Monday, April 23, 2012

A Great Question

Getting to the crux of the matter with recruits that one interviews is always challenging. You need to find out, as quickly as possible, their talent and character assets and liabilities. And your assessment has got to be right, because it is very costly when you are wrong. (We have all occasionally been wrong.)

Therefore, one looks for questions that are penetrating and motivate candor. To help me along, I often read Adam Bryant’s “Corner Office” in the Business Section of the Sunday edition of The New York Times. In his interviews with business leaders, Bryant almost always asks each one: “What are some of the questions you ask when you are interviewing job candidates?”

There are lots of creative questions that people ask, but one that really stood out was asked by John Donovan (, CTO of AT&T: “If your professional colleagues were going to put three words on your tombstone, what would they be?”

The follow-up: “Instead of three, what would the one word be?” I like this particular line of questioning because it really makes people think very hard about what they stand for, what makes them tick, and what they want to be remembered for. The follow-up is even tougher. So I have been asking these questions, and I find them as effective as I anticipated they would be.

The responses have included such words as “loyal,” “resilient,” “hard worker,” “problem solver,” “cares about others,” “loving father” and many more. But what is most wonderful has been the expression that appears on peoples’ faces…one of deep thought, folded arms with one palm on the face, wrinkled foreheads, and long pauses as they think and think and think. And then the words start coming in a very deliberate manner, and you know that this is a considered answer and what they are giving you is the honest-to-goodness truth.

 And that is what you want for a decision that could cost you anything from thousands to millions of dollars.


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