February 02, 2024

Top Interview Questions to Hire Only A-Players

What You'll Learn

Build self-managing teams.

This should be your goal as a leader. A team so good, they don’t really need you.

Here’s what that team looks like:

✓ Shares your values
✓ Doesn’t give up easily
✓ Needs little instruction
✓ Never stops learning
✓ Adapts well to change
✓ Lifts everyone around them

So, the question really is: how do you build such a team!?!?!

For me, it took a series of bad hires to learn that hiring based on resumes was not the path.

An “A-player” on one team could be a “C-player” on another team. And vice versa.

You see this all the time in sports. You have a struggling player get traded to a new team, and all of a sudden, they break out. In other words, the environment plays a massive role in the type of person that finds success on any given team. 

This simple but profound insight changed the way I looked at hiring forever. Instead of hiring based on resume “experience,” I started screening for values and character traits that were best suited for our company and culture. 

In this article, I’m going to teach you a new way to look at hiring talent and give you the top interview questions needed to only hire A-players. 

Ready to build your A-Team? Let’s go. 👇

Test for Values

Company values are how the organization sees the world. It’s what you believe, what you stand for, and how you should act. 

When an applicant’s values overlap with the company’s, then you know you’ve struck gold. 

Why?

Because a team member who shares the same values as the company is 100x more likely to lean into their work, persevere through hard times, and become an example of what you want the culture to look like.  And in turn, it supports the overall health and stability of the company. 

The strongest applicants will know everything about your company already. They’re eager, scrappy, and ready to kick ass. 

So, in an interview, start by testing how they match up to your company’s values. Try using these questions: 

  • Which one of our core values resonates with you the most and why? 
  • What would you do if you worked on a team that behaved opposite of the company’s core values? 
  • How do your personal values guide your decision-making process at work?
  • How does our company mission statement resonate with your personal and professional goals?

From here, it’s all about their character traits. I’m going to walk you through five traits that I believe are important for any team & company.  My goal when hiring is to find people that can operate well in a self-managing environment. In other words, I’m looking to groom leaders. 

HOWEVER, your culture could be slightly different. For example, the character traits of a successful employee at Zappos are probably a lot different than Goldman Sachs!

What I would suggest is starting with the list below, but then making sure you aren’t missing any. To do this, simply list the character traits of your best employees and then use those traits to screen applicants, as I do below. 

Test for Resilience

Resilience is the key to success – both in life and in business. 

Bouncing back in the face of adversity is something you would want in any employee, especially in a startup where change is the only constant.  

Testing for resilience also gives you an inside look at how the candidate adapts (more on that later), manages stress, and collaborates with the rest of the team.

Resilience is also linked to mental and emotional well-being. Employees who can navigate challenges with resilience are more likely to maintain a positive work-life balance, reducing the risk of burnout and promoting overall employee health.

Example interview questions to test for resilience: 

  • Can you tell me about a time when you faced failure or rejection and were forced to bounce back? What did you learn from the process? 
  • Describe a high-pressure situation you’ve faced at work. How did you keep yourself focused and productive?
  • Describe a situation where you faced major obstacles in reaching a long-term objective. What steps did you take to stay on course?
  • Have you ever faced rejection or criticism in your career? How did you handle it?

Test for Independent Thinking

Independent thinkers are game changers. You want the classroom disrupter, not the teacher’s pet. 

Being the best student in class really only proves that you can absorb and apply existing information. These folks often lack the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that takes an idea from good to great. 

An independent thinker drives innovation. They’re creative, proactive, and resourceful. 

Example interview questions to test for independent thinking: 

  • Walk me through how you’d tackle [insert a realistic and specific problem] if you were only given [X] limited resources and no managerial help?
  • Describe a situation where you had to convince the group that a certain path was correct, even if it was against conventional wisdom
  • Describe a situation where you took a calculated risk in your work. What was the outcome, and what did you learn from the experience?

Test for Continuous Learning

Formal education, like university or advanced degrees, is a form of learning for sure. But I see it as a red flag if someone continues to get degree after degree and avoids the most potent form of learning there is – real-world experience.  

So, I want to know two things:

  • How well do you learn from your experiences (good and bad)? 
  • How hungry you are to be the best in your particular thing (industry, field, position, whatever it is). 

Example interview questions to test for continuous learning: 

  • What are your favorite books/blogs/podcasts on the [subject of the role]? 
  • How do you challenge yourself to keep growing in your field over time? 
  • How do you approach taking on new responsibilities that might require additional learning?
  • Tell me about a time that you had a huge learning AFTER a really hard experience.

Test for Adaptability 

Every day is different in a startup, which means adapting to change is critical. 

People who have an allergic reaction to change are not going to work out. They figure out a process that works for them. It makes them feel comfortable. So when a change comes knocking, they are resistant because they don’t want it to disrupt their world. 

Instead, you want people who are EXPECTING things to change. These folks understand that change is the only constant and will build their internal processes around that change. 

Example interview questions to test for adaptability: 

  • Tell me about a time when an unexpected shift in plans affected your project or role dramatically. How did you adapt to the situation? 
  • In your opinion, why is adaptability important for your career growth and the growth of the company? 
  • Have you worked on diverse teams in the past? How did you adapt to different working styles and perspectives?
  • Describe a situation where you had to adapt to a new process or workflow. How did you approach the transition?

Test for Attitude

There’s nothing more crippling to your team and business than a shitty attitude. 

There are endless reasons why testing for a good attitude is essential in hiring A-players. It ensures good team collaboration, keeps employee morale up, and directly impacts the company culture.

A positive attitude also fosters a team mindset conducive to effective problem-solving and creative thinking. 

Example interview questions to test for attitude: 

  • How would you deal with a situation where things aren’t going well for your team and people are starting to get discouraged and turn negative? 
  • How do you contribute to fostering a positive work environment?
  • How do you foster open communication and cooperation when working with others?
  • How do you maintain a positive attitude, especially during challenging situations?

———-

When it’s time to start interviewing people to join your A-Team, don’t waiver because their resume isn’t “impressive.” 

Bet on the person who aligns with your values and checks out the characteristics most important to your company! 

I promise you, it’ll be worth the risk. 

How I can help you… 

Are you a founder, executive, or manager? I’d love to support your professional growth. 

Here are three ways: 

  1. Connect on LinkedIn and Instagram – where I post practical tips about leadership and startups every day.
  1. Subscribe to my free newsletter – where I go deep on a variety of management and operations topics that will make you a better leader & operator. 
  2. Join Highland – my executive coaching program for founders, where we help you become a top-tier CEO who can scale into the tens of millions & beyond.

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