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Organizational Change
The Ultimate Interview Question:
Social Responsibility in the Hiring Process

The hiring process can be a grueling one — weeding through all those prospects can be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. It can be frustrating, and it also presents a lot of opportunity for self-doubt.

The hiring process can be a grueling one — weeding through all those prospects can be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. It can be frustrating, and it also presents a lot of opportunity for self-doubt.

When you’re in the midst of it, you may wonder if you’re doing the right things to find the right employee, or you may wonder if you’ll ever find the right employee. Deep down, of course, you know the effort is worth it and the cost of hiring the wrong person is dear. In fact, a CareerBuilder survey on the cost of a bad hire reports that 69 percent of employers say that bad hires lowered their company’s productivity, damaged client relationships, affected worker morale, and even resulted in legal issues. Forty-one percent of the surveyed companies estimate that a bad hire costs more than $25,000 and 25 percent said it costs more than $50,000.

The real secret sauce is in one interview question that tops all others. This question gets to the root of what motivates people, what gives them energy, and what helps them perform at their peak. It uncovers their value system and gives clues into their life purpose. It is the interview question that either proves that someone is in the right line of work or stops a person dead in their tracks with the realization that they’ve been on the wrong career track. Not only is this a great interview question, but it’s also a great question to ask yourself as you consider where you work, what you do, and how you go about your job. I believe that if more people were to ponder the answer to this question, more of us would love our jobs, perform at a higher level and realize our dreams.

So what is this magical question? Are you ready? OK, here it is…

Think of a day that was so great that you couldn’t wait to tell your spouse, parent or friend about it. A day that you went home and felt so energized by what happened that you felt like you were on top of the world … like you were invincible. A day that you felt like you were doing exactly what you were meant to do. Tell me about it. What happened that day? What was your role in that thing that happened? Why was it so inspiring for you? How did it play into your personal value system?

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Ok, so to be fair, this really isn’t one question, but this series of questioning will help you gain deep insight into what provides motivation and meaning to your candidate. This is my favorite interview question of all time because you will learn if the person has true passion for the type of work you want them to do. Many times I get answers here that lead me to question the person’s choice of profession — and the candidate leaves crying!

Now, I don’t get thrills from making people cry; but I do love encouraging people to stop, take a moment out from the daily buzz and grind and think about what really matters to them and inspires them. When I look back at my life, I see how many times I have gotten caught up in pursuing a path because I happened to be good at it and believed that the external validation and praise in my performance meant that I was doing something I was born to do.

“People really are different—they’re not just defective versions of yourself.”

– William Bridges, PhD

Over the years, I have come to realize that I am good at a lot of things. But there are some things that I really love to do. Things that I can do better than anyone else. Things that play on my unique abilities and talents. Things that make me feel truly alive, special and worthy … even powerful. Each of us has our own story to discover and live. And just like those fingerprints that give us our unique mark, our stories cannot be the same as someone else’s. As interviewers and leaders, we can help people fully live their stories. We can steer people away from taking “just another job” and encourage them to live out their dreams and passions.

Think about this: What if you were able to assemble a workforce full of people who were placed in the right spots, fully utilizing their gifts and experiences? What could that do for your organization? How would that be different from how it looks today?

I had a person who thought she was interested in managing people tell me that her most fulfilling days were when she got to have an uninterrupted day going through spreadsheets. There’s nothing wrong with loving that. There are a great many jobs that require people who love to pour through Excel documents. But in this case, I needed someone who loved to be interrupted by people. Someone who got excited by helping a colleague think through a problem. Someone who felt like being a resource for other people’s success was their reason for being. Months later, the candidate reached out to me and thanked me, letting me know that she changed her resume and began prospecting for jobs that would benefit from her more introverted and analytical nature. She ended up finding a job where the spreadsheets that got her excited became a great tool for tracking and managing performance … an invaluable resource for those managers who love being interrupted by their people! You can bet that she is happier and that the place where she works is benefiting from what motivates and inspires her.

As leaders, it’s important to remember that people are actually different. And isn’t that a great thing? It’s the diversity that exists among us that has the potential to make our organizations great. So next time you interview a prospective employee, do yourself and them a favor and ask the Ultimate Interview Question. When you find that person who fits into how the rest of your culture behaves and someone who is able to live fully within their own story, you know you’ve got a winner.