Creating Interview Questions That Weed Out the Losers and Identify the Rock Stars

Also, my three favorite interview questions that generate quick results.

The interview. Oh, the interview. You’ve culled through hundreds of resumes and worked through scheduling conflicts, and now you are ready to sit down with your candidate to conduct an interview. You have probably dealt with 15 other things already today, and now it’s time to get your game face on and focus on this interview. How do you get started? What should be your first question? Most importantly, how do ask questions that uncover if this person is one of the losers or a Rockstar?

You know people are critical to your business otherwise, there would be no need for an interview phase. If whom you bring on isn’t important, you’d hire anyone that wants the job! Since we know it is essential, let’s create a process that takes hope out of the strategy and gives you the confidence you need when you walk into an interview. 

That’s what this article is all about. Helping you create a meaningful interview system that generates consistent, positive results. As in, no more bad hires!!

Start Before the Interview

In our RightHire course, we talk a lot about the challenges that business owners and leaders face when they need to make a hire. One of the biggest problems is time. Sounds familiar, right? When isn’t time a challenge as a leader? However, when it comes to hiring and recruiting, a lack of time has some detrimental side effects. The process of looking for an employee is almost a full-time job unto itself. Let’s not forget, you already have a full-time job. Heck, you may feel you have two or three. The thing is that this lack of time can lead us to put too much emphasis on our gut feeling, because it seems faster, or, put us in a position where we settle. Another word for settling is compromise. This isn’t that right kind of compromise, like in a marriage. This is that, ‘accept things that are less than ideal’ type of compromise. You know, the business killing kind.

So, why do I bring this up under the heading of “Start Before the Interview?” The reason is that taking time to prepare for an interview may seem like just another thing to add to your mile-long list of to-dos. However, the time spent in preparation will help speed up your interviewing process. So, what do we need to prepare?

Document the Traits for Success

The first thing you need to do is document the traits that will lead to success for this role. In other words, what types of attributes does this candidate need to have when they come to the company. These attributes are likely the stuff you can’t train. Some possible examples: a passion for helping customers achieve their goals, a desire to learn, attention to detail, or a desire to win. This step is the foundation for creating a successful interview. When you do this, the interview isn’t just about finding a person who can do the job but finding someone a rock star who will crush the position. As you design your questions, you will use these traits to create situational based questions that identify these traits. As you interview, you will quickly be able to weed people out based on their answers to these questions.

Create Situational Interview Questions

You have to create your interview questions in advance. This is not optional. Why? If you don’t develop questions in advance, you will either talk too much during the interview or will ask inconsistent questions from candidate to candidate which almost eliminates the ability to compare the people that you meet with objectively. How do I know this to be true? Because I used to do both of these things before I had a structure, and I see leaders do it all of the time when we start working with our clients. It’s just natural. We as humans like to create relationships with other humans. So, given a chance, with no guiding process, we will build relationships. How do we do that? By talking! There will be plenty of time for that later. Right now, you need to have questions to ask on the interview.

What type of questions should you primarily use? As the heading for this section states, situational questions are the best. What we commonly see is leaders asking hypothetical questions. The problem with those questions is that we merely are seeing how well a candidate thinks on an interview. We are not learning anything about their experience or motivations. A hypothetical is precisely that; hypothetical! I want to know what you have done, not what you think you might do in a given situation. 

What types of situational questions? Situational questions that exhibit the traits that you prepared. For example, if you want to know that your candidate is a great communicator, takes responsibility for her actions, and is a problem solver, you can ask a situational question that answers all three of these things. This is one of my favorite questions to ask candidates for almost any type of position but particularly sales and customer service.

"Tell me about a time when you had to relay bad news to a client or prospect. What was the situation? How did you handle it? What was the result?"

A question like this will give you a ton of insight into the mind of the candidate. And, better yet, it isn’t hypothetical. You will hear an actual example of how they work and what drives them. We will get into some of the interpretation of the responses in the next section.

We cover this topic in detail in our full training, including a step by step worksheet on how to create these questions. However, it is important to note how the question is structured. First, an open-ended question that directs to a situation using phrases such as, “tell me about a time when,” “share with me a situation when,” and other similar starters. Then, we use three follow up questions to guide the conversation: What was the situation? How did you handle it? Also, what was the result? These questions allow you to get some context, see the process for addressing, and understand how the candidate resolved the situation. Questions in this format provide you with deep insight into a candidate’s skills and behaviors.

Create an Interview Worksheet

After you have created your questions, document these in a worksheet that you can use during the interview. I like to have space between the questions and take notes right on this page. This helps me keep on track with my questions and provides me with a format that is easy to follow if I am doing multiple interviews.

Stick to these questions. It will keep you on track and provide you with the ability to compare your candidates objectively.

During the Interview

So, now you have done the prep work, and you are ready to interview. How do you use these questions to weed out the losers and identify your Rock Stars?

A good portion of the battle is staying on track and sticking to the questions. This isn’t to say you don’t ask a follow-up question or two, but you must adhere to the question set if this process is going to work.

Interpreting the Answers

When it comes to interviewing, the ability to listen is critical. That may sound like a “duh” statement, but if you’ve done any amount of interviewing, it isn’t always that easy to listen with intent. As I mentioned at the outset, the challenge is usually time. You have a ton of other things going on, so it can be hard to completely immerse yourself in an interview and listen to the nuances within the candidate answers. This situation is compounded if we don’t have questions already created. When we don’t have predesigned questions, we end up spending part of our available brain power thinking of the next question and can miss the subtleties of the candidate answers. Again, this underscores the importance of creating questions in advance and sticking to them during the interview.

So, how do you interpret the answers? Let’s go back to our sample question:

Tell me about a time when you had to relay bad news to a client or prospect. What was the situation? How did you handle it? What was the result?

Listen to the answer. Did she blame others for the initial problem? What did she communicate with the client? How well did she articulate the situation to you and the client? How did she fix, or at least handle the problem? Did she involve a team, or did they try to do it all on her own? If the result was positive, how did she do that? If the outcome was negative, how did it affect her? Is she flippant about the result, or did she learn from it?

A relatively simple question can provide you with a good view of the personality of your candidate.

Here are some other questions that I like to use:

Tell me something about your current role that you don’t like to do but that you need to do to be successful.  Tell me what that item is. How you get yourself to do it anyway? And, what success you have had from doing so?


This gives me insight into their ability to conquer their weaknesses. I see whether they are willing to be honest about something they don’t like in the current role. Does this lead to them complaining about their current position, or do they keep it focused on a particular task?

For salespeople, in particular, I like the following question:

Talk to me about a time in your career when you have been below quota.  What was the situation? How did you handle it? What was the result?


The answers to this are usually fascinating. I have had people deny that they have ever been below quota. I would have a hard time every believing that. I have had people blame the product, the company, the compensation plan, the economy, and just about anything else other than possibly their work ethic. This is a great question to use to gauge honesty and self-awareness. You can also see the mindset of the candidate when it comes to how to learn from failure and move forward. Again, a simple question that can provide a tremendous amount of background on your candidate.


Learn more about how to master the interview by clicking on the link below.

Master the Interview Course

Need Some More Help?

There is so much to process during the interview. It's not just the questions alone, but also the interpretation of the answers from the candidates that have an impact on the outcome.

Would you like some more detail on how we train our clients to conduct a successful interview? Click below to take a look at our standalone interview course. We dive deep into how to use the Interview Question Builder Tool, and provide some insight on how to spot potential red flags. 

This 30-minute training provides a wealth of information on how to properly conduct an interview, ask great questions, and interpret the answers.

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