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27 Interview Questions to Reveal High-Potential-Hires

27 Interview Questions to Reveal High-Potential Hires

High-potential candidates are those well-equipped to grow into your best performers. However, identifying these candidates during the interview process can be challenging because they don’t typically fit your standard hiring qualifications.

To reveal candidates with high-potential, you need to prepare an arsenal of interview questions that explore deeper, sometimes hidden, qualities. We reached out to experts to share their favorite interview questions to identify high-potential hires. 

Here are the best interview questions to bring high-potential talent to the top of your pile: 

1. Tell me about the purpose of your last project. What was your goal?

I started asking this question when I was a software developer doing technical interviews. Surprisingly, many people just do not get the question. 

People often jump right into a technical monologue. “We used a microservice design pattern called by….” But what I’m actually looking for is if they understand the bigger picture of the problem they’re trying to solve. High-performers understand the details of the technology and also understand the business problems technology can solve.

David Moise, President of Decide Consulting

2. How long do you work on a problem before asking for help?

David MoiseEvery candidate gets stuck on some technical issue at some point in their careers. High-performers recognize that sometimes they need another set of eyes. 

A bad answer to this question is “never.” Those who respond in this manner are likely lone wolves and are seldom high-performers. A more appropriate answer is, “half a day to a day.”

David Moise, President of Decide Consulting 

3. What skills and strengths do you hope to improve over the next five years?

This question allows candidates to honestly discuss what skills are important to them, which ones they’re most passionate about improving, and why. If the candidate has a detailed skill development plan in place over the next five years, it’s a good indicator they are self-aware and proactive.

William Taylor, Career Development Manager at VelvetJobs

4. How do you manage a good work-life balance?

William TaylorWorkaholics are bad for business as perfectionists are prone to burning out. This is a huge problem for every organization because it usually results in high levels of absenteeism and turnover. 

If a candidate answers this question by discussing their passions outside of work, such as hobbies, spending time with family members, and charity commitments, they’re likely capable of managing their time and achieving a healthy work-life balance.

William Taylor, Career Development Manager at VelvetJobs

5. What is an example of how you’ve become more productive at work?

The answer itself could be anything, such as calendars, tools, time-blocking, and more. The insight on this question is whether the interviewee thinks about productivity at work at all. The highest-performing employees often try to find better ways to get work done, and in doing so create efficiencies that can improve not just their performance but the entire organization.

Michael Alexis, CEO at Team Building

6. In what areas do you rely on your colleagues to produce a better outcome?

High-performing individuals are often able to take on any project and do it well. However, this question shows an ability to also think strategically and collaboratively. Even if the answer is just a distribution of labor and, therefore, time efficiencies, this question will enlighten you on how the interviewee thinks about teamwork.

Michael Alexis, CEO at Team Building

7. Please perform this task during the interview.

Michael AlexisThis one is less of a question and more of a job-relevant performance task. For example, if someone is applying for a customer service role, I will ask them to write and send a reply to a real customer email. 

Job application materials may show experience, but this activity proves the candidate can really do the work (and under pressure).

Michael Alexis, CEO at Team Building

8. We’re sitting down together 12 months from now. What is it you’ll tell me you’ve accomplished working here and what do you plan to accomplish in the following 12 months?

Ira S. WolfeThis one question can open the door for a dozen more as I’m looking for five key elements in the candidate’s response:

  1. Specific targets (as opposed to ambiguous statements like grow the company, increase sales, lower turnover, etc.)
  2. Alignment with the company’s goals. Has the candidate done their research to know what these are?
  3. How they reached this forecast and how they plan to fulfill it. I can dive deeper into their strategy, leadership, and need for additional support and resources.
  4. Their ability to communicate.
  5. Their plan for future professional development and learning. (Do they plan the future based on past experiences or project a need to continue learning?)

Ira S Wolfe, President and Chief Googlization Officer at Success Performance Solutions

9. Tell me about a time when you were faced with a major obstacle? How did you overcome it?

Be it personal or work-related, this is an opportunity for candidates to share a challenge that they’ve overcome and what the experience taught them. Being able to answer this question means the candidate has experienced testing and has grown from it.

Kenny Trinh, Managing Editor of Netbooknews

10. Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision. What process did you go through to arrive at the decision?

Kenny TrinhI’m looking for independent leaders who can solve problems on their own without much supervision. This question helps me assess their decision-making skills and also shows me if the candidate has other skills, such as people and critical thinking skills.

Kenny Trinh, Managing Editor of Netbooknews

11. Tell me something you taught yourself in the last six months.

This question gives you insight into the individual’s personal and professional interests. It also shows where they may like to grow next or at least be curious enough to try out. It could be something new at work, like learning how to use InDesign, or it may be personal, like signing up for a cooking class. The only wrong answer is saying, “nothing.” This response is very indicative of the type of work ethic the individual has.

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation

12. How would you handle a situation where you nearly miss a deadline?

Deborah SweeneyThis is a very real situation that can happen to anyone, regardless of whether or not you are considered a top performer. I think it’s interesting to ask because it allows the individual to provide an example of a time where this nearly happened. Then, they can detail the strategy they used with their team to either avoid it or come right up to the deadline with the completed workload in place.

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation

13. Tell me about one of the most difficult problems you’ve worked on in your career and how you solved it.

This question tells you more about how a candidate handles difficult problems. High-performers get to work on the biggest problems a company faces, so the size of the problem will tell you how much a company trusted their performance. How they handled the problem will give insight into how they’ll handle whatever your company needs them to solve.

Scott Swedberg, CEO and Founder at The Job Sauce

14. Tell me about your top accomplishment from your last role.

Scott Swedberg

Candidates will likely include some accomplishments on their resume. Their response will tell you a lot more about their role in the accomplishment, abilities, and priorities. If they can’t tell you the story behind the accomplishment, they may not have had as big a role as they’re implying.

Scott Swedberg, CEO and Founder at The Job Sauce

15. Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with your supervisor. How did you handle it?

As the interviewer, you’re looking for how the candidate deals with conflict, professionalism and tact, and their overall confidence. Those who answer this question successfully will describe the actions they took to handle the situation, the results, and what they learned. 

Bryan Zawikowski, Vice President and General Manager of Military Division at Lucas Group 

16. What would you do if you failed to meet a critical deadline for an important project?

Bryan ZawikowskiThis is a situational question that gets candidates to reveal what they would do in a hypothetical situation. It gets them to think in the moment and reveals their thought processes. For this specific question, you want to find out how the candidate handles a stressful situation and setback. It also offers insight into their resilience, grit, and communication style. 

High-performers will talk about their work ethic and the importance of meeting deadlines. They’ll also share how they’d communicate with stakeholders so they can prepare for the consequences of a missed deadline. Another attribute of a high-performer is someone who discussed how they make things right to ensure the missed deadline situation wouldn’t happen again. 

Bryan Zawikowski, Vice President and General Manager of Military Division at Lucas Group 

17. Where do you want to be in five years?

By asking this question, a hiring manager is determining whether the individual is goal-oriented but realistic in the goals they want to achieve. A quality answer from an entry-level, high-potential candidate would be, “I’m looking for an opportunity that will allow me to grow within a career in the ___________ industry. Since I’m just starting in the industry, I’m open to different avenues as I gain experience. I hope that within a couple of years, I will know which direction I want to take as a specialty.”

Tom McGee, Vice President and General Manager, Sales and Marketing Division at Lucas Group

18. How would you deal with a difficult co-worker?

Tom McGee

The interviewer is attempting to find out if the candidate has the ability to diffuse and prevent potential drama among team members. A good answer would be, “I would refrain from engaging in harmful activities such as gossip and negativity and remain positive in all dealings with that individual. If the situation became difficult to manage personally, I would seek advice from my supervisor on what to do specifically.”

Tom McGee, Vice President and General Manager, Sales and Marketing Division at Lucas Group

19. Tell me what you think separates successful sales reps from those who struggle or fail.

I ask candidates to explain this to me because I want to see if they understand what’s made them successful and what separates them from those who aren’t as successful. 

Kristie Jones, Principal at Sales Acceleration Group

20. Tell me about the last quarter you didn’t hit a goal and what caused you to miss it.

Everyone misses a goal occasionally, so if they say it’s never happened, that’s a red flag. High-potential candidates will understand why they missed a goal and can detail the changes they’ve made as a result. I’m looking for those who have strong strategic thinking skills and are able to evaluate and self-correct.

Kristie Jones, Principal at Sales Acceleration Group

21. Are you more likely to ask for forgiveness or permission?

Kristie Jones

Most top performers ask for forgiveness. Their confidence level is high and as such, they have a higher risk-taking tolerance than B players.

Kristie Jones, Principal at Sales Acceleration Group

22. Tell me about a time that you received coaching and feedback at work. How did you grow from it?

This question gets at the heart of how coachable a candidate is. High-potential candidates like being coached and are great at using feedback to improve.

Ryan Hawk, keynote speaker, author, advisor, and host of The Learning Leader Show 

23. What is something you used to believe that you no longer believe?

A candidate’s response to this question indicates their ability to learn and grow. The depth and intention of the answer also gives you an indication of the candidate’s level of thoughtfulness and introspection. All high-performers take time to reflect and learn from mistakes or changes

in the environment that might lead to a shift in thinking.

Ryan Hawk, keynote speaker, author, advisor, and host of The Learning Leader Show 

24. Tell me a story about your best day at work and your worst day at work.

Ryan Hawk

This prompt is customizable to your industry and the position you’re hiring for. If you’re hiring a sales rep, for example, you may be looking for stories that indicate a desire to win and compete. If you’re hiring a nurse practitioner, however, you may want stories that indicate compassion and a patient-first focus.

The candidate’s answer reveals if they’re motivated by the specific things that would give them high potential for success in your open role.

Ryan Hawk, keynote speaker, author, advisor, and host of The Learning Leader Show 

25. If you had to choose between speeding to get to an important meeting on time or arriving 10 minutes late, which would you choose and why?

Stacy CaprioThis is a very eye-opening question that gives real insight into the interviewee’s character and creativity. It shows how willing they are to bend rules to get to an objective, and how they rationalize things. 

The most important part of the question is actually their reasoning behind their answer. It lets you into their head while you hear their explanation of why rules should never be broken or why they think it’s OK to break a rule and to what extent when achieving a goal.

Stacy Caprio, Founder at Growth Marketing

26. What do you think you’ll learn working for this company?

High-performing employees are able to self-analyze, detect their weaknesses, and work to improve them. Nobody is comfortable talking about their weaknesses, however, and too often asking about them outright gets canned answers. Asking what they hope to learn still analyzes the candidate’s ability to self-reflect, along with their desire for self-improvement, but in a way that feels less critical.

Jon Hill, Chairman and CEO of The Energists

27. Out of all the people you have worked with, who do you admire, and why?

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a powerful interview question that helps unearth the candidate’s workplace value system in a subtle and honest way. As a result, you’ll get a robust idea about the person’s motivations and have better odds of deciding whether or not they’ll be able to help your company reach its true north.

Jagoda Wieczorek, HR Manager at ResumeLab 


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