The Best Interview Question I Have Ever Heard

The Problem With Interviews

Interviews are inherently awkward. Two people that know each other through precomposed text and maybe a phone call or two get together for coffee, or even worse in an office. They scramble through a few awkward questions like “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” or “What are your passions?”.

All the while, the interviewer is really just thinking “Do I really want to work with this person every day?” and the interviewee is wondering “Do I really want to work with this company everyday?” The whole process is altogether a mess, albeit a vital and unavoidable mess.

When the interview process works, however, it is a beautiful thing. We all know how vital it is to make great hires:

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. – Jim Collins

For fast-growth companies, it is even more important to get the interview process right.  There is entirely too much to do to be wasting time on poor hires who cannot contribute the way that you need them to.

The Best Interview Question Ever

I recently sat in on an interview between my company’s CEO and a potential hire. After the usual small talk and chatter about experience and what we are looking for at the company, the CEO threw a curveball, and it happened to be the best interview question I have ever heard. Here is what he said:

“Let’s say you do get hired and in three or four years you move on to your next opportunity.  What will you tell people you did at our company? If you were to say: ‘I spent three years at the company and, I was in charge of making blank happen’ What would ‘blank’ be?”

What Really Matters In a Hire

Why is this the best interview question ever? Because the answer to the question, or more particularly the way the question is answered, will tell you more about the potential hire’s ambition, goal, and opinion of their own ability than any other serious of questions could give you. Aptitude, intelligence, and experience are easy to identify. Ambition, interest, and opinion are very difficult to change.

If the answer to that question does not align with the vision of the company, then you do not have a match on your hands.

There are countless examples of individuals who define large chunks of their career and experience with the statement “I did _______ for ______”.  One of my favorite examples is my friend Noah Kagan’s Facebook Ads to gain followers for his blog okdork.com. Here’s the ad:

Noah Kagan Facebook Ad

“The guy who did marketing at Mint.com”  That tells us he is a marketing mind and he worked at an innovative company that had an amazing exit. This is all I need to know about Noah to move forward.

Likewise, if you go through a company and made an impact on the on-boarding experience, or you ran the Google AdWords, or you developed the support page, whatever it is that you did, you want to own it.

And if in an interview, the potential hires responds with a confident and gracious story, you need to get that guy on the bus!