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Desperately Seeking Superstars: Three Can’t-Miss Interview Questions

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Reading this morning’s jobs report, I was glad to see improvement over the last several months, but still shocked that the unemployment rate remains so high. I continually hear from friends that their companies can’t hire fast enough, yet new job creation remains depressed across the country. The startup world is hungry for new talent, innovative ideas, and great people to build their companies. ZocDoc currently has 120 open positions and most startups I know are working hard to bring great people on board.

Why is it that so many innovative companies have such a hard time finding top people to join their teams while millions of capable, engaged individuals struggle to find work? It appears to me that there is a huge information gap on both sides of the equation: many candidates don’t apply for roles they would excel in, assuming they’re not qualified to work in certain departments, companies, or industries while hiring managers often get hung up on a candidate’s resume and miss great people who would be tremendous assets to the team.

I frequently remind managers to consider a potential candidate’s intrinsic qualities and remember that while hard skills can be taught or enhanced, someone’s natural talents are a better predictor of success. Early in ZocDoc’s growth, I was close to hiring a candidate for business development who I believed had the tenacity, sales skills, and intelligence that we needed to move to the next level. I ultimately passed, because it seemed as if his resume was too short and his experience wasn’t specific enough to our industry. I regretted my decision afterward and still do. He would have been an excellent addition to the team but I allowed the resume to make my decision. This experience stayed with me and it soon became clear that my potential next hire was around every corner. Years ago when ZocDoc was planning to expand to Chicago, a small group of us spent a few days on the ground to learn the market and understand the layout of the city. While there, we met a server at a pizza restaurant who floored us with her helpfulness and ability to stay cool in stressful situations. We were looking for an office manager at the time and encouraged her to apply. Three years later, she’s incredibly savvy in negotiating property deals and has been integral in fostering the culture here at ZocDoc.

How do you gauge intrinsics in an interview? How do you really learn someone’s true nature? It’s challenging, of course, but preparedness goes a long way in talking to candidates. Everyone has their go-to interview questions, and I spoke with a few friends to understand their tactics to suss out whether or not a person will be a good fit for their organization:

Which aspect of your job do you like the least?

Siggi Hilmarsson of Siggi’s Diary is fond of this question, which allows the interviewer to quickly understand the candidate’s disposition and ability to communicate honestly, effectively, and diplomatically. This question will also uncover the candidate’s peeves, allowing you to determine whether or not there might be conflicts with other members of the team or the organization on the whole.

What motivates you to work hard?

I loved H. Bloom CEO Bryan Burkhart’s rationale for this question:

“When I ask this question, I’m looking for superlatives: ‘I am extremely driven. I rowed crew in college and wanted to be the best,’ or ‘I am a perfectionist. I work hard to ensure that everything is perfect,’ or ‘I am so passionate about this industry. I want to delight everyone with our service.’ This might sound a bit strange, but I’m looking for intensity in body language. I want to hire people who hear this question and lean forward, make unequivocal eye contact, and speak with conviction.”

How does your behavior at work differ from that at home or with friends?

I’m a fan of this question for a number of reasons. It’s unexpected, which encourages a candidate to get out of autopilot and have a thoughtful and natural conversation with the interviewer. The response should indicate that the candidate has a healthy sense of self-awareness and adaptability. Don’t look for the “right” answer, but rather a clear indication that the candidate has learned from prior positions and can effectively articulate how he or she continues to improve. This quality – the desire to always grow and improve – is one of the traits that we most value at ZocDoc, and this question can be great for uncovering this drive in candidates.

With graduation season on the horizon and scores of new job-seekers joining the search for a career, let’s remember to keep an open mind about who we invite to join our teams. Be sure to encourage everyone in your organization to think in the same way, because you never know where your next great contributor will come from. Referrals are an awesome way to grow your team and you’ll be wowed by what happens when your whole company takes on the role of recruiter (we’ve got great hiring stories about helpful store clerks and chatty neighbors on airplanes to prove it!).

Do you have a great unexpected hiring story or special interview question you ask? Let me know in the comments below!

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