I often get asked, “What’s the best interview question to ask a candidate?” Some people think it depends on the industry or the position. That’s simply not true. There is one question that should be universal in all interviews. This question can change the composition of an entire company into top performers. Who wouldn’t want that? 

I’m sure you’re all dying to know what this magic question is. But first, let’s establish the premise so you’ll understand WHY this interview question is so critically important to determining a candidate’s worthiness.

Why Interviews?

I would reckon that of 1000 hiring managers conducting interviews, fewer than 1% have ever asked themselves the question, “Why do we interview in the first place?”

We use interviews to understand a candidate, what makes them tick, how they think. The reason for all of this is to gauge how well they’ll perform their duties and what kind of potential they’ll have in the role that’s being filled. I’m sure you knew this, but how many people actually sit down and think about it? Very few.

It’s also extremely rare for hiring managers to sit down and critically think about what makes for a top-performing candidate. Most simply follow company guidelines or web best practices that they have never examined critically. This is the reason so many people are hired that simply shouldn’t be.

If you haven’t been reading my blog, then this will most likely be news for you: the number one trait you need to be interviewing for is character. Forget technical expertise, talent, IQ, or emotional intelligence. A person’s character trumps every other attribute when it comes to personal and team success.

Someone with high character will work harder, learn faster, and will have more leadership potential than someone of average or low character.

This begs the question, “How do we interview for character?”

The answer is this one simple question:

“What are you currently doing to work on your self development?”

That’s it, that’s the golden question. This question is so important I’m going to repeat it.

What are you currently doing to work on your self development?

You can phrase this in several ways: What self development books are you reading? How are you improving yourself right now? What are you doing to invest in yourself?

You can ask any way you want, but the essence should always be the same – you are asking this person to describe how they’re improving themselves mentally, spiritually, or physically.

Why Is Self Development Critically Important?

When someone is working on developing themselves and they’re doing it of their own volition (meaning this improvement has not been forced upon them), it means they are acting with high self-esteem and high character.

Really think about that for a moment. For someone to read books to expand their minds, for someone to take classes that challenge themselves, for someone to start a side business to create financial security, that effort takes courage. These people are confronting their fears and weakness and expanding into them. That’s the definition of courage.

Courage is the definitive sign of high self-esteem and character. Can someone of low character act in courage? It would be very unlikely. Can someone of low self-esteem care about themselves enough to invest in themselves? Not likely.

You must confront your dragons!

You must confront your dragons!

People without courage are unable to admit they need to grow. The people fear growth because, to them, it means they are weak or incomplete. These people are afraid to grow because it would mean they’d have to die. Their current self, their ego, would have to die to accommodate this new growth.

It takes great courage to grow.

By asking a candidate how they are improving themselves, you are getting an intimate look into how their character, self-esteem, and integrity operates.

How Is Self Development Related To Career Success?

When you hire someone for a job, you are investing in that person. You are investing time, money, and additional resources into this person to ensure they do the job you want them to. This seems simple enough. Now, a question…

If someone doesn’t respect themselves enough to invest in themselves, why should you? The answer is, you shouldn’t.

You want to hire someone who is already committed to investing in themselves. When you do, it’s the surest bet you’ll ever make in your life. Someone who is committing to working on themselves will bring this commitment to work.

The benefit to you and your team is two-fold: this person will always be expanding, and when they expand they’ll take your team with them.

Imagine someone who is constantly improving both in and out of their job. What kind of asset will they be to your team in a month, in a year, in five years?!? Their growth will be exponential and so will it be for your team.

The biggest impact you can ever make for you team is hiring someone with high character who believes in, and is committed to, developing themselves on a consistent basis.

The best part about this question is that it’s completely agnostic in regards to industry, job level, and career path. Every hiring manager in every industry can use this question immediately to improve their candidate short list.

What’s the Trick to Answer This Question?

The trick is, there is no trick. You have to have already committed to bettering yourself, and then you have to take action.

The action you take doesn’t have to be daily, or even weekly (although it helps). You simply need to decide you want to grow in some area of your life and then go for it.

Read some self development books, attend training seminars, take a class, participate in activities, start a business, start a spiritual practice…

There are literally infinite ways to develop yourself and grow. Pick one and run with it, then pick another. Eventually, you’ll have developed a habit of always improving yourself. What employer wouldn’t want that?!

This will lead to you being more enthusiastic about work and life in general. You’ll gain more influence and expand your social circle. Your outlook in life will become more positive.

Once you begin expanding it becomes addictive and you can’t stop. This habit of excellence will follow you into every interview. Then, when someone asks how you’re currently developing yourself, you won’t be able to stop talking! Your enthusiasm for yourself will be contagious, and suddenly your interviewer will be enthused about you too!

This will lead to you getting the job you want every single time.

Candidates Can Ask This Question Too

You know that awkward phase of an interview once it’s concluded and the interview asks you, “So, do you have any questions for us?”

This is the PERFECT time to ask your interviewer(s) what they’re doing to work on themselves. Often times you’ll be met with a quizzical expression. This is fine.

Tell them why this question is so important to you, that before you choose to work with someone you need to know who they are at a core level, what their character is, and this question tells you a lot about a person’s character.

Now they’re the ones in the hot seat. How fantastic is that? This is how you empower yourself during interviews. Try it next time, it feels fantastic.

Some interviewers might get fidgety at this point. That’s fine. That means they haven’t been developing themselves and most likely have their life on pause. They might feel embarrassed because you put them on the spot and are forcing them to look at an aspect of themselves they’ve been neglecting for years.

This is great! When people get uncomfortable with this question it allows you to filter them out early. You don’t want to work with people like that because they will be a dead end for your career. So you can politely next that company and move on to finding a better team to work with, a team that values growth and self development.

Other interviewers will light up and tell you everything they’re working on. Perhaps they started a new side project at work or started doing yoga, who knows! The point is, you want to find people who are just as excited about learning and growing as you are.

When you do, the comradery will be palpable and you’ll have, more often than not, found your new home.

If you’re not already asking this question during interviews, don’t you think it’s time you started? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments.