Looking for your next company rock star? Awesome!

Let's talk about the qualities you are looking for. Hard worker? A "people" person? Stable work history? Good grammar and no typos in resume? Chews with their mouth closed? Loves kids and dogs and poetry and flowers and long walks on the beach?

Here is the terrible news: none of that goop matters. I've interviewed hundreds of applicants. I've read about 6 resumes. I've recruited for more openings than the rock band Chicago. NONE of that had any real bearing on whether the employee turned out to be a stud or a dud.

Most of us are pretty equal. There is talent (which we are born with) and there are skills (which we learn) and the majority of us have some of the first and an ability to pick up on the second.

But the one thing that un-evens the playing field and separates the exceptional performers from the eventual disappointments is what I call self-governance.

SG is our moral compass, our inner voice, the ANGEL! on one shoulder and the (devil) on the other.

Self-governance is rooted in how we were wired at birth and grows from how we were raised. It is how we move and motivate ourselves, the guidance system for how we live our lives. And I believe it is the single biggest predictor of future work performance.

You will rarely see any reference made to self-governance, either in recruitment ads, resumes submitted or questions asked during interviews.

Read Craigslist, Indeed, Zip Recruiter, the newspaper and "help wanted" posters thumb-tacked to your local laundry mat cork board. You will see the usual suspects. "Should be able to (insert skills here.)" "Applicant should have (insert educational/experience requirements here)." That's all groovy goolash. But while those questions do provide a quick snapshot of the person, they do not give employers a true x-ray into the applicant's soul.

Here is the question that can provide it:

Who are you when no one else is around?

Man Is Confused

Snap! Most applicants struggle with an answer, even a bad one. That is part of the idea of asking this. It cuts through the smoke and gets to the spark. Hard to do, considering the repetitive nature of the application/recruitment process. It dulls everyone's senses and creates stale questions, pat answers and low expectations. You have to get people to actually think instead of responding by rote.

Why is that so important? 

New hires are disruptive, for one. They are because of the very nature of their newness, and how much we love the oldness. New = change and adults are chronically change-adverse.     你的新发型是非常有吸引力的Admit it, just now you saw that chinese writing (which means "Your new haircut looks fabulous, Jonnie") and didn't know whether to 拉屎 or wind your wrist watch.  

That is why most employers wait too long and way beyond an under-performing employee's expiration date before pulling the plug. It is because the devil we know is better than the one we don't. Many owners allow their companies to be held hostage by one or two under-performers because they'll accept the pain of what they know vs. the fear of what they don't. Move my plate an inch and I'll starve.


The reward/risk with new hires is tremendous. They have the power to build up (or tear down) what the owner and the team has. There is a lot riding on getting it (W)right. It is like giving someone the keys to a Lamborghini and praying they don't drive it like a Yugo. The new hire is the great unknown, no matter how well we think we know them because we checked out their Facebook page and saw posts of puppies and rainbows.

But let's be clear. Work experience does matter, as do the hard and soft skills, as does attitude. A good interviewer should absolutely drill down into these areas.

Interviewer: "Are you happy, applicant?"

(Applicant responds.)

Interviewer: "Why?"

Reason to ask: You can't train them to be happy. You have to know that they brought happy with them.


(Tip: Ask, "Tell me about your worst boss." If they answer with anything other than, "I've loved them all," the company should look elsewhere. Knowing how to play the game is part of winning it, and indicates a higher functioning personality.)

Interviewer: "Are you a good communicator, applicant?"

(Applicant responds.)

Interviewer: "Prove it."

Reason to ask: No knuckle-dragging mono-syllabic grunters allowed.


(Tip: Ask the applicant to answer the next handful of incoming phone calls to your business. Stand beside them and listen. See if they are personable and articulate. If they stutter and stammer and struggle, that's a yellow to red flag. And if they hesitant or even refuse to actually answer the phone, then end the interview, thank them for playing and send them home.)

Interviewer: "Do you have tools for conflict resolution?

(Applicant responds.)

Interviewer: "I don't believe you. I haven't seen anything in this interview that suggests you do."

Reason to ask: Boom! We've just created a conflict. Let's see how they handle it. "Guns or knives?" may be entertaining but tends to be disruptive in the workplace and so we want people who are passionate about people but cool as a cucumber when everyone else is freaking out. So create a "freak out" moment and see how they do.


And then we get down to the biggest freak out question of all.

Interviewer: "How do you self govern? Who are you when no one else is around?"


The applicant will look just like this (unless they have gone through our interview process, in which case they will at least be wearing a shirt). That's okay. That's the idea! Don't give them direction and don't make them comfortable. Give them a chance to be vulnerable in front of you. Let them work through it and think about it while you watch their process. We learn a lot about others (and ourselves) when we don't have the answers.

So what IS the (W)right answer?

Here are the main options:

1. We self govern based upon doing the right thing.

2. We self govern based upon wanting to make the owner happy.

3. We self govern based upon fear of consequences.

The best response is #1. We want people on our team who are guided to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Their pathway is dictated by a higher moral and ethical expectation. This is the type of employee that typically requires the least amount of oversight.

The second best response is #2. People who will do what is right because it makes the owner happy are people who understand that the owner - more than the customer, more than their co-worker, is the most important person we "serve" in the company. A lot of people I coach with think this is hooey, that it is the customer who is the most important, of course.

I'm not saying they are not on the list. I'm just saying that too many people, esp from certain generations, see their employment as "me against the man," the "man" being the owner, the one with all of the perceived power. (This cuts to the importance of building a positive and supportive culture and we will address that in a future post.) Don't look at the person as an adversary but as a collaborator. The smartest thing I ever did and continue to do is figure out what the boss wants and implement a process for getting it for him/her.


The least optimum response is #3. This is the employee who seat belts themselves to their cell phone at work but immediately tosses it into a drawer and starts typing the minute the boss shows up. People who are motivated by fear of consequences are usually looking for ways to avoid them, like the person who buys a radar detector because they drive like Mario Andretti. They are good people who are simply on a different journey, a journey with their own best interests as a road map. They will be chronic underachievers and companies will throw good money after bad trying to coach them, train them and teach them, all the while teaching themselves that they should not have let them in to begin with. Hiring a person who is governed by fear has a predictable outcome. Either the employee quits or the company helps them find the door.

We want to build great company teams, with great people who are good shepherds, who will do what they say they will do and be who they say they will be, who are happy and fulfilled (at work and away from it), who believe in and are governed by the power of the idea that the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. (Spock, Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan.) Hire only people who are governed by doing what is right, and you will build an army of the like minded, willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, regardless of whether or not someone is watching.

So how would you answer the self-governance question?

Buyosphere University and our Buyosphere team works with hundreds of businesses across the country on the art and science of delivering exceptional service to their customers and their employees, for the greater good of us all. To find out what The Buyosphere can do for you and your business, please fill out this contact information below and we will get back to you within 24 hours.

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