February 2, 2016

The Most Interesting Interview Question

I’ve spent the first few days this week in upstate New York, where I’ve been interviewing students for internships at my firm this summer. (And now I’ll be spending tonight in New York as well, thanks to a missed connection on the last flight headed to Dallas tonight… yuck!) Aside from the travel issues, though, it’s been a really successful trip, and I’ve enjoyed getting to speak with so many people about the job that I love.

At my firm, the recruiters do an amazing job of organizing everything, but then we like to use client service staff as the interviewers. That way, we can look for candidates who would truly excel in the “real world”, and I always apply the dual test of “Would I want this person working for me? Would I feel comfortable putting them in front of clients?” My firm conducts fairly comprehensive training for interviewers, and I always follow the instructions to the letter. However, we are also allowed to add a few questions of our own to the roster (provided they are fair, non-illegal questions and that we ask the same ones of every single candidate).

I am torn between thinking if a candidate answered like Michael Scott I’d kick them out on the spot, or that I’d pick up on The Office reference and immediately grant them a job offer.

Recently, I read a great article on the most interesting interview questions (which I now can’t for the life of me find!), and so I decided to spice my questions up with one from that list. My selection was something that I anticipated would be thought-provoking for the candidates (as it certainly was for me), but also something that I thought would give me good insight into the candidates’ beliefs about what the job would entail and how to do it best.

What advice would you have for your next boss?

I am fortunate to have some pretty fantastic bosses right now. Yes, that’s bosses plural – in consulting you always have multiple bosses at any given time! You have your relationship partner at your consulting firm, who’s responsible for representing you at midyear; you have your project partner, which is who you roll up to for whatever project you’re currently working on; and you have your client boss… who really calls the shots 😉 On all of those fronts, I really love the people that I get to work for – we’ve built great working relationships and I really respect their work.

So what advice would I have for my next boss? I would advise them to do what my current bosses are doing – give me the independence to organize my work in a way that works for me, and trust that I will bring up questions whenever I have them. Set goals for my work, and make time for me to check in and ensure that I’m still on track to meet them. And give me direct, unyielding feedback on both things I’m doing well and ways that I can improve. (The former for my ego; the latter because I always want to improve what I’m doing.)

And to turn the question around, what advice would I have for my next direct reports? Stay in close touch and proactively communicate updates. If I send an email asking for something to get done, there is nothing I love more than a quick reply: “Got it; I’ll have it done by X date.” Knowing that something has been read and confirmed is a huge load off my mind, assuming that I trust my direct reports to follow through with what they say. (If they don’t, they probably won’t be my direct reports for long!)

However, what may be surprising is that equally pleasing to me is a different reply: “I’m happy to help, but I’m not sure what you mean by XYZ. Can we talk through some questions about what I need to do?” Sometimes I’m not aware of what my analysts know and don’t know. I’m more than happy to work with them on any areas where they need help, but they need to let me know they need help. Otherwise, a lot of time is wasted with them spinning their wheels in the wrong direction, or just plain procrastinating because they have no idea how to handle my request. I was guilty of that last one a few times when I was an analyst, and I wish I had the courage back then to simply own up to my lack of knowledge so that I could move forward!

What advice would you have for your next boss (or your next direct report)?


4 thoughts on “The Most Interesting Interview Question”

  1. Even though my company is closing it’s doors in April, I would tell my boss when he delegates to me, to trust in my abilities to complete the project. He has a VERY hard time letting go and in turn he isn’t able to dedicate his time to what he should be doing. (mind you I LOVE my boss). My biggest pet peeve is being given a project and then finding out he has done something, not communicated changes to me and then my work flow is compromised.

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