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  • Writer's pictureShep Burr

A Powerful Secret for Making the Best Hire on the First Try

Is there anything more frustrating than making a bad hire? The wasted training time. The financial loss. The vital work still not getting done. The psychic pain of termination, or worse, living with a bad decision. The demoralizing effects on you and the rest of the organization.

Use this powerful interviewing tactic and avoid making disappointing hires.

Qualifications are an obvious prerequisite, and these can be confirmed by reviewing resumes, asking probing questions, and checking with references.

However, once that threshold has been achieved, the personal qualities of the people on your team should be your most important concern. Decide what the five most important personal characteristics are for the job you are looking to fill.

Do they include leadership? Overcoming obstacles? Resilience? Creativity? Problem solving? Empathy? Care? Accountability? Precision? Meeting deadlines? High standards? Drive? Sense of urgency? Cooperation? Flexibility? Something else?

Once you have decided on the five most important personal characteristics and have listed them, you are 50% of the way there.

Next, in interviews ask your candidates to describe examples of when they used each characteristic to achieve a successful outcome.

For instance, if determination is a critical quality, ask, “Can you give me an example of a time when you overcame a significant obstacle to achieve a goal?” Once you listen to the example, ask for another to prove the same characteristic (“That’s great. Can you give me another example?”). Once you have listened to that example, you should ask for one more.

After you have received at least three examples for the first quality, go to the next quality and ask for at least three examples the same way, and so on down the list of five.

Tell the candidates that examples can come from anywhere: prior jobs, school, hobbies, volunteer experience, family life, or other places. What you are looking for is a candidate who gets what you are trying to ascertain and who can prove a substantial history (even a habit) of success using each of the qualities you deem critical to a particular position.

Let your candidate know that he/she can take some time to think about examples before offering them, but in my experience, candidates able to respond relatively quickly with multiple impressive descriptions show the strongest potential.

Candidates who look lost or who cannot meet the example threshold should be shown the door with a smile, thanking them for their time.

If you employ this interviewing tactic, the best candidates generally become obvious.

By the way, any strong job prospect should be able to do this well - no matter if interviewing for a job in the C-suite or as a personal assistant.

Shep Burr is President of Kingfisher Growth Strategies, which helps small- and medium-sized businesses achieve ambitious revenue and profit goals with transformative solutions. Shep has spent his career developing business, marketing, and sales strategies that deliver explosive growth. See more about how to make your business boom at


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