According to Harvard Business School research rooting out a toxic employee from your team will actually save you more than twice as much as hiring a superstar will earn you. Hiring jerks, in other words, is hugely costly.

But that's not the only reason Chieh Huang, the founder and CEO of online retailer Boxed, has assigned himself the essential role of "chief no a-hole officer." As he puts it in the video above: "We spend more waking hours with our friends and family. Selfishly, I just don't want to spend it with folks I don't like."

So how does Huang go about screening out, as terms them, a-holes? He explains in greater depth in the video, but his most powerful weapon in the war against jerks is one simple but powerful interview question: "Tell me the story of you, but the thing you can't say is anything on your resume." It reveals "the real you," he attests.

It's a nifty interview trick other leader's might want to emulate, but it's far from the only question that can effectively get you beyond a discussion of skills and impact and into the murkier (but possibly even more essential) realm of character. Recently on the TED Ideas blog Anthony Tjan, author of Good People: The Only Leadership Decision That Really Matters and CEO of VC firm Cue Ball Group, talks to Julia Fawal and shares his favorite techniques for screening out jerks during job interviews, including these three questions:

1.What are the one or two traits from your parents that you most want to ensure you and your kids have for the rest of your life?

"The goal is to create a conversation that leads to a revelation, not a rehearsal," Tjan explains to Fawal. By prodding a bit with a well timed "Tell me more" and waiting out initial awkward sciences, interviewers armed with this question can accomplish just that by digging into a candidate's deepest values.

2. What is 25 times 25?

This sounds like a math question, not a character one, but Tjan notes that throwing this sort of unexpected question at a candidate can reveal how they react to pressure. Are they defensive or open-minded? The idea isn't to check someone's quantitative skills, but to learn "whether they can roll with the embarrassment and discomfort and work with me," explains Tjan.

3. Tell me about three people whose lives you positively changed. What would they say if I called them tomorrow?

"Checking references is generally a waste of time," according to Tjan, as they'll almost certainly be preselected to be favorable. What's the alternative? Try this question (but allow candidates to name anyone within or beyond the professional sphere). "If a candidate can't think of a single person, I want to understand why," Tjan says.

Published on: Oct 11, 2017
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