Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

5 Interview Questions to Assess Resilience

By Charles Trivett | Nov 7, 2016 | Assessing Applicants

5 Interview Questions to Assess Resilience“Resilience is the ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.”

Psychology Today

This ability to cope with pressure, frustration and ultimately failure means that resilient people are…

  • More likely to take risks (because they’re not as afraid of the consequences).
  • Better at handling both personal and professional setbacks (they “bounce back” quicker).
  • More tolerant of other people (like annoying co-workers and clients).
  • More determined.
  • A great influence on other people too!

Think about it, who do you want working for your business… someone who can stand and fight when the chips are down or someone who simply crumbles?

How does a person become “resilient?”

Resilient individuals tend to have these common characteristics…

  • A positive attitude.
  • Confidence and calmness.
  • A willingness to ask for help.
  • Empathy and understanding.
  • Persistence and determination.

Pretty great!

This week, I’ve come up with five sample questions to help you track down your most resilient candidates in your process…

Describe the last time you got really stressed at work.

This is a great question to uncover what kind of situations stress your candidate out and whether they manage to deal with them successfully.

Remember, as with all competency questions, make sure you probe further if you don’t get all of the information you were looking for in the first place.

Sample follow up questions…

  • Why were you stressed?
  • How did you cope?
  • What happened in the end?
  • Could you avoid this stress in the future?

Great Signs:

Obviously, a great candidate will reveal how they somehow triumphed when faced with difficulty, using strong coping mechanisms and keeping a positive outlook on life – never giving up.

They’ll also show a keen awareness of how the situation could be improved in the future.

Warning Signs:

On the other hand, you should watch out for candidates who seem to get stressed a little too easily (especially by tasks they’ll have to deal with at your company).

Keep a keen eye on body language too; are they still clearly upset about the experience? Do they appear angry or on edge? Are they holding a grudge?

Resilience is all about moving on from failure and letting go of all that negative energy.

Describe a time when someone else put pressure on you.

Similar to question 1 but with a slightly different dynamic as it adds other people in the equation.

Sample follow up questions…

  • Why did this person put pressure on you, specifically?
  • How did you feel about that?
  • Did everything work out?
  • Did you handle the pressure as well as you would have liked to?

Chances are the “someone” will be a manager, so your candidates will probably reveal some kind of situation where perhaps there was very little time to get something done or someone made a mistake had to rectified etc.

Great Signs:

A great candidate will reveal a positive attitude to the challenge.

Yes, perhaps it wasn’t the most ideal of situations, but they will have faced it head-on, admit to their mistakes (if there were any) and pull out all the stops to make sure everything ended well.

Warning Signs:

Some candidates might get a little bit defensive and start bad-mouthing bosses and co-workers.

(“I had to clean up their mess.”)

Even if this is the case, there’s simply no need for such a negative and emotional response to this kind of situation.

Resilience is all about coping with stressful things, including people, so if your candidate can’t keep it together and starts moaning, that’s really not a great sign!

What has been your greatest failure?

This is a great question because it will reveal two things to you…

Firstly, what they actually consider to be a “failure” (and their biggest one at that).

Secondly, how they cope with that failure.

Sample follow up questions…

  • How did you feel?
  • How did you cope with it?
  • Do you think this has changed you as a person?
  • What would you do differently next time?

Pretty deep and meaningful… so be careful not to let things get too personal (although in most cases candidates will mention a career-related failure).

Great Signs:

We can’t get it right all the time.

Great candidates will admit to their weaknesses and mistakes, but will show how they overcame them and have improved things in the process.

They will see failure as a learning curve and be a better person because of it.

Warning Signs:

As this is a pretty deep question, you may face some emotional responses. It’ll be pretty clear to you if someone hasn’t quite gotten over their biggest failure yet.

You’ll have to use your initiative and try to work out whether they have genuinely learnt from their experience and become a better person because of it.

You should also watch out for people who say they’ve never failed at anything. This implies one of two things…

  • They’re lying.
  • They’ve never taken a risk, ever.

And I’m guessing you don’t want a candidate like that at your business?

What’s your biggest pet peeve at work?

Being resilient helps you to cope with other people (and their little foibles).

If you can’t do that, then it’s definitely not a great sign!

Great Signs:

Everyone has something at work that annoys them (constant sniffing, the temperature, lateness) so don’t completely write off a candidate if they admit to having a “pet peeve.”

What you’re looking for is a positive and empathetic attitude towards that pet peeve.

Something along the lines of “it irritates me when it’s cold in the office, but I understand that it’s not just me in there, so I bring a spare jumper to work… (You get the gist).

Balance, tolerance and positivity are the key.

Warning Signs:

Any candidate who gets overly emotional in an interview, badmouthing their co-workers, boss and/or clients has clearly not got that much self-control.

It shows a real lack of tolerance for other people.

You should also be worried if they mention something that you know happens in your office a lot! Are they going to fit in well?

How do you ensure your team don’t get overwhelmed?

This is obviously more relevant to a manager but you could always rephrase it to something like: “how do you keep your fellow co-workers upbeat in the office?”

This would give you an idea of what kind of role they take; are they supportive and motivational?

Great Signs:

Great managers actively seek new opportunities to boost morale, employee engagement and therefore happiness in the office.

An outrageously stressed office is certainly not a productive one!

A great candidate will show you how they take a supportive role, keeping in regular communication with staff (employee satisfaction surveys, suggestion boxes, one-to-ones and group meetings) to ensure that they know exactly what’s going on with their team (and how to improve things).

They may also introduce new initiatives like wellbeing programmes and other perks.

Warning Signs:

You may find that some people take a more nonchalant approach to this kind of thing…

  • They’re adults – they can look after their own stress.
  • Everybody’s stressed – that’s just part and parcel of the working world.
  • I don’t babysit my employees.

These attitudes can have a negative impact on the wellbeing of employees, because if you never ask your staff how they are, then you may never know (until it’s too late).

You should also be wary of managers who say “my team are never stressed.” Because that’s just probably not true is it..?

Ready to start interviewing?

Hope you found this blog useful.

And that these 5 interview questions help you to find a super-resilient new recruit to join your team (they certainly helped me).

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Resilience is often associated with more high-pressure, “emotional” and hands-on jobs.

But resilient candidates will flourish in pretty much every industry.

At the end of the day, who doesn’t want to hire someone positive, who’ll bounce back after failure and find solutions when problems occur – and who are good with other people?

If you’d like some more advice on interviewing, check out our new ebook “The Ultimate Guide to Hosting the Perfect Interview” – it’s filled with all the interview questions you need to recruit amazing staff!

Want to read more about resilience?

Intrigued? Want to find out more? Check out these great resources…

Good luck.

- Charles Trivett
Charles - blog author

Charles Trivett

Charles heads up Coburg Banks’ IT Division, and has worked in recruitment for nearly 20 years.  His knowledge of how to optimise and get the most from a recruitment campaign is second to none, and he now works with a select handful of clients in maximising their recruitment ROI.

> More blog posts by Charles Trivett

Get in touch with us.

Telephone: 0121 362 2300
Or send us a quick message and we’ll call you.
*These are required fields


Please leave this field empty.



[type=text]
[type=text]