candidate whose greatest achievement is a product launch that made the line profitable in nine months. Is that impressive? Sounds like it is but we need more information. How long does it normally take for a new product to realize a profit? Less time or more time than nine months? Are we talking about net operating profit or were marketing costs removed from the candidate’s budget so as not to negatively impact his bonus that year? Nothing wrong with that, but it does put a different slant on the profit achievement. Inviting the candidate to help us understand the achievement — with context — gives him further opportunity to express himself, and reveals much more about the way he approaches business and the depth of his knowledge.
We also want to know who worked with him on the project, how was responsibility doled out, and especially — what types of difficulties did he encounter and why did he take the actions he took? Which ones turned out to be good decisions and which ones did he come to regret? In what ways do those decisions impact the way he operates today?
Once the candidate arrives at a place where they have nothing to add on the topic, switch it up by asking what their immediate supervisor will remember most about that achievement. This will serve to round out the picture and better prepare you for the reference checking phase.
The purpose of adding all these auxiliary questions isn’t to trip up your candidate; it’s to place context around an achievement that will most likely weigh heavily on your assessment of that individual’s fit for the job. You’ll gain invaluable insight into his approach to work, the depth of his operational knowledge, and his self awareness.