The No. 1 interview question of the future will be…

The No. 1 interview question of the future

Follow the bouncing ball here:

That last bullet point is important because most companies have some type of year-over-year raise or bonus structure. So even if you bring in a rank-and-file hire in 2010 and he/she is still around in 2015, that has now begun to cost you some legit money — that maybe at the time you were like “Eh, this is just headcount.” It’s hard to get jobs in the modern era. People stick around places longer than you think. Your organization’s No. 1 fixed cost going out is usually salaries. It’s almost 2016. Why can’t we be more scientific about how we bring people into organizations?

Here’s a cool article on Harvard Business Review that tries to explain this concept of “self-quantification” as the future of the interview process:

If actions speak louder than words, then deliberately measuring your own actions makes you demonstrably numerate as well as more articulate. Whether counting steps or counting calories, the “quantified self” movement has quickly become an important platform for people to monitor what matters to them. As one venture capitalist recently remarked to me during a conversation about workplace analytics, “I want my entrepreneurs checking their phones for something more than messages.”

It’s like this: if you know you’re overweight and you start using a FitBit or calorie tracker, that shows you’re aware of a problem and are taking steps to fix it. Isn’t that the type of employee an organization wants? It’s all about using available data and analytics to make yourself better and more productive.

So, all that said … what’s the potential No. 1 interview question of the future?

Once upon a time, “What do you think is your biggest weakness?” was the go-to “gotcha” job interview question for MBAs, managers, and executives. Better now to ask, “How do you measure how you’re improving your biggest weakness?”

This is a huge paradigm shift, because when you ask someone “What’s your biggest weakness?” and they say back some garbage like “Well, Tony, I’m just such a perfectionist!” — that’s just an answer out in the ether. It doesn’t mean anything. First of all, who cares what a person thinks is their biggest weakness if you have no idea what they plan to do about it?

“What’s your biggest weakness?”

“I’m fat.”


“Tell me about a time you dealt with a tough co-worker…”

It’s so dumb. It’s just checking boxes — which admittedly is what most of the hiring process really is, at base — but what if we moved hiring to a place where it went like this:

  • Hey, tell us a problem you’ve seen about yourself
  • Hey, tell us how you decided to fix it
  • Hey, tell us what you measured and how you knew you were fixing it
  • Hey, give us some broader context around it

If we all want to become these big, bad Big Data and Analytics organizations that really make measurable decisions (!) about consumer tendencies (!) and all the other unicorns we’ve been promised for the last half-decade, then don’t we need to get people in the door who actually understand data, tracking, self-awareness, and what metrics can be used for?



Ted Bauer


  1. “It’s almost 2016. Why can’t we be more scientific about how we bring people into organizations?”

    Because recruiting is dominated by bullshit artist Sales! types who hate standards and reality, and prefer a free-for-all environment with no standards of any kind. In so many words, that’s it. It’s been known for years that, right now, background checks, skill tests, integrity tests, and structured interviews produce the best results when hiring. What’s more, if you’re not going to do a structured interview, you’re probably better off just NOT interviewing, that’s how useless unstructured interviews are. And those methods used perfectly all add up to a 65% success rate. Barely better than a coin toss. Sales people like that environment because it’s full of complex failures for reasons which can’t be pinned down, which means near zero accountability. Plus they can make plausible arguments for their method and use the same methods that psychics use to convince people they’re right; remember the hits and forget the misses, in a nutshell.

    It’s a field dominated by BS artists, charlatans, morons, and people who couldn’t hack it elsewhere. People who refer to online surveys as ‘studies,’ and who are actively hostile to actual science. You know, the IO stuff that’s been pretty consistently showing that people have limits, work best 35-45 hours a week, and generally respond to compensation first, and then to other things as comp builds to a comfort level. This doesn’t fly with idiots who want companies to think they can all have the guy who works 80 hours a week without ill effects and doesn’t need to be paid because what matters to him is ‘job satisfaction,’ or ‘impactfulness,’ or ‘meaningfulness,’ or any other buzzword other than money, because money costs money. Now, that guy exists, but he’s super rare. And the average company is average, and can get average people with average performance for average salaries and keep them for an average time period. But all the Sales! people in recruiting have all the Honda companies convinced they deserve Ferrari people at Kia prices, and the HR people are too busy ‘protecting’ the company from lawsuits which likely will never arrive, despite the most despicable behavior on the part of their managers, to bother trying to change things.

      • It’s true. When you read through recruiting ‘thought leader’ articles one of the primary threads running through all of them is to get people who are ‘passionate’ about this or that work, and another thread that flows through them all is the perpetual devaluation of salary, which is bullshit.

        First off you don’t pay your bills with passion, or any other bullshit intangible recruiters try to sell. Next time you get a bill, instead of a check, send them a note telling them how happy you are in your job, and what a big impact you’re having on the business. See how far it gets you. At best they’ll charge you a late fee and still demand money. At worst they’ll have a shred of sense and ask you, if you’re so impactful at this business, why aren’t you paid enough to pay your bills? Money matters. All the objective evidence seems to point to it being a MAJOR motivator. People will say this or that matters more when asked on a survey because they know those are the answers they’re ‘supposed’ to give. In practice they go after the money way more often. What people do matters more than what they say, which is why surveys are all but useless.

        Second, expecting everyone to be passionate about their job is idiotic. The division of labor and comparative advantage virtually guarantee that what society views you as most productive at, and where it will incentivize you to work, is not your passion. If Michael Jordan was actually passionate about brick laying, and the best in the world at it, that doesn’t change the fact that brick laying would only earn him so much, while basketball would earn him WAY more. Which means it would be advantageous for him to leave the brick laying to someone else, a guy named Tony, even if they weren’t as good at it, and pursue the basketball. That’s comparative advantage, a swapping of productivity bottlenecks that allows all people to earn more, but NOT necessarily in their areas of passion. If Mike stuck to the brick laying, his basketball career and all he earned, and all the other jobs and incomes it spawned, would not have existed, and Tony, the guy who was marginally less good at laying bricks, might not have had his job either and been in some other less productive AND lower paid position.

        So one of the primary qualifications for being a recruiter is not having a clue how the economy works. Another is being actively hostile to objective information and rationality, and having no conception of opportunity cost. Basically being a BS artist, a Sales! person! Which is why the field hasn’t advanced beyond the level of mattress sales for the last century. Sales people run the field, and while they are critical to business operations, they shouldn’t be running anything. The internet is replete with stories of people hiring top sales people as sales managers, and having them fail, utterly and completely. They are quota oriented but never consider how to hit the quota, and since they are perpetually positive they are less risk averse than everyone else and utterly blind to opportunity cost. So, processes that waste resources and time, and produce poor results persist because they simply don’t see the need for change. It doesn’t compute for them, because as long as good results are happening at least sometimes, it’s just a matter of laying down more shoe leather and putting your nose to the grindstone and… Name your cliche. It just needs more hard work, there’s never anything fundamentally wrong their view, though, so nothing changes. I’ve been in this business for ten years and lunatic SALES! types run everything, even a lot of the corporate departments, and they basically destroy any hope of advancement.

        Individual companies like Google will eventually disrupt this industry, but as of now there’s not much changing. A real reliable hiring process wouldn’t even include interviews, on their own their so unreliable it’s just a holdover of human folly that they’re still used, to be honest. A real hiring process would be able to tell if person X can do job Y with no resume and no interview. That’s what we need to work toward as an industry.

        As an example of the Sales! lunacy, over the last two days my VP here has had people who are not even recruiters, with zero experience, calling down lists of people for a junior level job which isn’t even open, wasting SHITLOADS of time and effort, and the company it would be at isn’t even good. They give zero feedback, take months to hire, and are actively hostile toward agencies. He’s been trying to ‘get in’ there for years, they’ve dumped untold amounts of time and effort to try and get this client such that it would take years to earn it all back and make it a profitable client, and it’s known throughout the area the company is horrible at hiring, often horrible to work for, and was recently purchased with rumors of not only a hiring freeze, but layoffs in the near future. And he wasted two days of several people’s time trying to fill an entry level position there that’s not even technically open.

        That’s why hiring, in the US at least, sucks goat ass in terms of process. Because idiots like this moron are running almost everything.

      • I literally fell out of my chair laughing at this entire thing. It’s so good. It’s so perfect. And it happens EVERYWHERE.

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