One of the most important responsibilities leaders have is to hire great talent. The right people make all the difference for a company's performance. There is clearly a domino effect, great people tend to hire great people. If you strive to hire the best, your direct reports (the folks you hire) will tend to hire similarly. Regardless of what size company you have, great talent top to bottom can be a major competitive differentiator from all of your competitors.  

I have always admired Apple's model for hiring sales staff. They look for people who are smart, personable, curious and dedicated to taking care of customers. That did not happen over night nor by accident, and is a reflection of Steve Jobs' values.

I recently purchased a new iPhone X from Apple. Tom, my salesman, was much older than the typical Apple salesperson. We had a problem converting my information from my old phone to the new one, and Tom tried to figure out the problem himself but could not. He walked over to a colleague who gave him a suggestion. While it took some time, he was able to set up my phone.

During this time, he told me he was 64, worked 20 hours per week, received full health benefits for himself and his husband, was given stock options, etc. Tom clearly was very happy and proud to be at Apple. And then he said something that was really interesting. Apple expects their sales people to figure it out. Period. Identifying the right people is essential if you are going to follow that strategy.

Over the years, I have interviewed hundreds of people and have continually fine tuned my process for speaking with candidates. One day, I asked a question which has proven to be a really good indicator for what makes a person tick in the work place. Ever since, I've introduced this question, typically in the middle of an interview.

"In your previous jobs, what drives you to come back to the office after you've had a terrible day at work?"

This singular question reveals much more than you might expect. It will put a spotlight on their character, drive and tenacity. It will show their basic strengths and weaknesses. It will provide invaluable input about how they handle problems -- something every job has. While of course you want to probe their resume, this one question cuts to the chase. You will quickly find out whether this is someone you want in the fox hole with you and your team.  

Here are some of the answers that I've come across. The best answer, and the one with the fewest responses, is shown last in this article.  As you begin asking this question, you will probably see some of the same responses. My advice is to wait to hire the person who gives you one of these answers: 

"The desire to do my best."

This is an answer you will hear a lot. While this is not a bad response, the candidate appears unwilling to go above and beyond to solve their problems. They are essentially playing not to lose. 

As a leader, understand that your biggest secret weapon is your team. Employees who are not engaged are unlikely to question why they had a bad day. Was it their fault, a co-workers, or something else? Without knowing the cause, tomorrow is likely to be the same as today. 

"The hope that tomorrow is better."

This was an answer that gets fewer responses than the first. It may show a great attitude, or it might simply be wishful thinking. 

The problem with this response is that this employee probably expects his or her environment and coworkers to change. Each employee needs to own the ingredients for creating work satisfaction.

"The need to figure out what went wrong and change my strategy and approach."

Bingo! To me, this is the ultimate indicator that the employee is right for the job. This applicant wants to approach situations with fresh eyes to figure out what the problem is and hopefully implement an action plan. Engaged employees face their problems head-on, work collaboratively with members of their team and create more solutions. They don't accept things as they are and are constantly seeing ways to improve and drive change in their departments and companies. 

The next time you are interviewing a candidate for an open position in your company, consider ending the interview with this question. As you will see, some candidates you thought might be right for the role may seem a little flat now. Meanwhile, if all goes well with the basic interview and the give the right answer to this question, your next question will probably be, "when can you start?"

Published on: Jan 17, 2018
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