The elephant interview: Let the candidates assess themselves!

We are all trying our best to assess candidates against the requirements for a certain position. Very often in the beginning of an interview I reverse the process and ask them to evaluate themselves:

  1. The candidate is given a list of all the skills that are relevant to the position. Here’s an example for a senior marketing position I hired for last year:


  • Communication
  • English language
  • Responsibility
  • Proactiveness
  • Organizational skills
  • Overcoming obstacles and getting things done
  • Honesty
  • Analytical thinking
  • Hard working


  • Marketing strategy 
  • Social Media Organic
    •  FB
    • LinkedIn
    • others
  • Social Media Paid
    • FB
    • LinkedIn
    • YouTube
    • Others
  • Email marketing 
  • AdWords
  • GDN
  • SEO
  • Google Analytics
  • Landing pages & conversion
  • Writing longer pieces of content
  • Writing short copies
  • Creatives concepts
  • Design/ Managing visual concepts
  • Media Relations

I ask the person to  self-assess themselves on each of the criteria from 1 to 10 and write down their “marks”.

I don’t expect anyone to be good at everything on the list. But it’s a very direct and structured way to ask – what are you good at and where do you lack the skills. Furthermore, I have in my mind the 3 to 5 most important skills for the position and this information is not shared with the candidate.

2. I ask the person clarifying questions on some of the criteria.


You’ve given yourself an 8 on proactiveness. What is the difference between you and a person with a 10? What is the difference between you and a person with a 5?”

These additional questions help me get a deeper understanding of what is the person’s understanding of proactiveness. And it’s much different from asking directly “What does proactiveness mean for you?” 

3. I start asking descriptive questions about their past experience and make a deep dive on a couple of topics (е.g. “Tell me about a project which you have initiated” followed by “What were the objectives”; “What obstacles did you encounter?”; “How did you overcome them”, etc.) .

In this part I evaluate just a few of the criteria on the list – the most important. But a few are enough. It helps me understand if the candidate has overrated/underrated himself or if  my assessment and his assessment are about the same. And if I extrapolate my impressions on these few criteria on all the rest, I get a fairly accurate overall picture. 


  • You get a very good overall understanding of the candidate’s skills and experience
  • You set the ground for an honest and direct communication
  • You get a clear picture of the candidates self-esteem
  • This approach makes it hard for the candidate to give socially desirable answers and get away with it 🙂


The perfect ones: They will give themselves only 10s and 9s with an occasional 8. And more often than not they are not living up to their own standards 🙂 In this group you will get: 1. The cocky ones. Let them show off somewhere else.  2. Young ambitious professionals who think they are a 10 just because they don’t know yet how deep the rabbit hole is. You’ll find some gems among them! 3. People who are afraid of failure and they don’t want to show any weak points. These are hard to judge and it’s very case-specific.

The bees: Their marks will be in the range 5s-8s with a few 9s. You will rarely see a 10 from them apart from on “honesty”. Very often these are people with lower self-esteem and excellent expertise. If you are hiring for a mature position with relatively clear responsibilities and decision-making processes this is the kind of person who will work harder than anyone else, create enormous value and keep out of the spotlight. If you are hiring for a position which requires agility, a variety of decisions and a lot of experimentation, these people will lack the confidence to initiate bolder changes.

The leaders: They will give you a mix of 7s, 8s, 9s and 10s + a few 2s or 3s. These are the people who know their worth, they are self-aware and they are not afraid to admit ”I s..k at this”. If you are looking for a person to run a project or a division, here they are.

P.S. I know you are asking yourselves “Why elephant?” Answer: Elephants are said to be one of the self-aware animal species (on a very basic level though – search for “the mirror test”). And they are cute – that’s why I named it this way 🙂

P.S.S. Fun fact 1: I’ve always imagined that 100% of the people would give themselves a 10 on honesty. It turns out that some candidates rate themselves with a 7 or 8.

Fun fact 2: Some of the best candidates I’ve interviewed are among them.

NEXT: The next article will be “How to make people eager to work for your company? “. Interested? Subscribe to CEOmoments’ mailing list and get it right in your inbox:

About me: Apart from acting as a CEO of DEV.BG (the biggest IT community in Bulgaria) I help CEOs of small companies build their business. If you face a case I can help you with, drop me a message on LinkedIN.


Photo by pixabay

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