The One Question Burger King's CEO Asks Job Candidates Is Much Harder Than You Would Think It's all about having the right attitude.

By Tommy Mello

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

David Woolfall | Getty Images

To be honest, I'm a bigger fan of McDonald's than Burger King. But, when Burger King's CEO Daniel Schwartz talks, I listen. (After all, he turned things around for his restaurant chain, and brought it to the same league as McDonald's.)

Related: 9 Questions to Ask Candidates' References

In a New York Times interview, Schwartz shared the one question he poses to job candidates, to find out if they would make great hires: "Are you smart or do you work hard?"

Now, this feels like a no-brainer: Surely the right answer is to say that you work hard. Right? But, according to Schwartz, a lot of his candidates actually say this: "I'm smart, so I don't need to work hard."

Big. Mistake.

Now, you shouldn't just hire people who say they work hard. That's not the point.

It's about having the right attitude: As a business owner, I sure wouldn't want to hire employees who think they are too smart for the job. While they might get results, their mindset just isn't good for any company's culture in the long run.

Related: 7 Interview Questions That Determine Emotional Intelligence

So, how do you hire top performers who are humble and willing to learn? Apart from Schwartz's excellent question, here are a few other interviewing tricks which you can use:

1. Ask them about how their ex-bosses would rate them.

Get your candidates to tell you how their last three bosses would rate their performance, on a scale of one to 10. Then, ask them to elaborate on each rating.

You'll want to look for people who remain respectful and fair, even if they might not have agreed with all the choices their bosses had made. Great employees often can see problems from another point of view, which is a good sign of their people skills.

After the interview, be sure to actually call your candidate's ex-bosses to verify the information. This will help you gauge how honest your candidates are.

Related: The 25 Trickiest Questions Apple Will Ask in a Job Interview

2. Get them to talk about how they screwed up on the job.

Everyone makes mistakes, but how we respond to mistakes is what our character is made of. Here's how I'd phrase the question: "Can you tell me about an occasion or two that you screwed up in your previous job?"

You're looking for candidates who take responsibility for their mistakes, and improve from there. Ditch candidates who blame other colleagues or external circumstances. If they refuse to take ownership of their past mistakes, they will do the same when they join your company.

If your candidates remain tight-lipped about what didn't go well in their last job, ask them in a more roundabout way instead: "What are some things you would change about your past job?" Then just wait for them to share.

Related: The Key to Hiring the Best Candidate Is Deciding What's Most Important

3. Push their buttons and see their reaction.

Put some stress on your candidates, so that they show their true colors. Here's what I would say: "Thank you, this sounds good, but I'm not getting the impression you're a superstar."

Some might start speaking passionately about their past projects that they championed -- which is awesome -- but you'll definitely get a few people who will blow up under pressure, i.e. become overly aggressive or defensive. Boot the latter out of the door.

If you're not comfortable with calling out your candidates so directly, ask them this question instead: "Why do you think you're a top performer?"

Hiring smart jerks might be awesome for your short-term ROI. But, trust me, a few months down the road you risk running your company into the ground. What you want instead are A-players who can get shit done, and also excel as team players. Yes, you can get both; both your employees and culture deserve a higher standard.

Related Video: 6 Easy Ways to Attract Your Perfect Hire

Tommy Mello

Founder of The Home Service Expert

Tommy Mello is the founder of A1 Garage Doors, a $30 million-plus home service business with over 200 employees in 9 states. He shares what he's learned at to help fellow entrepreneurs scale their businesses.

Editor's Pick

Related Topics

Business News

He Won the $2 Billion Powerball Jackpot. Now He's Snatching Up Swanky Homes Across Los Angeles.

Thirty-one-year-old Edwin Castro took his winnings as a lump sum.

Data & Recovery

Get a Cybersecurity and IT Bootcamp For $39.97

Help keep your digital assets safe with cybersecurity courses (reg. $754) on sale for a limited time.


Limited-Time Price Drop: Dual-Camera Drones for $110

Get an Alpha Z Pro 4K and Flying Fox drone bundle before supply runs out.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2023

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2023.

Business Ideas

These Retirees Just Wanted Their Cats to Drink More Water. Now Their Remote Side Hustle Makes $80,000 a Year.

This couple wanted to make and sell something from the comfort of their home. Now they're offering up their playbook for others.

Money & Finance

Want to Become a Millionaire? Follow Warren Buffett's 4 Rules.

Too many entrepreneurs are counting too heavily on a company exit for their eventual 'win.' Do this instead.