The One and Only Interview Question You Will Ever Need to Ask...

April 10, 2018

Hardly a day goes by without another article promising a single question by which to assess candidates. Whether such click-bait headlines play to our reductionist need to find shortcuts to everything in life or whether they in fact tap into a deeper frustration with the complexities of interviewing, the result is the same ....an endless supply of magic bullitt questions.

Consider a but a few such questions...

Inc. Magazine published one article titled,  ‘The only interview question that matters’ (https://www.inc.com/lou-adler/best-interview-question-ever.html) in which they put forth the following question...’ What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?’ Really?? That’s it? That will cover all interviews for all jobs? Well, actually, no. If you read the article, the writer admits that it is not this single question that will generate the most insights, but rather the 20 questions that follow. It is in fact those probing ‘how’ and ‘why’ and ‘what did you learn’ questions that shed the most light. Perhaps the article would have better been titled, ‘The only opening interview question that matters’. Even then, I am not so sure.

The World Economic Forum published an article titled “This CEO has one interview question he’d use to hire someone on the spot’ (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/this-ceo-has-one-interview-question-hed-use-to-hire-someone-on-the-spot) which argues that the magic question is ‘What are the qualities you like least and most in your parents?’. The logic here, if I understand it correctly, is that IF you can get a candidate to open up on this rather personal, not-job-related issue, it can be expected that ‘they will adopt the qualities of their parents that they like, and work hard to do the opposite of what they don’t like’. OK..if you say so.

Fast Company weighed in with an article titled ‘The One Interview Question that will help you make the best hire’ (https://www.fastcompany.com/3049139/the-one-question-you-need-to-ask-job-applicants-to-make-the-best-hire). Their question, which they say seeks to get ‘deeper thought and greater insight that can actually be applied’ is ‘Why shouldn’t I hire you?’ Hmm... tricky.

LinkedIn asked five ‘leaders’ for their single interview question (https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/interview-questions/2017/What-these-4-leaders-would-ask-if-they-only-had-time-for-1-interview-question). Their questions ranged from, ‘tell me about your family’ to ‘Tell us a story about something that’s happened in your life.’ to “When in your life have you been so passionately focused on an activity that you lost track of time?” Right answers, anyone?

I can go on and on and on. Questions range from the quizzical to the comical.  In the latter category, of which there are no shortage, consider the attached article (https://theundercoverrecruiter.com/number-one-interview-question/) where one person says that after interviewing 20,000 candidates he has come to believe that the only question that matters is ‘What do you want?’. There you have it, so simple.

Magic questions reflect a single view on what is most important in hiring excellence. For some its positivity and energy, for others its values, for yet others it is passion, resilience, intelligence, curiosity, or perhaps emotional intelligence. A recent article claimed that Jeff Bezos demands ‘accountability’ as his key ‘one thing’ in job interviews.  While all of these attributes are credibly important, the breadth of opinion alone attests to the complexities of hiring. And it is not just which qualities matter, but also to what degree (‘passionate’s’ next door neighbor is ‘obsessive’) and how do they all interact?  No matter how you try, assessing candidates still come down to figuring out whether they can do the job, will do the job, and will they fit. No one question yet addresses all those questions for every company in every context. That is not to say they won’t keep trying and we won’t keep clicking.


About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements. 

Contact Robert by email at rhebert@stonewoodgroup.com or call (1) 416-365-9494 Ext. 777