All posts by Rob Carter

The Five Best Interview Questions Ever (we think so anyway)

A guest blog from Jen Shirkani, founder and CEO of Penumbra Group.

Our firm specializes in an intensive and advanced interviewing and hiring methodology for interviewing for Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and we are often asked if we could only ask five interview questions, what would they be? We like to do a solid assessment of technical skills and experience first, then focus one or two interviews just on their EQ. There are several skills to zero-in on, including Self-Awareness, Self-Control, Empathy, Flexibility and Optimism. No one question will reveal all these competencies, but often one question will reveal the presence or absence of several of these skills. And one more reminder: we always recommend that organizations use the behavior-based technique when phrasing questions. Simply….instead of hypothetical “What if” or “How would you handle” questions….ask for concrete past realities…“Tell me about a time when…” or “How have you handled a situation in the past when….”
Okay, here we go:

1. “Describe a time when you were unfairly criticized and tell me what the details were.”

This question is designed to uncover two things: the candidate’s Self-Awareness and their definition of criticism. Be sure to get a specific example from them. The word “unfairly” is important to include as you will be assessing how justified the feedback they received was against their actions. Would a reasonable person think it was fair or unfair criticism? You also want to understand how sensitive they are to receiving negative performance information. Does the example they share represent criticism or feedback? What does your company culture provide most often – criticism or feedback?

2. “Think of a time when you had to work with a headstrong co-worker and tell me how you handled it.”

Many candidates are concerned about sharing a weakness or failure. Interpersonal communication and proper conflict management skills are vital for team members and interviewers must do an effective job of validating skill level in these areas. The power of this question is that it asks about someone else, giving the candidate permission to share struggles due to other personalities. It also gives you a chance to glimpse their empathy/understanding of others…do they offer an indication of trying to understand better or help the person or just a superficial judgment based on self-centered reactions? I love to ask this question after a candidate tells me they have “great people skills.”
3. “Share with me the last time you went above and beyond the call of duty. Tell me about the details and why you did it.”

This question is designed to understand what the candidate defines as extra effort. Is the example they share something you consider to be of substantial heroics or actions you would expect on a routine basis? Knowing how recently it occurred will also reveal their level of engagement in the recent or distant past. Lastly, it will be critical to know what motivates this employee to work at peak performance. The hiring manager must ensure that the motivation drivers are present in the current workplace in order to match with the candidate, and not only that but it also reveals what will retain them in your company & whether they would be a fit for your leadership style (a biggy).

4. “When was the last time you had to act when there was no policy or formal procedure to do so? Tell me what you did.”

We always recommend that small companies ask this question, most of who have little in the way of formalized policy and procedure manuals. This question helps you assess the candidate’s comfort in “thinking on their feet” when they have come from a large organization or will be working in an environment with little direction or daily support. Their response may indicate how much they will seek out and need direction from others versus working independently. In highly regulated or high risk environments, the “right” answer may be a candidate who avoids working outside formal standards of conduct.

5. “We have all had times when we unintentionally insulted or offended someone at work. Tell me about a time when this happened to you.”

This is a great roll-up question because is reveals several EQ skills. Do they have the Self-Awareness to know when their behavior has a negative impact on someone else? Do they have the Empathy to see things from someone else’s point of view? Do they have the Social Skill to work through conflict and maintain effective relationships? This question requires interviewer confidence and the tenacity to tough it out through uncomfortable silence or a candidate who tries to sidestep answering, but the benefit in doing so shows what you are made of and proves to the candidate who is really in control.

This intensive interviewing approach is very different from most other interview classes you may have been to. Many of our participants have said that they always thought they knew how to interview but realize that they could be so much more effective and were actually excited to do interviews for the first time.

Asking the right questions and a strategic approach can make hiring fun and no longer a nuisance to be avoided. We tend to enjoy what we’re good at. Hiring is a skill that must be learned, so get out there & get what you need to do your very best and enjoy it along the way.

To learn more about interviewing from Jen Shirkani, check out her SoundviewPro course: Strategic Interviewing for Emotional Intelligence.

Influence with Ethics

A Guest Post from Mark Pastin, President of the Council of Ethical Organizations

To succeed in any business, you have to influence others to support your viewpoint and decisions. Top business leaders are masters of influence. Those who succeed in leading their organizations on a long-term basis influence with ethics. When you influence with ethics, your decisions are respected and, thus, more easily implemented than they are when you rely on force or manipulation. And you do not face a rebound effect when others realize that you have manipulated them.

We look at two tools of ethical influence. These tools will help you get others to agree with you without carrying the penalties associated with less effective, more manipulative approaches.

Up Close and Personal:

Ethical influence works best up close and personal. Our ethical instincts were honed when we needed trust and cooperation to survive in small hunter-gatherer groups. Our emotions of sympathy and empathy helped the group stick together. While our world has changed dramatically, our wiring is still the same. It is often said that many who could drop a bomb on city could not kill a civilian face to face. By the same token, it is harder to ignore the needs of someone close to you than someone who lives thousands of miles away. This is because the core of our ethical sense – our abilities to feel sympathy and empathy – relies on cues in our immediate environment.

This means that if you are trying to influence with ethics, it helps to do so up close and personal. The other party will be more attuned to your needs and you will be more attuned to theirs. Many influence situations that seem hopeless when handled remotely can be resolved up close and personal.

Get Specific:

When we are trying to influence with ethics, we often start out trying to get others to accept our general viewpoint. This often fails since you may be asking someone to give up beliefs to which they have clung for years. But it is often possible to achieve agreement with someone in a specific case even if you would never agree at the level of basic principles. In the Washington, D.C. area, we often see politicians acting contrary to their stated principles when it comes to their own families. A politician who would never support gay right acts differently when one of their children is gay. An advocate of public education sends their own children to private schools.

When you seek to influence with ethics, find the level of agreement you need to move forward. Start with the specific and only move to a more general level if you can’t reach agreement at the level of specifics. If you don’t need to change someone’s principles to move ahead, stick to the specifics.


When you influence with ethics, you decrease the distance between yourself and those you seek to influence. This gives you a basis for continued influence with no price to pay for past instances of influence by manipulation. Learn more about influencing with ethics.

Turn Your Mobile Device into a Classroom


It’s been five months since we launched SoundviewPro, to provide free video business courses for people looking for efficient ways to improve their business skills.

During the past several months, we’ve added many courses on leadership, management, personal development, professional development, computer skills and more. Courses are being added weekly as we continue to build a strong base of content to match the needs of our business customers.

Every course is free of charge and consists of a group of classes broken up into short video segments. The short videos allow for easy display on mobile devices and tablets. Each trainer is an expert in their field and Soundview brings that expertise to bear in these concise skills courses.

When a customer signs up to take a course, an account will be established for them which includes their personal information and also tracks their courses and stage of completion. They can view a course one class at a time, viewing videos as they progress. While customers can view courses for free, supplemental learning materials including tests, additional readings and a certificate of completion are available for purchase.

Here is just a sampling from the subjects now available at SoundviewPro.


Leading Successfully Through Challenges and Obstacles with Paul White

Helping Successful Leaders Get Even Better with Marshall Goldsmith


Solving Today’s Employee Engagement Challenges with Les Landes

Installing an Accountability-Based Culture for Success with Julie Miller & Brian Bedford


Becoming a Powerful Business Presenter with Stanley Ridgley

REAL Talk – Creating Real Conversations for Results with John Stoker

Personal Development:

Building Brand [You] with Cyndee Woolley

The Five Keys to Experiencing Extreme Personal Productivity with Jones Joflin

Technology Skills:

Microsoft Excel 2010: Introduction with Robert Devine

Microsoft PowerPoint 2010: Fundamentals with Donna Zarbatany

Please check out the courses and let your colleagues know about this free resource. Our goal is to transform the way business people learn the skills they need to move forward in their business and career.