Whether it's for a blog post in Staffing Talk, or when you're trying to make that next great hire, as interviewers we are always looking for that Holy Grail of interview questions, that single line or exchange that will unlock the mysteries of the universe and tell us all we want to know, and then some.

Simon Anderson, the CEO of DreamHost, a global web hosting company, says his single best interview question is, “Tell me about the first experience in your life when you realized that you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful.”

Anderson says he thinks there’s is a big shift under way in business "where you have to respect the fact that people are going to forge their own path" and be motivated by different things, and meaningful things. And so that needs to come out in the interview and hiring process, on both sides of the table.

What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?

Lou Adler is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting firm helping companies implement performance-based hiring. He has been in the recruiting industry for 36 years and his latest book is "The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired."

He states in this Inc. blog post his magic, go to interview line: What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?

It doesn't end there though. Adler says this will likely spawn a number of follow-up questions to delve into such as:

  • Can you give me a detailed overview of the accomplishment?
  • Tell me about the company, your title, your position, your role, and the team involved.
  • What were the actual results achieved?
  • When did it take place and how long did the project take?
  • Why were you chosen?
  • What were the 3-4 biggest challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?
  • Where did you go the extra mile or take the initiative?
  • Walk me through the plan, how you managed it, and its measured success.
  • Describe the environment and resources.
  • Explain your manager's style and whether you liked it.
  • What were the technical skills needed to accomplish the objective and how were they used?
  • What were some of the biggest mistakes you made?
  • What aspects of the project did you truly enjoy?
  • What aspects did you not especially care about and how did you handle them?
  • Give examples of how you managed and influenced others.
  • How did you change and grow as a person?
  • What you would do differently if you could do it again?
  • What type of formal recognition did your receive?

The end result? Adler says through this one line of questioning, and then the detailed follow-up,  an interviewer can - and will - learn everything they need to know about a candidate.

One of the takeaways for me here is that the onus for this interview is largely on the shoulders of the interviewee, and not the interviewer.

What about the candidates who are going to try and ask as many questions as they answer?

Maybe that is as it should be, but there will likely be some pushback from candidates who have long been advised to ask as many questions as they do answer them, to probe the hiring manager about details of the position and what a candidate needs to succeed.

Adler's line also focuses on success. Again, that may be contrary to what others feel teaches the best lessons in life.

When I was the editor of a business magazine, one of the common threads from the hundreds of CEOs and business owners I met was they told me they always learned more from their failures, from the down times in their business, than they did during their successes, or boom times.

Also, one commenter to Adler's Inc. post asked what if the candidate has never had the opportunity to have a "big accomplishment" She said people are so micromanaged today this scenario is entirely possible.

This commenter says her single magic bullet question is "Why should we hire you?"

There aren't too many candidates who aren't at least a little negatively impacted by stress and nervousness and can "bring it all" during the interview.

And in the end, maybe there's never just one-size-fits-all single line of questioning that can get it all out of the candidate during the interview process either. I think it's a fascinating topic though.


Tags: Job candidates, Job Interviews, Hiring process, Inc., Industry, Lou Adler, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, The Adler Group, The best interview questions