At early-stage startups, the first few hires could make or break you. Not only is there little margin for error in shoestring budgets, but early hires are often expected to wear many hats. Selecting the wrong candidate can be a catastrophic mistake.
It can be tough to gauge a candidate’s full potential and character during a remote video interview. As a customer service expert and media trainer, I made my living by reading people and helping Fortune 500 executives deftly navigate challenging top-tier media interviews.
I’ve outlined some very specific clues look for in candidate responses to the questions below. These subtle tells will give you the right read on their compatibility with your company.
1. What was your biggest success in your last job? How about in the last month?
Looking for: confidence, humility, relational skills
The second part of the question is intended to be asked with a chuckle. It’s a nod to the difficult situation that everyone is facing right now and the understanding that little wins mean a lot more today. It also connects you on a mutual human level, adds levity and should help the candidate to relax and open up.
Answers to the first question can reveal whether or not the candidate has an outsized ego that could derail existing team dynamics. Don’t only look for candidates’ ability to impress you with achievements, but also see if they can demonstrate the direct relevance of that success to the work you’re looking to execute. Candidates who can pay this off will likely be quick on their feet and strategic.
2. Tell me about a time when you delivered an exceptional customer experience
Looking for: customer service talent, interpersonal skills
If you’re interviewing for a customer service role, a question like this is a no brainer. It gives a candidate the opportunity to demonstrate expert knowledge of what it takes to make a customer happy.
Does the candidate just talk about fixing a simple problem? Or does the candidate clearly know what it means to go above and beyond to make a customer’s day and secure their loyalty for a longer-term relationship? Do they even talk about customer retention?
3. What were some of the benefits and drawbacks of your last employer?
Looking for: diplomacy, positivity, perspective
We’ve all been asked this one. This kind of open-ended question will give the candidate just enough rope to hang themselves. They’re not typically leaving when everything is just peachy, but look for balance. Pay attention closely to just how hard they lean in on the negative characterization of their last role. Their ability to showcase some positive affect will mean that you wouldn’t be hiring an employee who will carry resentments forward.
4. Please share a situation where you stepped out of your comfort zone and failed. What did you learn?
Looking for: resilience, flexibility, focus on growth
The more creative, risk-taking innovators should have several stories top of mind. Willingness to step out of the comfort zone of their previous role indicates that the candidate is not afraid to fail, can handle vulnerability and is willing to take chances to help drive your business forward.
It’s also incredibly important to keep your eyes open for blame. A candidate who points the finger at others without accepting any responsibility signals that you might be interviewing a serial blame shifter, who will rub your existing team the wrong way. The best career lessons can be learned during failures — so the candidate should have some material takeaways.
5. How have you been spending your time lately?
Looking for: interpersonal skills, relatability
As noted, it’s been a challenging time for everyone. This is an opportunity for the candidate to share some of his/her personal character and relate to you on a human, empathetic level. Their ability to connect with you here could mean you have a great team player on your hands.
If they are not working, do they show drive and initiative by talking about a new project that they’ve finally had the time to tackle? Ask yourself what the nature of their project reveals about them.
6. Is there anything I haven’t asked that you feel would be important for me to know?
Looking for: preparedness, persuasiveness, critical thinking skills
In training executives for media interviews, this is an unexpected soft ball when you get into role play situations. A quick flustered answer of “No, I think we’ve covered everything” is a definite miss.
The candidate should always take a swing at this question. Even if nothing new comes to mind, it’s an opportunity to reinforce one of their earlier selling points or, alternatively, enhance an earlier answer. If they’re clever, it’s also a chance to revisit any hesitations you expressed in an attempt to change your mind.
In his piece in Fast Company, work futurist Dominic Price points to a few additional “tells” that reveal whether or not the candidate has solid remote working etiquette:
- Which “you” are they looking at? Your image on their screen or their computer camera? If they’re making direct eye contact (by looking at their camera), you can be sure that they are effective remote communicators.
- Would you be comfortable if they were communicating with a client from the workspace they used? Take a close look at their surroundings. If the setup seems improvised at the last minute (i.e. books on a coffee table, sitting on a couch), be sure to ask how they’d change the setup if they get the job.
This goes without saying, but it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for any accidental statements revealing that they’re new to remote video conversations. If they’ve never heard of the Zoom platform, you know there’s going to be a learning curve, but you might have bigger problems on your hands…
Good luck hunting your next superstar.