Want “A” Players? Here’s The One Interview Question You Need To Ask

Editor’s Note: Readers sometimes ask about past TLNT articles, so every Friday we republish a Classic TLNT post.

Finding B+ players is pretty easy. Finding your A players, isn’t.

You see, job interviews are a bit like eating a bowl of salad: they’ll fill you up, but you’ll be starving again in about three minutes.

The point is, nine times out of 10, hiring managers never really get what they need out of an interview, because they never actually ask the most important question.

Everybody seems to think they should be conforming to all sorts of interview templates, asking questions like “did you ever do x, y and z at your previous employer?” (instead of the far more insightful “how would you do x, y, and z here, now, for us?”), and ridiculous puzzles like “how would you calculate the height of a building using nothing but a thermometer and a stopwatch?” (Actually, that’s a pretty cool question to ask someone, if I’m honest.)

The brilliant but lazy complex

Determining whether somebody can do a set of tasks doesn’t mean much if they’re brilliant but lazy. So there’s really just one question you need to ask to make sure they’re the A players you’re looking for.

The first thing is to establish what we really mean when we talk about A players as opposed to, say, B+ players.

Fortunately, the answer is simple: B and B+ players are either intelligent but lazy, or just of average smarts but ravenously hungry; they are not both staggeringly brilliant and tormented by that insatiable hunger for success. They aren’t in a perpetual state of frenzied creativity, literally forgetting to eat, sleep, or have sex.

Not that failure to do those things is good, mind you, but merely that they are a necessary consequence of being maddeningly motivated, hungry employees or, for that matter, co-founders. And those are your A players. Staggeringly brilliant, inexorably driven to succeed.

So, what’s the question?

So, what single, simple question can possibly determine whether you’ve found an A player or merely a B player?

“Are you willing to work nights and weekends to get an assignment done on time?”

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That’s it. Simple. Blunt. To the point. But most importantly, it’s fail safe future proofing against any sort of cultural clash or missed expectations.

The only real chance you’ll ever get to make sure an employee is a good fit for your company culture, and whether they’re willing to do anything and everything it takes to succeed, is to make sure they are compatible with your work ethic, that they share your passionate drive to succeed, that they’re starving for that success, and that they won’t stop until they’re done.

Joking aside, this isn’t to say that a healthy work-life balance isn’t in order. After all, if health fails, work failure is not far behind.

But if there isn’t the same burning hunger to succeed, and that hunger isn’t infectious and doesn’t spread throughout the entire team, including and especially new hires, then that less driven employee will at best be a dead weight on the team, and worse, like a rotten apple in a fruit bowl, slowly, inexorably poisoning rather than invigorating those around them.

Be upfront with no room for interpretation

So think about it. It’s a simple, single question, it leaves no room for interpretation, and this is really the only chance for you to score a win-win. If they answer disingenuously, then you have grounds to reprimand them later, but if it turns out they’ve answered truthfully, you’ll soon discover you’ve got a keeper.

And the greatest feeling after hiring someone truly phenomenal is that fear that slowly dawns over you that you almost didn’t hire them.

That’s the thrill of hiring A players.

Marc Hoag is CEO & Co-Founder of Venturocket, a platform that introduces job seekers with hiring mangers, on the premise that getting a job is "all about who you know; about getting your foot in the door."


3 Comments on “Want “A” Players? Here’s The One Interview Question You Need To Ask

  1. Some great writing about what you need to do to identify a great candidate. I would only suggest that the questions suggested just doesn’t do the job. Again it is the case of a great objective but a bad question Why
    1. Candidates would be dumb if they did not know what you were looking for in an answer. So you are going to get lots of false positives and false negatives
    2. It take a lot more than a willingness to work hard and not give up. It takes working hard on the right things.
    3, It takes knowing when to give up or change courses.

  2. Great question! To support its wisdom, I write to add to your readers’ understanding of A, B, and C players.

    It is easily proven that the key to being an A player in any job is “job/role fit” (i.e., as in “fitness for purpose”; including “fit” with all commonly measured dimensions such as culture, manager, job, etc.).

    Each of us is an A, B, or C or worse player depending on the job/role we get ourselves into, and the extent to which our unique combination of characteristics ranging from motivation, personality, capabilities, self-concept, and more are a “fit” for (or fit for the purpose of) that job/role, including both the the work itself (e.g., tasks vs. responsibilities, actual challenges, autonomy, empowerment, etc.) and the context or situation/environment (e.g., manager, culture, employee treatment, support, mission, etc.).

    For example, I can be an A player in the right business performance-problem-solving job/role, a B player in a certain marketing role for a technology company, and yet only a C player (or worse) as an accountant for a big audit firm. Why? Because as the job/role moves further from a natural near-perfect fit for me, my performance will suffer, as will my engagement, satisfaction, and commitment.

    As this insight suggests, there is high correlation between “job/role fit” and “performance” such that in our thinking about performance issues we can virtually substitute “high fit” for “high performance” and similarly categorize “poor performance” as “poor fit.” Of course, hiring people who have a high “job/role fit” for specific job openings is a tremendous challenge, yet the real cost of valuing expediency/efficiency over quality . . . settling for people who are not a high “fit” . . . is ultimately realized in their lower performance.

    The reason why the B+ player you mention performs below the A player is because the B+ play is less of a fit for their job/role than the A player is for their’s. Furthermore, we now understand that C players are not simply “slackers” by nature; they are quite simply in a job/role for which they have a low “job/role fit.”

    And regarding those C players, the operative question shouldn’t be “Why is this slacker not performing?”, and should be, “Who hired a person who is such a poor fit for his or her job/role?” Said differently, low performers are mis-hires, and not great hires that somehow lost their mojo. Unfortunately, such mis-hires have been masked by years of forced ranking systems that attribute low performance to workers directly, and not the people who put them into their current job/role.

    Your “magic” question (“Are you willing to work nights . . . ) is on target, precisely because it gets to many important indicators of “job/role fit” such as motivation, conscientiousness, self-concept and others. More about “job/role fit” is included in a recent 3-part article on results from the humaneering technology initiative – http://www.designedwork.com/materials/workreconsidered123.pdf

  3. I think quality and innovation are missing from the question, as well as smart prioritization. An A player in my book is someone who creates disproportionate impact because they look at things in new ways, innovate and drive toward extraordinary quality. If they have to work nights and weekends to get the job done, that seems like poor planning in my point of view. I understand the question is designed to get a response that tells you a lot more about the person than whether they would actually do whatever it takes to deliver…just wanted to add my two cents.

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