Want A Players? Here’s The One Interview Question You Need to Ask

Photo illustration by istockphoto.com
Photo illustration by istockphoto.com

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?”

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.

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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."


8 Comments on “Want A Players? Here’s The One Interview Question You Need to Ask

  1. While that may be a good question, it would be easy for the B+ person to respond yes, yet not follow through when needed. A better question would be “In this position, there may be ocasional times when the demands of the position might encroach on your personal time. Tell me about a time when you had to work nights and weekends in order to get a task or project done, especially when you had demands on your time from outside work.”

    1. And behavioral interviewing wins again…

      I wouldn’t want to have to answer the author’s question (GA Peach’s question would be fine, though), because I’d have to restrain myself from asking my own question–

      “If it turns out that I’m actually so efficient as to rarely need to work evenings or weekends, will you hate me for it?”

  2. In over 3 decades in the business I have never even found finding and hiring B and B+ players easy. So please tell me how I can do this easily.

    On a second note how many times have you actually had an applicant tell you that they would NOT be willing to work nights and weekends to get an assignment done.

    When you ask situational questions all you are going to get are situational answers.

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

    After 25 years of hunting heads–I don’t believe this is how you find superior talent. The world is full of people working overtime and not getting paid for it.

  4. Intriguing article Marc. It would be interesting to ask, say, a young Chris Hughes, Larry Page, Steve Jobs or George Zimmer how often they forget to eat, sleep, or have sex. Or for that matter, what they would have answered to the question “Are you willing to work nights and weekends to get an assignment done on time?” Is it really a fail-proof question to divide A and B players? People say many things during interview; Thinking on the spot and correctly answering “Yes” to the above doesn’t mean that person will work 24/7 (nor are they legally bound to). As part of a well-planned interview then why not include this question, but I wouldn’t count on it to sift the wheat from the chaff. SK

  5. I could not disagree more with this post. I’ve been researching and providing executive education on careers, performance management and work-life integration for 15 years. This post is essentially an argument for redefining high commitment as long work hours, rather than developing a more precise, job-relevant and sustainable definition of what constitutes outstanding performance in a particular position. This kind of thinking prevails in firms with high levels of burnout and low retention.

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