G3: Industry insiders talk glass

What is the Most Important Question You Ask a Potential Hire? Why?
February 27, 2013


Michelle Messersmith, manager of employee services, Walters & Wolf

"From a project management standpoint, I think the most important skill/quality to have is desire. If you drill down to their desire, you should be able to determine if they have a fire to constantly move forward in their job, have exceptional customer service skills, are pro-active with customers (internal and external), and look for ways to get the job done [more effectively].

The challenge is finding those answers, and what questions to ask. At Walters & Wolf, we found that in order to know what questions to ask, we needed to create good, solid job descriptions. Once we created our job descriptions, we were able to understand what questions to create for that position. We also use an interviewing technique called behavioral interviewing. This type of interview can determine how a person will act or think in the future if a similar scenario presents itself. For example, 'Give me a specific example of a time when you improved a function or process that you knew you could make better.'

Unfortunately, there is not one magic question that will tell us if we found the perfect candidate. It takes a good understanding of what the job requires, well formulated questions and lots of practice."

Michelle Messersmith


Bob Garner, vice president of human resources, Lee & Cates Glass

"Although it's important to note personal traits such as honesty, integrity, determination and humor to determine whether a candidate would succeed at the job in question, an interview should focus on his or her track record of on-the-job performance. Past performance is the most important indicator of a candidate's possible success in his or her next position, so questions based on past performance are often the best way to determine suitability for a position. Good interview questions start with a good job description, one that outlines what the successful candidate is expected to accomplish on the job.

So among many questions, the most important question that I ask is, 'What is your greatest achievement and worst failure in your past job?'

What I am looking for is the following: Do they admit to any? Do they blame others? Is the candidate self-assured? Have they learned from mistakes and, if so, what did they learn? Hopefully, they will admit to failing at something, because admitting to nothing is showing arrogance. Admitting to too many is showing they may not be the most successful candidate. Hopefully, they will admit to some failure, but they will also tell you what they learned from the failure.”

Bob Garner


Howard Holesapple, vice president of sales, Consolidated Glass Corp.

"There are many questions you can ask a potential new hire. I like to ask questions that give them a chance to tell me about themselves without saying, 'tell me about yourself.' Everyone has heard that. In fact, most people know all of the interview questions. If they don’t, then they aren’t prepared.

So I’m going with, 'What makes you stand out from others?' This gives you the opportunity to get a good picture of the applicant's self-confidence and how much they know about their own strengths and weaknesses. If they answer this with confidence, you will see they have great self-esteem and poise, especially if they don’t hesitate with their answer. If they are timid in their answer, it shows potential lack of enthusiasm or self-motivation. If an applicant speaks for 10 minutes about how great he or she is, they may be overconfident and detrimental to a team environment. You want someone to tell you that what makes them stand out from others will help the team. The 'team theme' has always been important to me." 

Howard Holesapple