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Trusting Your Gut Is Never More Important Than When Picking Your Team

A CEO can delegate the process of determining which job candidates are competent but leadership requires making the final call.
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Entrepreneurs, invested in hiring the right team, spend a lot of time interviewing prospective candidates. I have hiring managers facilitating a ten-step screening process that successful candidates must pass but I insist the final interview is the “CEO heart-to-heart.”

The one-on-one is an opportunity for the CEO to get to know the candidate and vice versa. It is your best insight into who might join your carefully-organized team. Here are the key elements that guide the questions every entrepreneur should be asking during the final interview.

Use a script to guide your conversation. To remain unbiased and give each candidate an equal opportunity, ask a predetermined set of questions. A script allows you to have a guided conversation, group similar questions together and ensure that nothing important gets missed. It’s more of a talk track than a hard-and-fast script but with your questions written out your conversations will be tighter and well timed so that meetings don’t take up an entire afternoon.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Making Your First Hire

Bear in mind that candidates at this stage have been heavily pre-screened by others in your company and by the department head where they’ll be working. Those team members have a clear bias to hire the candidate. To remain objective when you meet a potential new employee, there a few questions you should be asking, guided by strategic planning in order to find the right person for your company.

Target your questions to the role. Craft different question lists for each role and level of seniority. There are a lot of similarities, but it doesn’t make much sense to ask a candidate interviewing for a finance position when was the last time they missed their sales quota.

If you can ask only a handful of questions in the interview, rapid-fire your way through the following list of questions.

1. “Tell me about your job search up until now. How has it been going and what have your experiences been?”

What this tells you: Is the candidate actively seeking employment or will you be recruiting the candidate away from their current situation? Many entrepreneurs are curious who else is on a candidate’s radar and why they are interested in their company specifically. It is hoped that it’s for more than a paycheck.

If the candidate tells me something just short of “I want change the world, and I think this organization is the venue where I can live out my calling,” then it’s safe to say that I’ve got myself a winner.

2. “What criteria are you using in selecting your next company or position. What’s really important to you?”

What this tells you: You know what your company has to offer. Use their criteria to see if both parties are a good fit. If the candidate wants to work in a large enterprise and enjoys the comfort of structure and process, but you’re a scrappy start-up lacking in operational expertise, you’ll both be frustrated a month into the relationship.

You now what your company is. You need to determine if that is what what the candidate is looking for.

3. “What have you done in your present/last position to increase your organization’s top-line revenues?”

What this tells you: This is not just a question for salespeople! Every member of an organization is capable of generating revenues for a company. That’s right. Everyone contributes to revenue. Listen for examples like suggesting an idea for a new product or service, a creative pricing methodology or an up-sell.

4. “What have you done to reduce your department’s operational costs?”

What this tells you: Explain that the financial sustainability of every organization depends on both generating revenue and minimizing expenses. Listen for the candidate who eliminated waste, streamlined a process, found a similar yet cheaper vendor or negotiated a lower rate with an existing supplier. You want every employee to treat the company as if it were their own.

Related: When--and How--to Hire Additional Employees

5. “How would you describe the amount of structure, direction and feedback you need in order to excel?”

What this tells you: Know from the get-go if the candidate will thrive in your environment. If your organization is full of lone rangers and this candidate needs steady feedback, daily check-ins and positive reinforcement, then this is a nonstarter.

Our organization celebrates successes of all sizes through in-person recognition, during The Daily Huddle and online using a social performance management system called We’re looking for candidates who will thrive in our very supportive environment.

This line of questioning is more about spotting cultural fit than evaluating their credentials. When candidates have reached this point in the process, your colleagues are confident they have the required skills, knowledge and experience. It’s your responsibility to disqualify candidates before making a hiring decision you may later regret and celebrate successful candidates

Successful candidates will start the next chapter of their career with the endorsement of the CEO or founding entrepreneur. That’s a seal of approval only you can provide.

Related: Hiring: Why the Most Skilled Candidate Isn't Always the Right Candidate