When it comes to interview questions, different companies choose different tactics. When attempting to determine how a candidate deals with the responsibility of ownership, there are certain approaches that may be more effective than others. The concept of responsibility of ownership may differ from business to business as well. A general understanding of ownership and responsibility of ownership is necessary before these interview questions can be discussed or developed.

What Is Ownership?

Ownership is a concept that everyone can grasp on some level, but these definitions may vary from person to person. You might own your home, for example, or you might own an entire company.

Generally speaking, when you take pride in your possessions, you take care of them. To extend the homeownership example, you can easily tell if people care about their property. Overgrown weeds and unkempt grass are obvious signs of disinterest or lack of engagement.

Ownership in the Workplace

In a work environment, ownership can take on a slightly different meaning. Most employees are not the owners of the place in which they work. In fact, many workplaces suffer from rifts of various levels between ownership, management and employees.

These rifts may cause employees to feel disconnected from their work. Learning about the concept of ownership as it applies to what they do for a living may be helpful in raising office morale and overall engagement. When employees feel responsible for what they do, they will pay more attention to it.

Pride of Ownership

When your employees are building something physical or doing physical repairs on an item, it is often easier for them to take pride in their work. In fact, they may feel ownership and responsibility as a point of pride.

That pride is a key aspect of taking responsibility of ownership for your work. When there is no physical end-product for your employees, how do you ensure that they will feel that same ownership and pride?

What Is Responsibility of Ownership?

At its very base level, responsibility of ownership can be defined as when employees feel invested in their work. This should be to a great enough degree that they would say, "This is my project and how it performs is my responsibility."

When employees feel invested in this way about their work, they will put their best effort forth for a given project. To ensure employees feel this sense of ownership, you need to do more for the employees than tell them what aspects of a job are their responsibility.

Taking Ownership of a Project

To take ownership of a project is to have the incentive to do your part as best as you can. Employees who take ownership are invested and thus believe that taking action is not someone else's responsibility but rather is theirs. They will insist on only certain people taking on parts of their project or will do those parts themselves.

Employees who feel ownership know they will be held accountable for the final product. Most importantly, the employees then feel pride in the final product, particularly the parts on which they worked.

Employees as Project Owners

When employees feel responsible, they become an "owner" of the product or project. The employees should feel like a business partner. They take on the mindset of not only a sense of obligation to the project but pride in it.

The job ceases to be a way to earn a paycheck and becomes about the final end goal of a project. An employee who feels the responsibility of ownership wants to feel pride when examining the final output.

Overall Company Benefits of Ownership

This ownership extends past individual projects; for instance, when your employees feel ownership of their jobs and pride in their work, they feel pride in an organization. The final output of your company is on their shoulders, and they feel that it reflects upon them. If the work is subpar, then they may feel embarrassed. Most importantly, if they have an idea that could improve that product, they will tell you.

When all of your employees see themselves in your product, they want the product to do well. They will approach you with ideas or with pain points because they are as invested in fixing the problem as you are. If they do not have the power to fix something they perceive as broken, they will take the problem to someone who has the ability to fix it.

Interview Questions and Responsibility of Ownership

There are a few different ways that a company can gain employees who feel a responsibility of ownership. One way is to hire employees who already feel a level of investment in their current work. When you interview potential employees, you are looking for people who share your values. You are also looking for people who will feel ownership of their own work.

How can you ensure through an interview that a potential employee will feel ownership at your company? You could ask directly about a project for which an employee has felt ownership, what she did to work on the project and how she feels it turned out.

Some of the people whom you will be interviewing already have an ownership mindset, and those are the people who can easily speak to how they exhibited ownership in their past positions. Typically, they will be able to tell you a great deal about their specific role in past projects. These employees will also be able to tell you about the times they have worked to improve processes. During an interview, you should allow the interviewee the most time to speak; you can then gauge how invested she will be in your work.

STAR Method and Interviewing

One way to approach responsibility of ownership questions during your interview process is to employ the STAR method for interviewing. The general purpose of this style of interview is to walk through a project in which your interviewee took part. STAR is an acronym, broken down as follows.

S: Situation Questions

What is the specific job or event that the potential employee is discussing? This could be discussing how a project came to be or discussing broadly what the project entailed.

T: Task Questions

What task did the potential employee have in the project? Large-scale projects often require a team. Typically, each person on that team brings a specific skill set to the table. By asking what the employee did specifically, you allow the employee to explain how he fit into the larger picture and prove that he knows how what he did translated to the overall project.

A: Action Questions

How did the employee complete her task? These details will allow you to see what steps the employee took and how she approached the project as a whole. Was the employee a good team player? Did she mention other people by name?

R: Result Questions

What was the final result? Does the employee take pride in his contribution? Importantly, does the employee know how his part helped serve the greater project? This is a place where you should be able to tell if the employee feels ownership.

An employee who felt invested in a project will describe what he did and how it fits into the final result. He should also highlight any challenges that he overcame.

Potential Interview Responses

As an interviewee, you should go into the interview with at least one project already in mind. You need to first set the scene in a way that a general audience would understand. Remember that the person interviewing you may not be a subject matter expert and may not understand acronyms or industry jargon. Be specific about the goal of the project and the level of importance.

For example, perhaps you were part of a team that made video game controllers and you developed the system for mapping the buttons. Your individual role in this job was extremely important, but the layperson may not understand what you contributed. For this example, you would say that you were part of a design team for a new controller for gamers. This controller works better with a wider range of users, and the end result is that there is less hand fatigue.

How would you explain that to an HR rep? Consider the STAR method:

  • Situation: You were part of a team that was tasked to make a more comfortable video game controller. The project took the greater part of six months to complete.

  • Task: Your specific task was to map the buttons so the controller was usable. Go into some detail here but keep it high level unless you know for sure that your interviewer understands. The best way to know is to ask. "Are you familiar with X?"

  • Action: This should be the most you talk about the project: how you began with paper and pen, what you referenced and what problems you encountered. If you had to do any creative problem solving, this is an excellent place to explain that. Don't be afraid of a little bit of bragging.

  • Result: Here is where you will describe the finished product. Mention if it won any awards or if it was a large success. If you're very proud of your team, say so.

Interview Questions on Ownership

Sometimes, interviews can go much longer than intended. Other times, a potential employee is nervous and needs to be pushed to talk more. The point of an interview is to hire a good employee who takes pride in his work and ownership of his work. To do that, you can easily steer the conversation using the STAR formula.

Situation Question Examples for Interviewers

  • “Could you tell me about a situation that brought on a big project for you?" 
  • "Provide an example of when you personally demonstrated ownership." 
  • "What project do you think is the most interesting one on which you've worked?” 

The point is to get the big picture of something on which the potential employee has worked.

Task Question Examples for Interviewers

“What was your specific contribution to the project?” If the interviewee is stiff, you can also approach it more delicately. "So, with X project, of what did you have ownership?" Keep probing so you have a firm understanding of what the employee accomplished.

Action Question Examples for Interviewers

“Can you walk me through your process? How did you start working on your part of the project?” This should end with the potential employee talking far more than you will.

If there are certain skills for which you are looking, such as conflict resolution, ask that here. "Was there any point in your process when a conflict occurred?"

Result Question Examples for Interviewers

"Is your final project in production now?" Ask about benchmarks. "How are sales? Did it help streamline any other process?" By now, you as an interviewer should be able to start wrapping up.