Question: Understanding a candidate's work ethic during the interview


I am the CEO of a young, fast-growing startup.

As you know, life in any startup is very different from other organizations. All our cofounders and early employees are paranoid about customer service and product quality.

So, it is disheartening for us to have new employees complain about work-life balance and comparing us to other established organizations during team meetings.

We are growing fast. Is there a way for us to get smarter about hiring people who have an "all in" mentality, so we don't waste energy with people who aren't the right fit?

5 Expert Insights


Many subtle clues are available during the interview with regard to a candidates work ethic. A hiring manager can learn plenty about an individual with some open ended questions.

First ask the candidate about how he/she prepared for the current interview. The steps they took to be at the interview. How he/she prepared for the commute? What did the candidate need to do to get the time for the interview? Who did the candidate have to inform? What arrangements were made for "coverage" either at the candidate's current job or home responsibilities? What did the candidate do to learn about the company or the industry the company is part of?

If the details of this answer are left out with or without prompting, then I believe you are not speaking to an individual that is prepared for the day in-day out life of a startup.

Next, try to discern situations where a "not my job" scenario comes in to play. This can be as simple as a discussion about responsibilities in the individual's current role and then asking about a scenario where a problem arises that is not within the individual's job scope.

A hypothetical scenario could be offered outside of the current role being interviewed. Let's say the individual is interviewing for a sales rep position and the company all of a sudden has a need for putting together a huge delivery or a quick collection of marketing materials for a product show. Does the candidate have any skills to help? Which role takes priority and why?

The key is to find examples and desire for the individual to help outside of his/her role and comfort zone and to discern if he/she is willing to go beyond perceived expectations.

One last point which coincides with some of the other answers. If company culture is challenging employees work-life balance. Then the company needs to provide opportunities to bring back equilibrium. A company can't keep taking with out giving back later. Otherwise that company will lose all employees and probably the best ones.


There are a number of tools that can help with right fit but one that I have found to be helpful is the Kolbe Indexes/Instinct Assessments. These assessments reveal how people naturally do things and when you understand how you and your team do things/work, you are in a better position to identify candidates who are best suited to carry out responsibilities in a way that complements the culture of your organization.  

Obviously, you cannot expect everyone to do things the same way you do, but when you understand how people work, you can get a better sense of how they will perform in a particular role given your expectations and needs.


This is a hard problem and there is no simple answer. I have two suggestions:

First everybody will have a good resume and good references. But if the person is an "all in" person why are they looking for work? Evaluate the answer to that in terms of their commitment to the last few jobs. If the last company went belly up and they went down with the ship, that's good. If they are shopping for the best deal, that's bad.

Second, if people are complaining in meetings the way you describe then you need to examine your culture.  If the commitment of the early people is what you say it is, that is a very surprising condition. Perhaps you have acquired some relatively senior people who are skilled enough at their jobs to keep them but do not represent the culture that you want.

Brooks Carder, PhD


Be straight with them about your culture and expectations when you hire them. If you don't surprise them later, they're less likely to surprise you.


My experience is that once you are clear on what success looks like, what you want, and what culture / structure that success requires (from the Strategic Execution Framework), in tandem with interviewing for skills & experience, you need a final vet based on "will".

This is called the Skill Will bullseye from the GH Smart TopGrading process.

Thousands of entrepreneurs worldwide have increased the success of their hires by using this simple methodology & framework. The key, in addition to the interview itself, comes in nailing the reference check by using the laddering technique.

More than happy to send you a simple overview / summary of the process if you want to private message me.

Just to be clear, I have no affiliation to TopGrading, other than being a raving fan, and having seen it transform start-ups & scale-ups.

Hope this helps & good luck!