By Jim Wong, CPA | August 28, 2013

During an interview, you try and gauge if the candidate is a good fit for the position, as well as the company culture. Typical questions hiring managers ask include: What interests you about this position? Why do you want to work for us? Why did you leave your last job? Or why are you thinking about leaving your current job? And so on.

These are all great interview questions, but hiring the right person means you have to ask some unexpected questions too. Matt Hunt, contributor to, says, “Asking one magic question can actually provide you with much more information than any run-of-the-mill interview question ever would.” His question of choice is “failure” because it “not only gives you insight into a candidate’s work personality, but it also demonstrates her ability to keep your company relevant in the emerging information economy.”

Hunt breaks the “failure” question into three parts, and he suggests asking them at the end of the interview, “when a candidate has a strong potential for landing the job.”

Tell me the last time you failed at something professionally.
We’re all human, and we sometimes fail. It’s part of life. Hunt says, “Most candidates will use this as an opportunity to externalize their failure as a result of someone or something that could not have been predicted.” They put the blame on others or make the situation seem insurmountable. Hunt suggests hiring managers look for the candidates “who accepted their part in a failure and turned it into something positive.”

What did you learn?
Hunt argues this is the most important question of the three because it shows how a job candidate can turn a failure into an opportunity. “For organizations to succeed today, we need more than just doers; we need thinkers who can use creativity and experimentation to build ideas and new models,” says Hunt.

Would you have done anything differently?
People aren’t perfect when they make decisions, and this is why you need thinkers — people who can analyze the results of their actions and learn from their failures. “They are able to understand their surroundings, identify their roles within the system, and think creatively to solve problems and improve processes,” Hunt adds.

Failure questions are important because it gives you insight into their work personality, and these questions will also help you determine which candidates are problem solvers and innovative leaders, and which ones are just doers.

What type of failure questions do you ask when interviewing candidates?

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