Our Most Compelling Interview Questions

April 2024
For much of our firm's history, we have posed two questions in nearly every in-depth candidate interview that we do.  The first such question:

Are there experiences from your formative years that you know affect you at work today even if others might never notice?

Why do we ask this question?

To clarify, although the term "formative years" is sometimes limited to early childhood, for executive workplace relevance it extends to college, grad school, or even first or second jobs.  During this 20+ year period of intensive learning, we develop core beliefs about ourselves, others, and our environments. We form "mindsets, values, our decision-making compass, and our inclination to take risks" (1) that can be far more important for candidate success in your company or organization than defined skillsets.

Many candidates appreciate the question but often tell us they don't remember getting such an interview question.  They don't have a prepared answer, have to gather themselves, and sometimes ask for further explanation.  We let them lead the way.  There are no right or wrong answers.

We are not so interested in the events or experiences themselves which can range from enriching to traumatic as in what a candidate has learned from them.  How has s/he chosen to adapt, become, modify, overcome, or leave behind.  Reflecting on the past magnifies clarity about present and future workplace success.

The answers to this question show us how you decided who you are as a unique person. They tell us how you've decided to see others and your proclivity to help and support them.  The answers also reveal whether you see the world as a safe or threatening place. 

We hear personal stories about self-awareness (recognizing personal strengths and weaknesses), embracing or resisting change, and individual approaches to problem-solving.  Candidate responses often show stability, vulnerability, empathy for team members, and the capacity to handle pressure. Their responses also shed light on the candidate's inclination to lead or follow and comfort in receiving feedback.  Sometimes we learn about unique perspectives on the relationship of professional work to personal goals and objectives.

Frequently, we hear about resilience the demonstrated ability to rebound or bounce back from adversity. How does it form and flourish?

In short, what we hear are your core beliefs all of which manifest themselves in the workplace. And understanding those helps us decide who are the best candidates for our clients.

Stay tuned for an upcoming newsletter when we'll share the other interview question we nearly always ask.  That question helps us delve more deeply into the concept of resilience and how earlier experiences play a role in its development.

We're curious does a specific experience or story from your past come to mind? Or, how do you learn about candidates' formative years in your assessment?

Warm Regards,

"How Early Work Experiences Can Inform Career Imprinting" Juliet Han, Forbes, July 5, 2023.