2 Simple Questions I Asked 10 Job Seekers And They Failed

This is why recruiters and hiring managers get frustrated with candidates. For the most part this demonstrates why most candidates fail the interview. Candidates leave an interview thinking all went well, when in fact, the candidate is not going to be asked to come back.

It also demonstrates why candidates need to consider investing in their job search. There are many great resources available to ensure candidates conduct a really effective and professional job search. In today’s economy a job seeker can’t afford (literally) to be anything less than 100% effective.  Unfortunately, none of these 10 will get the job. If they had invested less than $100, I believe they could have properly answered these simple questions.

Instead they will spend more time looking, ultimately costing them thousands of dollars. Who knows when another opportunity will come up.

So here are the two simple questions I asked the senior executives.

1) Do you consider yourself to be a person who demonstrates high initiative on a regular basis? All 10 basically answered, “Absolutely.” Not just “yes”  but “absolutely.”

The obvious follow-up question to me is:

2) Can  you give me a specific example  where you demonstrated high initiative in your current or most recent role? This is where the interview collapsed. Not one could give me an example of high initiative. All 10 either  rambled on and on hoping I would forget the question or the example was what I would normally expect them to be doing as part of their job. Not HIGH initiative.  Not one could provide an example of something they claim to do on a regular basis.

Basically they were not prepared. They all answered positively expecting that to be the end of it.

If they claim to “absolutely” demonstrate high initiative on a regular basis, I would expect them to have at least one example. That doesn’t seem like a trick question to me.

Why these candidates were not able to answer this simple question is beyond me. I can only think, like many candidates, they thought, “I will just wing it.” Proper preparation isn’t all that important.  The key word is, “proper.” They may have prepared, but obviously not the right or effective way.

I wonder how many times a day a candidate blows the interview or a candidate’s resume gets screened out for something simple.  How many candidates are still searching only because they refused to invest  in their job search. In the same way,  many people  invest in anything they want to become proficient at, including piano lessons, golf lessons, tennis lessons, lessons to learn a software program, etc. investing in a job search is just as critical. I believe  a lot more critical.

Every extra day in a job search is costing these people thousands.

So what can you do  so it doesn’t happen to you:

1) The internet offers an endless amount of free resources for all to tap into.

2) Not all resources are right for every person. Some may be more appropriate for technical people, some for non-professionals or for professionals, and some are primarily focused at managers and above. Search until you find a resource that fits  your needs. Like most things job search resources are not one-size-fits-all.

3) Once you find a resource take full advantage of the free offerings. Read the blog articles, listen to any audio files, if the offer free webinars attend them. Use these free resources to the fullest extent you can.

4) Only after you trust them and recognize they are right for you, don’t be afraid to invest a few bucks. Nobody can possibly give away everything for free. They  have to make a living too.  Since you have already engaged them and trust them purchasing a book, CD,or  attending a paid webinar will be worth every penny. Many won’t even charge you until  you are completely satisfied or offer a money back guarantee. That takes away any risk of wasting money.

5) Seek their help with your resume or interviewing skills. Many will give you a first pass for free. Again, if you trust them investing a few bucks may make the difference between getting a job and not getting a job. I know it would have helped these ten people.

The best thing you can do for your job search is to make sure you don’t lose an opportunity because of a simple mistake. In this economy it may be a while before another opportunity comes along.

To practice what we preach, we offer an enormous amount of free resources for you to take full advantage of.  I encourage you to use these resources as often as you like and to their fullest extent. For example:

1) Our extensive audio library recordings from our weekly radio program on www. latalkradio.com CLICK HERE to review the program listing.

2) Our FREE sample cover letter. Over 2000 people have downloaded this. CLICK HERE to download yours.

3) Our FREE Linkedin profile assessment. Build a great profile on Linkedin. CLICK HERE to download yours.

4) Over 4000 people have joined our Linkedin Job Search Networking Group. CLICK HERE to join.

5) Download a free chapter from our job search  book on phone interviewing tips. CLICK HERE to download.

6) These are just a few of the free offerings on our website. There are many more for you to take advantage of without buying anything.

FULL DISCLOSURE. Yes, there are products to buy on these pages. If this is your first time you should check out the free stuff first. If those are helpful and you still need help then you can check out the products. We offer most of them on a free trial basis. You don’t have to buy anything until you are sure it will help you.

We want to be a resource for  you in your job search. Our goal is the same as yours. We want to help you spend as little time in a job search as possible.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard


About the Author

Brad Remillard is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Brad is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  • By Joe, February 21, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

    Absolutely instead of Yes? I find the 1st question disappointing. Just because the person used a ten dollar word instead of a ten cent word doesn’t seem like a reason to disqualify a candidate. If a candidate comes from England and mentions a boot of a car while an american one says trunk would seem silly as well. People from different continents or regions are going to use different choices of words – that is just a simple fact.

    The second question is legitimate. If they did have something that showed initiative, by all means, say it.

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, February 21, 2010 @ 6:37 pm

    You completely missed it. That is the least relevant point in the article. The bigger point is they didn’t prepare.

    Had they prepared the second question would have been easily answered.

    The fact that they answered “absolutely” is only important from the stand point that they believe clearly and without any doubt they demonstrated HIGH initiative. Not just average or normal.

  • By Preet, February 22, 2010 @ 4:00 am

    Do you think these questions asked by HR reflect true personality of a candidate?
    As simple as that 99% candidates know what expected questions are? And to manipulate the answer to please the HR is not a big deal. In case they are prepared.
    Example: Now those who will read this article will say yes instead of absolutely 

    Other examples:

    What are your strength and weakness?
    Do you think people truly speak there weakness in front of HR.

    I have seen candidates seeking for the best answers for the interview preparation. I cleared 2 telephonic interviews in a company and after that I was crowded by many friends and 3ed and 4th connection seeking for the best answers, so that they can use the similar answers in future.
    Some companies ask questions while filling the form online. I have been watching it very closely, I am a candidate! I am sure most candidates who will read this will like it. They ask for help for the best answer just to impress. True nature of a person can only come in front when you ask unexpected question apart from basic HR questions. In this case candidate is not prepared and he or she will speak the truth. Best way is discussion on general topics, opinions (I do not mean one of the part of HR interview, like say something about media, outsourcing or anything like that (time 2 mins to think on); that reflects presence of mind). I mean in general; about people or society. This will give idea about the thinking and character of a person. I like the air force way of interview, completely unexpected!!! Well here we are not talking about getting in front line 

    About HR! They are basic building block of a company (The first door of a company who allow the best or worst to let in )

    I have no idea how many are they in general in one company (depends on size)
    About their qualification, I think company should hire a HR who is expert in both field technical (area specific, engg, Science, etc) and MBA (in human resource). Some HRs are not familiar with technical terms and kick out the best CV by mistake (in pile B; other discussion). I have suffered once and later came to know the reasons.

    Well I am not in a company so I have no clue about HR specific job this is just an impression and opinion from my experiences on my CV. Correct me if I am wrong.

    Need much more discussion but I do not want to write thesis here 

    Looking forward for more opinions!

  • By Dave O'Brien, February 22, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

    Brad – I read your article as well as the response to the 1 poster who commented. A little surprised at your tough response.

    As a threshold matter, I suspect I have Staffing and interviewing credentials that are certainly equal to your own. I say this not to be combative but rather to establish a baseline from which I offer my opinion.

    I would submit that assessing a candidate for employment, in general, and a particular job, speciffically, is a complicated process. Simple questions rarely if ever answer the ultimate questions that we should be seeking answers to from a candidate – they are: Can you do the job? (Ability) Do you want the job? (Willingness) and can we manage you? (Managability).

    The seasoned “recruiter knows that there are some “interviewees” that master the interview process yet later prove to be poor employees. Conversely, we also understand that some folks are not good at interviewing but later prove to be among our best hires.

    The real skills of an skilled interviewer is to be able to recognize when you are talking with a potentially talented person who may have the knowledge, skills & ability to be successful, and to be able to draw out information from them that corroborate that are well suited for a position.

    I find a number of things troubling from your simplistic questions.

    First and foremost, your questions are ambiguous. What do you mean be “regular” basis – is regular daily, weekly, monthly, yearly? More importantly, how is the frequency of demonstrating initiative of anything relevant?

    What if a person only shows initiative infrequently but when they do, their efforts are a game changer?

    Secondly, your questions appear to be slanted for the candidate being able answer in the affirmative as it applies to their work. What if they are being considered for a job that does not lend itself to initiative…yet in their personal or community life they do lots of things (nothing to do with work) that changes peoples lives?

    Thirdly, but not finally, what if a person says “no I don’t” – what then? Is the conclusion they are not a good candidate because they did not pass the secret test? If I am hiring an IT Software engineer to code SW drivers or a Director of Cost Accountant to establish an Approved Accounting Practices model for my company – I may not be interested in creativity but good solid SW coding or accounting…are you telling me that if I use your approach to screen candidate, I may not see an otherwise qualified candidate with a solid track record of success?

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, February 22, 2010 @ 7:31 pm

    Some of your points are valid. However, for a senior executive one of the key traits of success is self motivation and initiative. If they don’t have it or can’t at least bring up one example, I have to question if they possess this trait.
    If the question was ambiguous all the candidate had to do was ask for clarification. If they don’t ask me for clarification on a question, how will they handle it in front of a CEO or Board. Remember, these weren’t recent grads. These were VP level candidates.
    I still believe if someone claims to have done something or have a particular trait, providing an example isn’t a trick question. Proper preparation would have help them know how to answer this and other questions my client is going to ask. Which was the point of the article. I think it got lost in the example.
    Candidates say one thing, “I’m a highly self-motivated person” but then can’t provide an example. Sorry but I have been doing this for 30 years and interviewed over 10,000 people. The one thing I have learned, those the claim something and provide examples have been the best performers once on the job.

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, February 22, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

    If you make a claim during an interview you must be able to provide an example. That is what interview preparation and this article are about.

  • By Preet, February 23, 2010 @ 6:26 am

    Well! Don’t you think if a person claim about something can not come up with artificial story and examples?
    There are many books about interview preparation. Where they have mentioned “always follow your answer with some story”
    My point is it is all manipulative. It just reflect how throw someone has done his homework about reading books and article like this.

    I am sorry if I am wrong! This is just an opinion.

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, February 23, 2010 @ 10:46 am

    Obviously these people thought they had a story and it failed. In addition this is one reason that it is up the interviewer to then probe and gather more information about the example. If someone is making it up a probing interview will catch them in their lies.

  • By RMSato, February 24, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    Well, I might as well throw in my (humble opinion) given the discussion so far. For me there is no perfect interview question as the “silver bullet” that can distinguish the right candidate. Also, there isn’t a perfect candidate for a position – all candidates have their positive and negative chacteristics and it is a matter of what is the best fit and what can you live with and without.

    I still use the tried and true “STAR” method when asking a behavioral interview question: Situation, Task, Action, Results. So, for the “high initiative” qeustion, I ask the candiate to give me an example of such.

    Regardless of what/where the candiate answers the question, I ask for the other points to fill in the “whole senario to get the complete STAR answer.

    Then it is up to me/hiring manager to judge how well the answer fits the job requirements. All in all, it beocmes the trade off mentioned earlier – what can we live with or without and how many of the attributes and skills the candidate has over all.

    To Brad’s other points about preparation (or the lack of it) – right on!

  • By John -Career Management, March 3, 2010 @ 3:14 am

    Thanks for writing about this topic. The information is quite well researched and it’s surely going to help job seekers like me. I would like to share with all Mynewjob.me, how valuable this site has been in my career management.

  • By Julie Kreeger, March 18, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

    While I agree with much of what was already discussed, I think there’s one point that wasn’t touched on: the company’s culture. So much of what would be the correct answer depends on the existing culture of a company. For example, if the baseline of a company is teamwork, then being overzealous and standing out as an individual would be a strike in an interview. This all goes to knowing your audience and doing your research BEFORE you walk in the door for that interview!

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