Leadership & Formation #24: Interview Techniques

Leadership & Formation #24: Interview Techniques

five_way_puzzle_people_400_clr_4877.pngWhile at General Electric many years ago I was identified as a HiPot (High Potential).  The practice at that time was to select HiPots and send them to GE’s Leadership Development School located in Crotonville on the Hudson for a week if intensive training.  Young managers were invited from GE’s 13 core businesses.  One hundred managers gathered and taught key leadership practices. 

One of the lessons was how to interview potential employees.  Questions were presented under four categories (AAII) and were used to assess candidates:  analytical skills, accomplishments, initiative, and innovativeness.  These questions have served me well over the years.  I have used them repeatedly to assess potential employees.  Not all the questions are asked.  The interviewer selects several under each category.

These questions can also be used to prepare for an interview when you are seeking a position.


Typically, these will be follow-up questions to determine how the candidate thinks through/solves problems.  The problems themselves are best surfaced via other lines of questioning.

  • How did you approach …?
  • Were you able to foresee any of the obstacles you encountered, and if so, what did you do in anticipation of them?
  • When dealing with . . . (situation) . . ., what kinds of information did you seek?  From what sources?  How did you organize it?
  • When planning an approach like . . . (situation) . . ., how do you separate the important from the trivial – how do you set priorities?  What kind of contingency plans do you develop (or how do you develop contingency plans)?
  • When faced with a problem like . . . (situation) . . ., what steps do you typically go through to develop an effective approach?
  • Tell me about (walk me through) your thinking process as you dealt with …


  • When you think about some things you’ve done well over the last (few years/year), what are you most pleased about?  Did that involve other people, or did you do it yourself?  Why do you think you were able to get those results?  What obstacles or problems did you overcome?
  • What was it about doing . . . that gave you particular satisfaction?  What was it that turned you on?
  • How do you compare your accomplishments with those of other people in the same area (class, work group)?
  • Could you describe some of the things you’ve done well during school – as a part of your regular academic program or extra-curricular work?  Were there some obstacles and how did you get around them?  Describe the work or projects that you feel show that you know how to get the job accomplished?
  • What have you learned about your strengths from working on . . .?
  • Did you get any clues about your development needs as a result of . . .?
  • Since we have only a limited amount of time to discuss your strengths, which strengths do you think stand out?
  • Why do you believe you’ve been able to be effective; what personal characteristics/skills/special knowledge has been of particular value?
  • How do you handle obstacles when they get in your way and can you give me some examples of how you did it?
  • For each of the important pieces of your work (of your assignment) would you highlight an activity or accomplishment that would demonstrate your ability to get a job done?
  • How would other people you have worked with describe your accomplishments; how would they describe your strengths and the reasons you have been effective?


Accomplishments that resulted from initiatives will generally be salient and will likely be mentioned.  Probes about how a project got started, etc. will help you get at some of this indirectly.

  • Would you describe a project or activity at school or work where you were responsible for getting the ball rolling?  What was the situation, what did you have to do, and how did people respond?
  • Give me some examples of where you have taken the initiative and what led you to do it?
  • What kind of information do you like to have before you start on a project?  What kinds of sources of such information do you find most valuable or useful?
  • Can you give me an example of a project or activity where you started off by yourself because there was no other interested person or because if you didn’t do it, no one else would?
  • What leadership characteristics do you have – would you describe them and give me some examples of how you have acted on them, or used them? How would others perceive you in this regard?

Initiative frequently is evidenced where someone has to deal with obstacles or make an extra effort to reach an objective. 

  • Why did you continue in the race of . . .?
  • Why did you think it was important to . . .?
  • What was so important about . . . ?


  • Tell me about some of your best ideas and what stimulated them?  How did you develop them and how did you implement them?
  • Tell me about something that you have taken special pleasure in developing, like a new way to do something, a change in a policy or procedure, or a better way to do anything?
  • What kinds of situations prompt you to look for new approaches or better ways of doing things?
  • Could you describe a situation at work or at school where you took a risk?  What prompted you to take the risk, and how did you evaluate it ahead of time?
  • Can you give me some examples of risks you have taken and why you took them? Describe the outcomes.
  • Under what conditions do you take risks in an organizations setting?  What was the biggest such risk you’ve taken in the past year or two, and what was the outcome?
  • What obstacles have you encountered when you tried to improve something or do something differently?  How did you deal with them?
  • When is it appropriate to look for better ways of doing things?
  • Are you more effective when you have a set of procedures to guide you or when you have to develop your own way of doing things?  Can you give me some examples of this?
  • When you started . . . (or, took over such and such) . . . what kinds of changes, if any, did you feel the need to make?  Why did you feel that way, and how did you go about making the changes?
  • At what point do you settle for a solution instead of continuing to look for a better way?
  • What kind of work environments encourage and/or discourage you from exploring new ideas or different way of doing things?

I hope you find these questions helpful as you hone your interviewing technique.

To be continued…

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