Key Interview Elements: Getting at a Candidate’s Capability, Passion & Fit

When hiring, we can easily assess whether a candidate for a role has the necessary capabilities, or skills, to perform that role by evaluating their work history and qualifying references.

What we are often not so practiced at is assessing whether a candidate has the high level of passion necessary for sustained peak performance and job satisfaction or if a candidate’s methods fit within the cultural modis operandi of our company? Just because someone has been successful in another company doesn’t mean that they will be in yours.

When the required “Capability,” “Passion” for the work, and good cultural “Fit” intersect, you have found your ideal candidate, but how to evaluate these three elements?

Watching for self-awareness

Listed below are some questions to use in the interview process to get at these qualities in a candidate. Keep an eye out for candidates that are “self-aware” when answering in particular the questions about Passion and Fit.

“Self-awareness” is one of the most elegant and dependable indicators as the best potential candidates inherently understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Interviewers need to ask deep open questions that get at a candidate’s “self-aware” answers that reflect on how and why his/her decisions are made.

During an interview, look for thoughtful, complete, self-assessing answers from applicants. Don’t tell them what you are looking for or they will shape their answers to please you. Don’t let them tell you what they would do — you want to hear what they’ve done.

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Compare what you gather from the interview with what you receive in both candidate-provided references and any independent sources you can find. Be sure to ask similarly open-ended questions about past situations of these references to help you get meaningful information about others’ perceptions of your candidate.


  • What have others told you that you do best? What are your key capabilities?
  • What were the key measures of success in your previous positions? How did you perform against the expectations that were set?
  • Can you give me three examples of work that you have done that is similar to the role we are considering you for. Press for specifics.


  • What work projects have you most enjoyed? Give me three (3) examples.
  • What parts of your past work have energized you? Why?
  • What work projects have you least enjoyed? Why?
  • Describe a time when you didn’t give up on an idea or position despite opposition from others.

Cultural Fit

  • What work environments from your past have you enjoyed most? The least enjoyable?
  • What are you looking for in your coworkers and supervisors?
  • Describe the characteristics you want in your new company?
  • Describe a time when your priorities didn’t match a more senior level manager’s vision. How did you handle the situation? What was the result?
  • Why did/are you leave/leaving your last/current position? Listen for what didn’t work, probe hard here and get specifics.

You can create amazing changes in a team’s performance by hiring the right people, who drive success for a team because they are experienced, they love what they do, and they mesh with your company’s existing environment.

Ironically, cultural fit and job passion, while vital elements of predicting employee performance, are also the top hiring criteria ignored by managers. It is a blind spot that often leads to poor performance and/or team failure, negative situations that could have been avoided with a little proactive evaluation.

Learn more about the Top 10 Leadership Blind Spots and approaches to minimizing their negative influence by downloading the complete whitepaper free here.