The other day a candidate asked me how to figure out if he was qualified for a new role given 15 years of experience with the same company.

I told him that I would first ask him to describe how he would figure out the solution to a problem likely to be faced on the job. For the assessment, I’d be more interested in the process used to figure out a solution, not the solution itself. This gets at thinking and problem-solving skills.

Regardless of the level of job, it turns out that only those with enough experience to handle the role understand how to approach a problem and work through different approaches to figuring out the best solution. This is why it’s not the years of experience that matters or the depth of skills, but how someone applies their skills on-the-job that determines competency.

The table shown here summarizes the best and worst predictors of success. While the problem-solving question is important, it’s not enough to determine if a person is fully competent to handle the role, though. To better understand this, I’d ask the candidate to tell me about a major accomplishment he successfully handled most comparable to the problems likely to be actually faced on the job.

I concluded my response to the candidate by saying we’d know if he was fully qualified for the role if he handled both questions properly.

I call this process the Anchor and Visualize questioning pattern.

When interviewees can answer these types of questions satisfactorily, it demonstrates that they have the problem-solving and thinking skills required for success in the role. Additionally, their past performance is likely indicative of their future performance, so asking about specific accomplishments is a great way to get more insight into their capabilities. Overall, the Anchor and Visualize questioning pattern effectively assesses whether or not a candidate is qualified for a role.

Interestingly, this same approach can be used to assess potential by making the problem-solving question more complicated. For example, when a person can comfortably describe how he/she would approach a problem, including how to handle the unknowns, it’s a good sign the person has enough self-confidence to successfully handle similar problems in similar situations. However, when the person is unsure of their ability their sentences become shorter, more vague and too general. In addition, their questions become more superficial and there are more, “I’ll have to think about it” fillers in their answers. This is a good indicator of the person’s current level of understanding and how much of a bigger role the person can handle.

This interviewing approach and assessment process is fully covered in Hire with Your HeadHere’s a short summary from our article library of the process. This LinkedIn story describes the process in action when a company CEO asked these two questions for a VP Operations role for the first time.

The original subtitle for Hire with Your Head was “A Rational Way to Make a Gut Decision.” The idea here was that while you’ll never have enough information to hire someone just by asking these two questions, you’ll have more insight than normal and thereby reduce the risk of making the wrong decision. As important, and perhaps more important, this approach opens the talent pool to everyone who can do this work including those diverse, high potential and diverse candidates who have a different mix of skills and experiences.

That’s a pretty remarkable outcome given only two questions.