Hiring? The Best Question To Ask a Job Candidate

What were your high school dreams?

Your Business Blogger is noticing a troubling trend in the hiring process. Lots and lots of personality questionnaires. Psycho-testing. Honesty testing. Handwriting analysis.

But if you want to do well in interviewing job candidates, get Smart.

No, not the secret agent. Get Brad. Brad Smart, Ph.D..

A friend from an Ivy League university group eMailed asking about interview questions a while back.

She wanted to be prepared. She knew better than to waste time asking job seekers stupid questions, So tell me about yourself…

There’s a better way. Unless you really, really trust your HR department.

The best question, as Brad suggests is,

What were your career plans in high school?

For the interviewer, the easiest way to gauge compatibility is to determine the ‘happiness’ of the job candidate. If he’s not happy were he is, he won’t be happy were he’s going.

I recommend these candidate contentment questions; a legal line of questioning:

Tell me about your high school days.

What did you want to be then?

What was your dream?

Yes. High School. All of life is high school. [sigh]

The rationale is that the closer the current position of the candidate to his High School dream, the more content the candidate is. You should only hire contentment. With fire-in-the-belly.

For example, take my favorite example, Your Business Blogger. I proclaimed in high school the desire to be a ‘merchant.’ A peddler and presenter. A salesman of intangible Big Ideas.

Today, for me: Nirvana. A consultant with a blog.

A review. Here’s a quick three point landing for evaluating a job candidate:

1) Symmetry and chemistry
2) High school dreams
3) Track record

1) Don’t fill the slot with a cheap date. In the job search, as in a search for the mother/father of your future children, symmetry and chemistry is fertile ground. And like getting married, this is the first hurtle in seeking and/or filling a position. It is a courtship dance of both parties on both sides of the interviewing table.

This was the one thing Jack Welsh didn’t bother to quantify. (Except, maybe the cheap date from Harvard part.) (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Although he could certainly justify his decisions. But the big decisions involved more than numbers. It was, well, a feeling. Welsh named his book after it: Straight from the Gut . It also can be called wisdom and judgment.

For example, anyone who would work with Your Business Blogger would probably like this article: Dads, Death and Debt of Honor.

If you don’t care for the article or the writing or my world view, you won’t like me. And I won’t care for you much either. Symmetry and chemistry.

2) Too cool for school. I was Co-Captain of our high school basketball team, a lifetime achievement once dismissed by a recruiter. His client didn’t have a basketball team, he snorted.


He obviously did appreciate my leadership skills…so I didn’t get the girls, the NBA didn’t call, I didn’t get the job. Ask about high school. Get ready for angst.

3) A reasonable rearview mirror. The final point is the easiest. The track record. Where the best indication of future performance is past performance. The easiest to measure. And verify through reference checks.

Even with candidates competing for entry level jobs, there should be few surprises on how the new hire will turn out. Hire character and integrity first. Job competence can be trained. Goodness, even gruff personalities can be coached. But counseled only on a firm foundation of Boy Scout qualities. Beyond knowledge, skills and abilities.

And there will be a test. At every open job position to be filled.

And you thought you were done with high school.


Jack Yoest John Wesley (Jack) Yoest Jr., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America. His expertise is in management training and development, operations, sales, and marketing. Professor Yoest is the president of Management Training of DC, LLC. A former Captain in the U.S. Army and with various stints as a corporate executive, he also served as Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Resources in the Administration of Governor James Gilmore of Virginia.