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The only reliable thing about human nature is that most of us cannot reliably predict the future. When given the opportunity to make important decisions, we often guess wrong.

The concept of “uncertainty” is especially challenging for recruiters and HR professionals. We spend time and energy creating candidate pools and assessment models, and we devote hours to crafting a powerful and logical selection process; however, we forget that people are, for the most part, reliably awful.

The odds are high that at least one doofus will slip through the cracks of your recruiting process, fizzle out within the first year, and make everybody look stupid. The fact that it doesn’t happen more often in your company probably means that you’re lucky. It’s coming. That doofus is in your talent community, and he’s ready to accept your offer of employment.

So how do you get to the heart of behavior and character without putting your candidates through rigorous psychological testing that probably won’t predict the future?

Well, I think there’s one question that can help you see someone’s soul. You can ask,”Let’s say you’re hired. A year has passed. You’re about to quit. How have we failed you as an organization?”

That’s it.

I think that question is so perfect because it applies some psychological discomfort and allows you to hear how someone answers an uncomfortable question. Also, it’s realistic because most companies fail their workers in a year. By asking this question, you might learn a thing or two about an employee’s experience.

But, more practically, you’re allowing the candidate to tell you how to avoid peril and pitfalls. That’s the kind of HR industry intelligence and insight that CHROs pay tens of thousands of dollars to receive from consultants and advisors. Tracking these candidate responses could allow you to see patterns and opportunities before your competitors, which finally allows recruiting and HR teams to show how they can be strategic partners to the business.

So, when the future version of ourselves talks, we should listen. And if a candidate happens to tell you how you will fail — and she seems credible in other ways and worthy of an offer of employment — you should heed those warnings. Her advice is gold.

PS – Jobseekers, if you’re brave, you could also ask the recruiter, “Let’s say it’s a year from now and I’m not performing well. Why is that? How will things have gone wrong?”

7 Responses to There’s Only One Interview Question That Matters
  1. Michelle Berg

    I like it except for the fact that it’s future oriented. I still say that it’s so much easier to lie with future oriented questions. Instead, look at their resume and ask for each company they left, “Where did your company fail you?”

    Even if the company made the decision for them, it will definitely still show something about their character in terms of how they respond.

    For reference: I’m looking for self-awareness, a lack of victim mentality and ways they tried to solve the problem before giving up.

    And side note: If you’re asking a recruiter, also change it to the past. “Where have candidates failed after a year?” Recruiters are just as good at making up a story as a candidates. A good recruiter will actually know the answer and be confident in the answer (not worried it will scare candidates away!)

    • ruettimann

      Love!

    • ruettimann

      Although I’m not looking for lies. I’m looking for insight.

    • Micole Kaye

      Those are AWESOME questions, Michelle. I think both your questions and Laurie’s will lead to a highly productive interview. I once got a question like “if you were a tree, what fruit would you bear?” I honestly didn’t think the interviewer even knew why she was asking that. Learning which aspects of the job, culture, fit, etc. failed both the organization and the employee will lead to much better insights.

  2. Martin Snyder

    Not a terrible question to probe people’s thoughts/experience/insight about organizational behavior, but also probably pretty random as a predictor of actual results.

    The reason is that human affairs are really complex, and because most people work in groups, the person you are interviewing will not exist in a year and the group they work with will not either. Both will change the orbits of the other, and some of that change is related to literally thousands of environmental variables within and without the organization.

    The rational response would be: “I wouldn’t be talking with you today if I thought I would not make it a year in your organization. If I didn’t make it, I assume it would be something unforeseen. Since you must have far more insight about your own organization than I could, may I ask you what kinds of things you might think could lead to that result?”

    FWIW, my pet interview question, is this (phrased exactly, and never used until I’m sure there is some rapport and mutual interest) “Can you tell me about your biggest fuckup ever? I don’t care if it’s work related, I just want to know how you fell into it and how you dealt with it then and how you think about it today. Please don’t hold back, I’m not here to judge you about THAT, believe me, I have some giant ones myself”

    • Dean Shaw

      My reply to your pet question would be “You go first” because let’s face it, you are being judged and if the interviewer won’t share, neither would I 😉

  3. Branigan Robertson

    That’s a fascinating question Laurie. Although I’m certain I’d be caught flat footed myself if I were sitting in the hot seat and asked the same thing. But I like that your process shows an ability to multi-task and gather insight — not just on an employee’s qualifications — but attitudes that could prove valuable to a company’s bottom line.