The 4-question interview – a guide for busy managers

By Jeremy Wilson April 01, 2014 Industry News

Interviewing is a bit of an art form. I’ve seen a pile of different styles and experienced all lengths of interviews, from the short and sharp to the three-hour brain drain.

Whilst every interviewer has a different style, there is most probably some common ground that’s explored: the good old key strengths & weaknesses; reason for leaving past role; achievements in previous roles; what do you bring to this role etc.

Not that any of those questions are bad necessarily, they are just not that great – and, for a practised interviewee, a bit of a walk in the park... Also, if you’re like me, then you’re time short. I’ve increasingly found myself in Wellington or Christchurch charging around interviewing candidates and having to fit in six or seven candidates in a day.

Because of that, I’ve had to maximise my face time with each person and have found some excellent results with what I’ve come to call “the four-question interview”.

Not only are these questions probing but three of them require self-reflection and provide a basis for deeper questioning if required on the day.

Let’s look at the four and why they really work.


1. What would you consider your greatest professional achievement?

This is a great question because it gives you an insight into how a person defines success and you can then ask them to elaborate on details.

You can work this question to suit the level of role you are working on, for example your greatest sales achievement or greatest leadership achievement. It will also give you the ability to understand the depth of a candidate and their understanding of their role, based on their answer.


2. In the past 12 months what aspect of your performance have you focused on improving the most and how have you done this?

The answer will demonstrate their level of self-awareness and also give you an insight as to how hard they are prepared to work on increasing their abilities in the workplace.

My concern in our industry is that a lot of people are stuck in a state of unconscious incompetence and this question will give you insights into their ability to self-diagnose or their preparedness to work on their own improvement with the assistance of their employer.

(I acknowledge recruitment guru Ross Clennet for this question – see


3. What are you most proud of personally?

I really like this question because it’s not frequently asked of anyone, ever. Therefore you can get an instinctive answer.

If a person speaks of sporting achievements or personal achievements of note, then this gives insight as to their level of personal drive, or even their ethics or personal qualities in some scenarios.


4. What do you know about this company?

I ask this question to gauge the level of preparation a person has put into the interview.

It also indicates if their commercial depth extends just beyond Googling the business the night before. This will also give you an idea of their thinking in terms of market knowledge and experience.


Now the whole idea of this shortened exercise is to provide a basis for the second meeting where a greater level of questioning can be explored at your leisure. If you’re facing a shortlist and time is short, then the four-question interview followed with a quick “what’s in it for you” run though of the business and the role will mean just a 45-minute investment on your part.

All of these questions also open the floor for a much deeper conversation. So, if you really like the look of the person in front of you, then you can choose to make a greater time investment in that person.

A good follow-on plan for the time short manager is to leave the candidate with instructions to email you overnight with any questions they have as this will give you an indication of their depth of thought, areas of concern and their ability to put together a business email.

Look how much additional information you’ve gained from four key questions! Happy interviewing.


Jeremy Wilson is General Manager of BuildPeople, a search recruitment and sales training business specialising in the hardware, building and construction marketplace. Call 021 732 788 or visit for more information.


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