Six interview questions to recruit staff with a growth mindset

Alongside skills, experience and ‘fit’ with your organisation’s culture, do you consider ‘mindset’ when you recruit new staff and volunteers?

Last week we explored the concept of ‘growth mindset’ and how NFP organisations can benefit from hiring people who want to grow, improve and become increasingly capable and effective over time.

Professor Carol Dweck’s decades of research shows that mindset can be one indicator of success in the workplace. And while mindsets can shift and change over time, it can be a lot of work to change someone’s mindset once they’ve started in your team or organisation.

When you hire people with a growth mindset, you are setting your organisation up to succeed into the future. 

So how do you recruit staff and volunteers that have it? Asking relevant, structured interview questions is one easy way. 

Here are six growth mindset-focused interview questions that you can try in your next interview:

1. Tell me about a time you received negative feedback or constructive criticism from your manager

Feedback is an opportunity to grow and develop, so a candidate with a growth mindset should be very comfortable sharing details of an obstacle they have faced and how they used feedback to help them overcome it.

Be sure to ask this question in a neutral way and ask follow-up questions to explore the issue and your candidate’s response to it. A red flag would be when a candidate says they’ve never received this sort of feedback about their work.

2. Tell me about a time when something didn’t go the way you wanted at work

Nobody wins all of the time – but how we respond when things go wrong is very telling.

Did the candidate view it as a failure, or an opportunity to reflect and improve? What did they learn from the experience? What did they do with the information they gained from the experience?

Look for resilience and persistence in the face of failure – attempts to improve or overcome based on putting in more effort or changing their approach.

3. How would you need to grow to be successful in your boss’s job?

Candidates with a growth mindset are likely to acknowledge they would need to sharpen their skills and possibly develop some new ones to step up to the next level. 

This demonstrates an understanding that their skills can be developed and growth is possible. Look out for their attitude in answering – are they excited about the challenge, or fearful?

4. What’s a recent book / article / podcast that recently inspired you or changed the way you think about your work?

Listen for positive stories about the achievements of others and how the candidate used this information to improve their own work.

People with a growth mindset are more likely to seek out information and wisdom to help them grow, and are excited by the ideas and achievements of others because they show the pathways to developing new skills and succeeding.

5. Ask the candidate to label scenarios. 

This is a multiple choice activity where you provide a scenario and two phrases about how they feel about the outcome. For example:

  1. You came fourth out of eight in the race – choose “too slow” or “need to speed up”.
  2. You got a C in the biology exam and an A in literature – choose “better at literature” and “didn’t study effectively for biology”.

The first phrase labels the candidate as a success or failure – being either good or bad at something – which implies a fixed mindset. The second phrase implies a belief in the ability to improve.

6. How would you go about becoming a really good saxophonist?

While this sounds like a more “out-there’ question to ask in an interview, the responses could be really revealing about a candidate.

Someone who enjoys learning new things should have a good idea about how to learn something totally different, or at least they should have considered how they might go about learning a new thing. 

Alternatively, someone who laughs and responds along the lines of “Hell would have to freeze over. It’s never going to happen” might be a candidate with an aversion to growth and development.

What to look for in candidate answers

Look for consistent responses across a number of questions, as every person has more of a growth mindset in some areas, and more of a fixed mindset in others. 

Things to watch out for include:

Do they avoid talking about past failures? People with a growth mindset will view failure as an inevitable and important tool for learning and growth and will not shy away from it. Those with a fixed mindset tend to fear failure and view it as a reflection of who they are, which is catastrophic – hence they will avoid talking about it.

Are they aware of how they can become better? Look for self-awareness and statements indicating knowledge of their own growth and development over time. People with a growth mindset are more likely to talk about their aspirations in life and work.

Do they make blanket statements about their abilities? Eg: “I’m not a (insert skill) person but I make up for it in other ways”. While everyone has natural aptitudes and interests, repeated statements like these build a picture of someone with a fixed mindset. Try to explore the statement further and understand if they have previously tried to improve in this area or if they have written it off completely.

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There’s nothing more important to your organisation’s growth than having the right people on board, but the right people aren’t only those with the skills and experience to do the job. Consciously choosing staff and volunteers who believe in their own ability to develop and learn will set your organisation up for success now, and also into the future. 

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