As we pull out of the “great resignation” and enter this new period of remote work, it seems that an ability to efficiently hire the best people will only grow in importance.
When I interview candidates, I prefer to stay away from traditional questions. Not because they can’t be useful, but because I don’t believe they’re the best way to learn about the personality, character, and abilities of a candidate. Crazy how so many people’s biggest flaw is that they care too much about their work.
So here’s something that has worked surprisingly well for me over the years — it’s a simple “question” that punches well above its weight. I usually start the interview with it, since it often reveals opportunities for further conversation. It goes like this:
I’d like to start by asking you to teach us something. The short lesson can be about anything — it doesn’t have to be work related. If you’d like to take a minute to think about a topic, go ahead. Whenever you’re ready, you can start the lesson.
It’s simple enough to pose the question. The responses I’ve received have been wide ranging. Over the years I’ve heard enough to point out a few general things you can learn about somebody from their response.
You’ll learn what they’re interested in
Almost always the candidate will pick a topic that interests them. I’ve had a former figure skater show me how to push off to get started moving on ice skates. I’ve had a musician show me how to drum. In my experience this is much better than the answer to “what hobbies do you have?”
If somebody simply tells you they’re an ice skater, you pretty much have to take them at their word, but if somebody actually teaches you a bit of ice skating you can be sure they aren’t just trying to make themselves look good.
You’ll learn if they’re quick on their feet
Some people really struggle to come up with a topic. I don’t fault anyone for taking a moment to think, but some really need help. That shows that they can’t readily deal with the unexpected. Yes, interviews can be anxiety-inducing, but sometimes it’s useful to see how people handle that pressure.