Try This Question When You Interview Candidates
In my nearly 40-year career in leadership roles, I’ve interviewed or supervised the interviews of thousands of candidates for various positions. I’ve made some stellar decisions and some stupid ones.
Looking back—with little fear of censure at this stage of my life—I confess that if I had only one question to ask a candidate for a senior management job it might be this:
What was your favorite article in last Sunday’s New York Times Week in Review section—and why?
If I were a CEO again, I would surround myself with bright, capable, thinking and curious people with exceptionally high Emotional Intelligence. Reading the NY Times Week in Review regularly (or something comparable) is not a bad indicator of a number of those qualities.
I realize many of you might bristle at the mention of the New York Times. The ultra-conservative folks reading this, including some in my family with whom I never discuss politics, might scoff at the publication or even ridicule my question. Others might accuse me of having a liberal bias or a liberal agenda (or whatever).
I’m not conscious of having any agendas other than seeking quality, excellence, respect and decency for those I work with every day. Also, I am passionately committed to finding the truth by using solid evidence to make decisions, and to working with people who embrace learning and who make it a habit to think.
So if the New York Times makes you feel uncomfortable or, in some cases, angry, just replace it with the quality publications you read regularly with a “Week in Review” type section and let’s get to why I ask this questions…
Fabulous answers to my question might include:
- “‘The Article Name,’ by Jane Smith. I love the unique way she describes…”
- “The one about zoos in Portugal. I thought it was fascinating that…”
- “I can’t pick. I liked almost all of them—except that one about…”
Satisfactory responses (and possibly fabulous) might look like this:
- “I ran out of time and only read half of it but I enjoyed…”
- “You know, we were traveling last Sunday and it’s on the top of my pile to read.”
- “I rarely read the NY Times. Instead, I prefer The X Report, and my favorite writer is John Smith because….”
- “I don’t have time to read.
- “I don’t like reading…”
I realize not everyone reads an actual paper these days. I know several fantastic employees that prefer podcasts to reading. I also realize that just because someone doesn’t have time to read as much as they’d like doesn’t mean they aren’t a good employee. The point of my question is to discover whether they like to learn new things or discover what others have to say. It is far more about why they read and how they learn than what it is they are reading.
So the next time you interview, consider asking them my Ultimate question or your version of it. You might be surprised what you discover in your interview that helps you make a stellar decision, instead of what you might later call a stupid one!