One of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to improve hiring is to ask better interview questions. But what is a “better” or “worse” question? Today we’ll explain the anatomy of a better interview question and give one example that applies to any position. 

When we work with clients to improve hiring, we train their hiring managers on a process called Motivation Based Interviewing (MBI). We believe in this so much in part because we’ve used it as our standard for all HORNE hiring managers for years and have seen the difference it makes.  

MBI is great at filtering high from low performers. It works in part because of a specific kind of question. This question helps uncover someone’s true skill level, as well as whether they have an internal or external locus of control. For our purposes, an internal locus of control is basically when someone has a problem-solving disposition rather than a victim mindset.

Here’s an example of a better interview question that accomplishes these things and that you can use for any of your open roles: 

“Tell me about a specific time when you faced an unexpected difficult situation. What actions did you take, and what was the end result?” 

Why is this a better interview question? 

  • It’s specific: rather than talking in generalities or theories, they need to share a real story, which is usually harder to fake. The second to last clause is “What actions did you take?”, and you can learn a lot by whether they ignore this or give real actions they took. 
  • It’s adversity-focused: rather than talk themselves up, they need to share about a time when things weren’t so great. 
  • It’s results-oriented: if they’re paying attention, the final ask is to share what ultimately happened. In real life, the results aren’t always great despite our best efforts. The best candidates can separate their effort from the outcome, regardless of whether the outcome was good or not. 

This kind of question is just a small part of a multi-faceted process (and those who use MBI get access to a custom interview template builder with a database of hundreds of questions), but hopefully, you can see how questions like this help uncover more useful information about a candidate. 

Overhauling a hiring process is no small thing. You’ve got to retrain people, perhaps change systems and practice something new. That’s why companies usually approach this as part of strategic planning: you’ve got to make an informed decision about whether hiring is the area that needs work right now. 

But if you have an interview coming up, try asking that specific question. In our experience, the results are almost always helpful.