• Matthew Lerner

3 Top Growth Mindset Interview Questions (plus answers)

Updated: Apr 22

Startup founders who are hiring often ask me "How do you interview for 'growth mindset"? Here are my top 3 growth mindset interview questions, plus example answers, good and bad, to help you spot a fixed or a growth mindset:


Question #1:


“What are you hoping to learn in this next job?”


What to listen for:

First, look at how they react to the question, nonverbally!

  • The best candidates will lean in.

  • Good candidates will think for a moment, smile, and then think a bit more.

  • If the question makes the candidate uncomfortable, listen carefully to their answer.

Good and Bad Answers:


Top 5% answer: “To achieve my life/career goal of ____ I need to get better at ____. I hope that this role will give me ______ relevant experience, and I’m excited to work on ____ and get better at _____. (from these answers you'll know that they have already thought about this, and that’s why they want to work for you in the first place. Amazing!)


Good answer: "Hmm, that’s a great question!" (thinks about it). "I guess at this point I’m trying to get better at ____. Could this job help me?" (e.g. had not thought about it previously but does have implicit "learning goals" for themselves. That’s fine. Bonus if they reply with a question, shows they’re curious, has the confidence to ask questions back rather than pretending to have all the answers).


Red flag answer: Surprised, had not thought about it, obviously making stuff up, or answering with a scripted response to a different question. These people tend to equate "learning" with reading books, taking courses, learning facts and procedures, rather than experiential growth. (These are all signs of a fixed mindset. Thank this person for their time 😕).


Worst answer ever: (actual quote) "I do not need to learn, I am a professional developer with 10+ years of experience...” 😳


Remember, how they answer is as important as what they say. Is the idea of learning exciting or threatening? Had they given the matter any thought?


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Question #2:


“Tell me about a mistake you made recently.”


What to listen for:

Again, their non-verbal reaction is very important here, watch closely! They will likely be surprised, and need to think about the answer. (Fine). But is it a positive surprise? Or are they uncomfortable? (Huge red flag!)


What sort of mistake did they describe? (That tells you a lot about the person). Was it a tactical error or a strategic one? (Do they sweat small stuff or big stuff?) Were they able to draw any useful lessons from that mistake? Do they volunteer those lessons un-prompted? If not, definitely ask “what did you learn from that?”


Good & Bad Answers:


Top 5% answer: A strong candidate will already have a few in-mind. (Not because of the interview, but because they’re always reflecting on their actions and trying to learn from them). They will think for a moment and then comfortably describe a mistake they personally made. They’ll explain the erroneous thinking that led to the mistake, the bad outcome, what they did to mitigate it, and any big lessons they took from the experience.


A good answer: The candidate may have to search a moment for an answer, let them. They’ll describe a mistake they made, a genuine mistake with negative consequences. And then, maybe with a bit of prompting from you, they should be able to explain some thoughtful lessons they took from the experience, or what they would do differently next time.


Red flag answers: People with a fixed mindset have a few different ways of dodging this question, for example:

  • Some candidates recite their scripted answer to the question “tell me about your weaknesses.” (Every candidate has a scripted answer to this question! If people give you irrelevant scripted answers rather than answering your question directly, that’s a huge red flag!)

  • Sometimes people describe a “fake mistake”, like a negative that was actually a positive, or a “humble brag.” It’s fine to push back and challenge that.

  • Often people don’t own the mistake. Instead, they talk about “we did….” (rather than “I did”), or describe somebody else’s mistake entirely, like “I should have never hired that person / agency.” In that case they’re not really owning the mistake, but mainly blaming the other person.

  • Some people will describe their own mistake, a legitimate mistake, but without talking about what they learned from it. If they don’t tell you their lessons, probe deeper with a followup question. If they really haven't given this any prior thought, that’s horrible. Do not hire!


Remember, how they answer is as important as what they say.


Question #3:

“Do you have any questions for me?”


(Make sure you leave enough time at the end for their questions.)


What to listen for: Good candidates will have a lot of questions, especially early in the interview process. Not basic questions like “do you offer a gym membership?” Again, watch their nonverbals. Are they genuinely excited and curious? Do the questions reflect thought and understanding of your business? Are they trying to understand how you grow your company, and the roles they might fill in the org, if they will be in a position to succeed? Curiosity may be bad for cats, but it is the key to a growth mindset!


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De-risk your big marketing hires.
Free Workshop: Hiring for Growth

A bad senior marketing hire can set you back months, cost six figures, and spook investors. Learn to avoid common mistakes and find your hidden gems in this free 1-hour workshop on hiring growth marketers.

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