Interview Questions are about discovering traits, skills, competencies in others. Some of the best interview questions then come from places of enduring values.
Kurt Hahn was the founder of Outward Bound. I and many 100,000s of past participants of the Outward Bound program owe a great deal to a man that we have never met. I went when I was 16 years old to Hurricane Island in Maine. It changed my life forever. I still hear the Outward Bound mission in my head when I face a difficult challenge, “To serve, to strive and not to yield.” That message and the 30 days I spent that summer gave me confidence that I myself was enough.
Hahn was both a man of his time and ahead of his time in the way he thought about human development.
Recently, when reviewing a book called Roots (edited by Emily Cousins on behalf of Outward Bound), I came across Hahn’s criteria for evaluating students at the Salem School he ran in Germany. I then reflected on what are the interview questions I would ask to discover these traits in others.
These criteria are as valuable and applicable today as they were in Kahn’s era for Leadership and Lead to great Interview Questions:
- Esprit de corps
- Sense of justice
- Ability to state facts precisely
- Ability to follow what he believes to be the right course in the face of discomforts, hardships, dangers, mockery, boredom, skepticism, and impulses of the moment
- Ability to plan
- Ability to organize shown in the disposition of work and in the direction of young boys
- Ability to deal with the unexpected
- Degree of mental concentration where the task in question interests him, where it does not
- In everyday affairs
- In tasks with which he is specially entrusted
- Manual dexterity
- Standards reached in school subjects:
- Natural Science
- Ancient Languages
- Modern Languages
- Practical work (Handicraft, etc.)
- Physical exercises
- Fighting spirit
- Reaction time
The value of these activities and qualities was communicated to me and developed in me during my Outward Bound experience when I was 16. I still strive to achieve them, both consciously and unconsciously. And it strikes me that as a leader today, I would want people on my team and in the organization that measure up well against these criteria. This is why I developed these interview questions.
Here are some questions you might ask to see how your current or prospective employees measure up to Outward Bound standards:
- How would you define “esprit de corps” and how have you contributed to the esprit de corps in your work life?
- Can you give me an example when you risked something you really wanted for doing the right thing?
- How and when have you taken a complex subject and simplified it so others would better understand it?
- When have you stuck with something you totally had lost interest in and came out the other side successful? What was it that kept you going?
- What is the most comprehensive plan you developed and oversaw, and what was the eventual result?
- When were you faced with a unexpected situation and how did you handle it logistically and emotionally?
- When has someone trusted you with a high-stakes project, and what did you do to prove yourself worthy of that trust?
- How do you keep your physical body fit for long endurance, and how do you maintain a fighting spirit?
See if you can communicate the Outward Bound message to your coworkers: that they are enough. They have the strength and intelligence they need to navigate the world.
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