11 Interview Questions That Identify "A-Players"

04/25/2016 11:19 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

If you're in the fortunate position of having many qualified applicants, ask some of these out-of-the-box questions. The best candidates tend to give you the most thoughtful and refreshingly creative responses.

A. What's the Last Thing You Taught Yourself How to Do?

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A-players are curious by nature and always want to learn new things. At a startup, this is one of the most valuable skills any employee can have. Test for it in interviews by asking candidates to name the last thing they taught themselves to do. Then, ask for details about how they learned the skill, what setbacks they encountered along the way, and how they would teach someone else to do it. - Brittany Hodak, ZinePak

A. What's a Mistake You've Made Professionally?

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Everyone makes mistakes. If a candidate can't or won't admit to a mistake, they might be trying to hide something from you or aren't willing to learn something from difficult situations. A candidate who can explain to you what the mistake was, how they rectified it, and what they learned from it should be an A-player. - Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now

A. What Do You Stand For?

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C-players tell me what I want to hear. B-players tell me what they know. A-players show me their character when answering this question. A-players speak the truth and do it with grace and love. They ask for help when they need it, take risks with their work, and are driven by a personal need to be brilliant at what they do. I'm not hiring your talent, I'm hiring YOU. Show me who you are. - Corey Blake,Round Table Companies

A. Have You Ever Done Something Outside of Your Job Description?

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A-players will never say, "That's not my job," and will always say, "This is our company." This question tells me so much about whether an employee is willing to go above and beyond and spread their wings to lift the company up as much as possible. B-players will always stick to their job description, while A-players will always look for the best way to help their firm improve. - Elle Kaplan, LexION Capital

A. What Are Your Accomplishments?

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I tend to use the interview question, "What accomplishments are you most proud of?" to distinguish A-players from B- and C-players. B- and C-players will typically state the non-answer by talking about events, people they met, or aspects of the job they liked without getting into results. A-players tend to talk about the outcomes linked to expectations and how they exceeded these expectations. - Jake Dunlap, Skaled

A. What Makes You Exceptional?

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We ask potential hires to show us how they stand out from the crowd. A C-player will usually bring in nothing, but will interview really well, while a B-player may bring one or two past presentations or examples. An A-player will bring in multiple documents, from internal to external examples to sell you on their potential! One of our A-players brought in four binders worth during an interview! - Kim Kaupe, ZinePak

A. What Are Your Career Goals?

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This is one of the first questions I ask because I want to make sure the position aligns with what they actually want to be doing in the long run. If the position they are interviewing for and their career goals are not aligned, they are not going to be an A-player for this particular position, regardless of whether they could be an A-player elsewhere. - Diana Goodwin, AquaMobile Swim School

A. What's One Way You Outperformed Your Colleagues?

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For example, $1 million in sales looks impressive on a resume, but if the average person in that role sells $3 million, that tells a completely different story. In their own words, ask how they have outperformed colleagues and how they were able to achieve this. It's one thing to be successful in a role, but it's another to be self-aware of how you were able to do it. - Dustin Cavanaugh, RenewAge

A. What's a Challenging Project You've Tackled?

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A question that prompts an applicant to talk about a specific project, especially one they found particularly difficult, reveals a vulnerable side of their character. A-players will be humble and insightful about the limitations they encountered and still eager to challenge themselves in future opportunities. Listen to their response and ultimately, your gut and instinct will identify the winner. - Peggy Shell,Creative Alignments

A. What Have You Created From Scratch?

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The best startup employees figure out a way to run through walls to get things done. A-players will have shown an aptitude for this, either at a previous job, a small project they've taken on, or a nonprofit they've helped build. The best indicator for future success is a track-record of previous impact. - Aaron Schwartz, Modify

A. What's the Square Root of Nine?

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The questions that I find most valuable to set A-players apart from the rest are questions that don't necessarily apply to expertise associated with the potential position. Seeing how people react to unexpected questions shows a lot about how they work under pressure and their ability to adapt. - Josh York, GYMGUYZ

These answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.