Edition #900: The single best interview question (and answer)

Edition #900: The single best interview question (and answer)

Ask The Headhunter online began publication a long time ago. The newsletter launched soon after. This Q&A column marks the 900th edition of the newsletter — that’s 900 weeks of free advice inspired by the best questions asked by the Ask The Headhunter community. To mark the occasion, I’m reprinting a column from 2003 about the best interview question ever. It has withstood the test of time, and it could not be more relevant or applicable today. I hope you find it as helpful as many others have.

Question

What is the single best interview question ever — and the best answer?

Nick’s Reply

best interview questionThere used to be a book titled something like 2,800 Interview Questions & Answers. Even today, you can find books that will automate your job interviews with canned repartee. These books feature 701 interview questions (and “best answers), or 201, or 189, 101 — or, How many interview questions you got???

All the interview questions

I’ve always had a fantasy about these books. You walk into the interviewer’s office. You smile broadly and shake hands:

“Glad to meet you! Let’s get down to business and have an interview!”

Then you slide one of those babies across the desk.

“Here are all the questions you’re going to ask me… and the answers! Now you know what they are, and I know what they are, and we don’t need to waste our time. So we can do something useful, and talk about the work you need to have done!”

Instead of teaching job candidates and hiring managers to talk shop —  that is, about the job — career experts outdo themselves regurgitating job-interview scripts.

The silly answers they offer are rehashed and marinated in expired creative juices, and about as satisfying as a bolus coughed up by the last person who interviewed with the manager.

One Interview Question

Then there’s the “one, the only, the best interview question” designed to be so clever that you must think it’s also smart. The trouble is, these click-bait offerings have nothing to do with the job you’re interviewing for!

Lately, these include (on LinkedIn) Lou Adler’sWhat single project or task would you consider the most significant accomplishment in your career so far? and (on Inc.com) economist Tyler Cowen’s “What are the open tabs in your browser right now?” (We won’t even get into the perennial “What’s your greatest weakness?” or ” How many golf balls would fit in the Empire State Building?”)

In 2003, the editors of Fast Company magazine put together a cover story titled, “All The Right Moves: A guide for the perplexed exec.” It was a collection of 21 Q&As for managers covering everything from how to be a star at work, how to be an effective leader and how to dress for success.

Editor Bill Breen asked me to write a “memo” to managers about Question #16: What is the single best interview question ever — and the best answer?

The best interview question

Here’s the memo I sent to Breen as it appeared in the July 2003 edition of Fast Company. Almost 20 years later, I’ll still put this question up against any list of interview questions (whether it includes 50, 200, or 2,800), or against any other “best, most important question” anyone has ever come up with. I think proof of its power is that job candidates can — and should — raise the question themselves and answer it to prove they’re worth hiring.


Memo From: Nick Corcodilos
To: Hiring managers everywhere
Re: Reinventing the job interview

The purpose of any interview is simple: to determine whether the candidate can do the job profitably. A smart interview is not an interrogation. It’s not a series of canned questions or a set of scripted tests that have been ginned up by HR. An interview should be a roll-up-your-sleeves, hands-on meeting between you and the candidate, where all of the focus is on the job.

Think of the interview as the candidate’s first day at work, with the only question that matters being this:

“What’s your business plan for doing this job?”

To successfully answer that, the candidate must first demonstrate an understanding of the company’s problems, challenges, and goals — not an easy thing to do. But since you desperately want to make a great hire and get back to work, why don’t you help the best candidate succeed? Two weeks before the interview, call up the candidate and say the following:

“We want you to show us how you’re going to do this job. That’s going to take a lot of homework. I suggest that you read through these 10 pages on our Web site, review these publications from our marketing and investor-relations departments, and speak with these three people on my team. When you’re done, you should have something useful to tell us.”

This will eliminate 9 out of 10 candidates. Only those who really want the job will put in the effort to research the job.

At the interview, you should expect (or hope) to hear the most compelling question that any candidate can ask:

“Would you like me to show how your company will profit from hiring me?”

The candidate should be prepared to do the job in the interview. That means walking up to the whiteboard and outlining the steps that he or she would take to solve your company’s problems. The numbers don’t have to be right, but the candidate should be able to defend them intelligently. If the candidate demonstrates an understanding of your culture and competitors — and lays out a plan of attack for solving your problems and adding something to your bottom line — you have some awfully compelling reasons to make the hire.

But if you trust only a candidate’s past accomplishments, references, credentials, or test results, you still won’t know whether the candidate can do the job.


Recruiting is still — and always has been — about finding the best candidates. But the best candidate isn’t just the one who can answer that question. The best candidate is the person who brings it up and volunteers to answer it — and is ready to show you how they will do the job profitably.

Do the job in the interview

If you cannot do the job to win the job, then it doesn’t matter what tabs are open on your browser, what animal you’d be if you could be any animal, what your greatest accomplishment was, or where you see yourself in five years. There is certainly more to do in a job interview, and we can have a lot of fun with clever questions and rejoinders. But, if you cannot demonstrate, right there in the meeting, your business plan for how you will do the work, then you will not stand out — and you have no business in that job interview.


How Can I Change Careers? picks up where that Fast Company column leaves off. And it’s not just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to stand out in the job interview. The book explains why this “single best interview question ever” for hiring managers is also the single best question for candidates to bring up in the interview — and how to do it. (Fast Company says it’s “chock full of tips for the thorniest of job-hunting problems.”)


You be the judge of what counts in your job interviews: Does anything matter more than showing you can do the job? What are the best and worst questions you’ve asked or been asked?

Thanks to all in the Ask The Headhunter community for assembling here every week, and especially to those who have contributed questions and comments over the years! This website and the newsletter are successful because of the quality of discourse you bring every week! How long have you been a subscriber? If you don’t get the free weekly newsletter, please sign up for edition #901 and share this link with friends!

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Discrimination: Social media trails can get you hired?

Discrimination: Social media trails can get you hired?

Amazon Lawsuit: Managers Scoured Job Candidates’ Social Media for Race and Gender Info

It doesn’t matter what your motivation is, illegal discrimination is illegal.

discrimination

Source: Inc.
By Suzanne Lucas, aka The EvilHRLady

Lisa McCarrick filed a lawsuit against Amazon on Monday, alleging two significant problems. The first: she’s paid less than her male coworkers. The second: her manager told her to “scour” job candidate’s social media to determine race and gender/ethnicity and then fired her when she complained.

McCarrick claims that her managers wanted her to search out race and gender to increase diversity at Amazon…[but] It doesn’t matter that your goal is to increase your minority or female hires. You cannot discriminate based on race or gender for almost all positions.

 

Nick’s take

This article gave me a headache. Amazon HR instructs managers to use job applicants’ social media footprints to make sure they hire more women and minorities. Is that discrimination or reverse discrimination or just plain illegal any way you slice it? And if a manager refuses to scour a job candidate’s social media for race and gender info, the manager gets fired? You can’t make this stuff up!

What’s your take?

Have your social media tracks ever helped you get a job? Or cost you a job? What will HR and employers think of next to discriminate — and to get their companies sued?

 

 

 

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HR’s Submission To ZipRecruiter

ZipRecruiterJust how much can ZipRecruiter insult its HR customers and still get their business? And how many arm’s lengths away from federal employment law violations can employers get?

HR: We pay ZipRecruiter to insult us

ZipRecruiter, a venture-funded, privately held company, markets itself to employers as “The Fastest Way to Hire Great People.” It lets HR departments “Post to 100+ Job Boards with One Submission.”

What’s so insulting about that? In a long-running Bloomberg radio ad, ZipRecruiter features an employer who says:

“Hiring people is probably the worst part of my job. It’s such a hassle — the searching. The sorting through resumes.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

Man, doing HR work really sucks. Is that an HR manager grousing? Or maybe it’s a hiring manager? Imagine a sales rep at your company complaining about what a hassle it is to sell.

HR executives ponied up over $100 million in 2016 to ZipRecruiter for help filling jobs so Zip could cast them as dopes who hate the most important part of their work — recruiting and hiring talent. That’s submission.

According to USA Today, “Zip makes most of its money by charging $249 monthly to employers to post [their job] listings.” That’s a lot of job ads. That’s a lot of passing the buck.

What’s it like when the vendor you rely on to do your job for you blares to the world that your job is one big bother? Do HR execs love being insulted? Well, they keep paying for it. “Revenue is up 270% since 2013,” says USA Today.

HR seems to love being abused.

“We started using ZipRecruiter about 3 months ago. Right from the start you could tell it was going to make hiring a lot easier.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

HR also loves getting millions of job applications that no human ever needs to touch. Candidates “roll in.”

“One click and my job was posted to 100+ job boards — all the top sites.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

One click and a job is sprayed all over kingdom come. Says one job seeker:

“I heard an advertisement for ZipRecruiter on the radio. In short, you can post a job on this site and it simultaneously posts it on other job boards and social media outlets. Does HR really need that many applications? Especially in these times?”

The challenge is not picking good hires. The challenge is wiping away the mess of unemployed lemmings dying for interviews. Who needs to learn how to recruit when you can have “all of the candidates” from all of the job boards in your “dashboard”?

What do you do with them?

“All of the candidates came to my dashboard and it’s easy to compare them. Thumbs up if I liked them, thumbs down if I didn’t. No e-mails and attachments, printing up docs, phone calls, none of that.”

      Radio Ad Excerpt

Imagine: None of that. No “docs” — no resumes, no application forms. No communications with applicants — “no e-mails, attachments… phone calls…” Nada. 100% keywords, no humans need apply. And HR can go home.

Zip takes care of everything — including turning job applicants into your own private digital beauty pageant.

Except really ugly stuff happens in beauty pageants when there’s no regulation. And while some venture-funded firm sucks up the profits, humans submit and are sent home to clean themselves up for the next opportunity.

What job seekers are saying about ZipRecruiter

While ZipRecruiter’s investors are cleaning up, job seekers are left drowning in the mess.

One job seeker says it for many:

“My Gmail inbox is littered with e-mails from ZipRecruiter, Indeed.com, and others. It is so frustrating to go through the daily search and submission only to get the robo-e-mails from ‘Phil@ZipRecruiter.com’ — the Job Seeker Advocate — and similar messages from Indeed and others. Sometimes I think it’s all one big bizarre video game and I am the hapless mark helping to feed the Monster(.com?). At first, I viewed them hopefully, but now I see them as a part of a giant ruse.”

Another job seeker peals out:

“Things have changed too much for the worse. The old, tried and proven Agencies have gone to wayside and replaced with kids calling me…Saying, ‘Hey, I saw your resume on Indeed or Ziprecruiter or LinkedIn, etc.’ If you put enough monkeys in a room with keyboards eventually semblance of a word will be achieved. If this is how Americans get a decent job nowadays….OMG.”

And then it hits the fan.

H1-B Only: No Americans wanted

Employers operate in today’s “employment system” at arm’s length, enjoying seeming legal insulation by using “third-party” employers — known as consulting or contracting firms — to avoid violating labor laws. And these third-party firms in turn use services like ZipRecruiter to “recruit” at arm’s length while pretending they have no idea that the machine is cranking out Soylent Green.

Now here’s the backlash employers have exposed themselves to. My good buddy Suzanne Lucas, aka The EvilHRLady, just reported that the veil has been “accidentally” parted to reveal what’s really going on: legal violations.

What would you say to a job posting for a “Java Developer – H1-B Only?”

In her Inc. column last week, Iowa Company Accidentally Says No Americans Need Apply, Lucas turned up the heat on IT consulting firm American Technology Consulting, which posted the job. “In case you’re wondering what the problem is with the ad,” writes Lucas, “it’s that it violates one and possibly two laws.”

Lucas reported that Tara Jose, the president of ATC, said, “a third-party vendor recently used language when posting an advertisement on our behalf that was inappropriate and absolutely unacceptable to American Technology Consulting.”

Uh, “a third-party vendor?” (By press time Ms. Jose had not responded to an e-mail query for details.)

 

Jose told Lucas that her firm “did not write, condone, or authorize this language in the ad.”

So who wrote and authorized it? (An e-mail to Jose well before press time yielded no response.) More important, this ad is on ZipRecruiter. And as Lucas points out, it’s illegal. Possibly twice.

Was this an accident?

Is this accidentally at arm’s-length illegal?

When we were kids we’d walk up to a buddy, smack him, and chortle, “Sorry! I did it accidentally on purpose!” After we got smacked back a few times, we learned you can’t do that and get away with it. But in today’s employment industry, you can.

A company wants to hire Java developers on the cheap. As Lucas points out, it’s illegal to misuse the H1-B visa program to hire foreign labor cheaper than American labor.

But, can you “hire” a consultant from a “consulting” firm that in turn uses “a third-party vendor” that finds the Java developer by posting an illegal “H1-B Only” ad on ZipRecruiter — an ad that’s not written, condoned or authorized by the consulting firm? And besides, ZipRecruiter’s written policy says all ads must follow the law.

How many arm’s lengths from the l-o-n-g arm of the law are we now? Was that ad an accident? A one-off mistake?

Chatting with ZipRecruiter

I opened a chat with ZipRecruiter. Here’s what they told me.

The chat with Jason timed out. So I asked Taylor.

Is this accidentally on purpose?

I could have ended the chat there and we could have had an ad just like ATC had. But I kept asking the question in different ways. Finally, I was told it was up to me to make sure my job posting complied with “OFCCP and EEOC regulations.”

But here it was, three days after the Inc. article appeared, and on one screen I was chatting with ZipRecruiter and on another I was looking at that “H1-B Only” job posting — it was still there. The fastest way to hire H1-B Java Developers.

Sometimes Zip can also be the fastest way to scam people: Job seekers on ZipRecruiter being targeted by scams via email and text. Zip’s representatives blame it on “the front-end” and “the back-end.” But that’s just how the employment industry works — nobody’s fault. It’s all accidental: “No system is perfect, no matter how sophisticated or well intentioned,” says Zip.

Is this accidentally on purpose?

Are American employers using services that are largely unregulated to manipulate the job market? I don’t think there’s any doubt.

While state and federal legislatures feign interest in equal pay and equal opportunity, they condone a seemingly l-o-n-g arm’s-length chain of “contracting” relationships that seem to add no value to America’s employment system. How many middlemen can collect a fee to put you in a job working for someone other than who signs your paycheck?

This tawdry chain of consulting pimps seem to be sucking value out of the employment system and the economy — while government looks the other way. (See Consulting: Welcome to the cluster-f*ck economy.)

Notable companies that trade in profitable key words, profiles, resumes, and job postings are the front-facing businesses that are highly admired by a stock market that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about who’s getting a job, who they actually “work” for, where they came from, and who’s getting screwed by salaries that are manipulated in an international game of  “How low can you go?”

“All Candidates In One Place”

Joshua Brustein, writing for Bloomberg, exposes the state-of-the-art in the nebulous jobs cloud: The Secret Way Silicon Valley Uses the H-1B Program.

Far from some of the transparently political H1-B conspiracy mongering that’s become the click-bait of the blog world, Brustein takes us on a wild tour that exposes the systematic manipulation of the job market being practiced and vaunted as a laudable “industry.” These are the consulting and contacting companies, and the slimy job boards, that big tech firms hide behind.

“Contractors are also submitting many applications for foreign visas for work at other large American technology companies, according to a recent analysis of Department of Labor records covering eight major tech businesses between October 2015 and October 2016. Applications submitted by contractors accounted for half of the H-1B visa applications for jobs at PayPal Holdings Inc.’s headquarters, 43 percent of those on Microsoft Corp.’s campus, 29 percent at EBay Inc.’s headquarters, and about a quarter of those at the Googleplex.”

Brustein outlines the work of one researcher who “found that American tech companies are also utilizing large numbers of H-1B workers that are not highly skilled — they are just doing it through intermediaries.”

Do you need a pedestrian Java programmer — but prefer a lower-cost “H1-B Only” variety? Someone’s willing to write an “unauthorized” and illegal job ad for you under yet someone else’s name — but nobody knows who exactly we’re talking about. But we know where to find that ad — it’s posted on an intermediary. Or, as ZipRecruiter’s crack marketing team likes to say: “All candidates in one place.”

LinkedIn? Indeed? ZipRecruiter? The applicants just roll into your dashboard, and they answer your secret questions before you have to interview them. How’s that for arm’s-length?

No “docs” — no resumes, no application forms. No communications with applicants — “no e-mails, attachments… phone calls…” Nada. 100% keywords, no humans need apply. No need for HR.

And the candidates? Scrub ’em up and get ’em ready.

      Thumbs Up Thumbs Down

Nobody knows

ZipRecruiter says job postings must follow the law. ZipRecruiter says you can post jobs for foreign applicants only. An “H1-B Only” ad appeared for a reason — somebody approved it. Who? Nobody knows.

The impact on pay is dramatic. Bloomberg’s Brustein makes it clear. Businesses use H1-B to save money. Imagine you could tell your board of directors you’ve cut your costs by a third. Well, now you can.

“They paid an average of $88,500, which is about two-thirds the average salary for visa applications for jobs the companies submitted directly.”

“Hiring people is probably the worst part of my job. It’s such a hassle — the searching. The sorting through resumes. We started using ZipRecruiter about 3 months ago. Right from the start you could tell it was going to make hiring a lot easier. One click and my job was posted to 100+ job boards — all the top sites.”

Who needs more regulating?

When a privately held company like ZipRecruiter can knock the HR profession entirely out of the recruiting and hiring process, and HR both swallows the insult and relinquishes its job entirely, it’s game over for job seekers, employees, and managers who actually produce value to create profit. (Should HR get out of the hiring business?)

When HR funds the radio ads that reduce the profession’s most important functions to “a hassle,” and ZipRecruiter’s representatives tell you in a chat that you can post jobs for “foreign applicants only” and for “H1-B Only,” none of this is an accident.

What needs more regulating? Employers and HR execs who let an industry of digital job-board pimps sell out American job hunters? Or vendors that insult and abuse them all the way to the bank? How many arm’s lengths away from federal employment-law violations can employers get?

Are we all nuts, or what? There’s an emperor running around buck naked, and the hue and cry is that there’s a shortage of clothes. Or is that a talent shortage? One click, and it’s all going to be a lot easier. You’ll just roll right into the dashboard head-first, and it’ll be no accident. It’s one great big submission. What do you think? What do we need to do to fix this?

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