If you’re like most people you’ve been interviewed for a job at some point.  Maybe you’ve even done the interviewing.  It’s one of the most important things we do as managers and the ability to do interviews that successfully separate great candidates from merely good candidates is worth a lot to your employer.

I’ve done many interviews over the last 30 years and hired quite a few people.  Inevitably I ask them a question which I’ve found very useful in the process and I thought I’d share it with you today.

My favorite interview question is “are you smart?”  Pretty simple, I know, but try asking it the next time you’re interviewing someone (or go ask a co-worker) and watch the reaction.  Everyone answers (“no comment” isn’t a great interview response) but no one asks “what do you mean?”   Most candidates reply with something related to school – they had good grades, etc.  That’s not what I’m after.

What I’m looking for are a couple of things.  The first is how they handle the question regardless of the answer – are they flustered?  Can they handle something that’s not one of the interview questions for which you prep like “where do you see yourself in 5 years” (I never ask that).  The second is what the answer says about how they define smart.

“Smart”, “intelligent” – whatever you want to call it – to me is a natural curiosity which is satisfied by a large capacity to learn, the ability to think abstractly, and an ability to solve problems, and to be able to do any of those things quickly.  Do good grades reflect that?  Maybe, but if you learn how to play the school game not necessarily.  If you couple the “are you smart” question with seemingly simple things like “what’s the last book you read” or “I’m always trying to find new books or programs to watch – can you recommend any?” you begin to get at the trait.

I think great executives all display innate curiosity.  Wanting to know more is a trait they all share.  The ability to find and synthesize information to answer that curious itch is what makes them great and identifying that trait in candidates is what makes hires great.

What’s your favorite interview question?  What’s the best one you were ever asked?  The worst?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

2 responses to “Smart

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Smart « Consult Keith --

  2. Another good, thought-provoking blog. Don’t know how you crank so many of them out.

    On to today’s topic — my favorite interview question is actually my brother in law’s — at the end of a very positive interview, he would ask one last question, the clincher. He’d open a shoe box and show it to the candidate. On the bottom of the box was a small mound of fake poop and a can of Shinola shoe polish. His question to the candidate:

    “Do you know the difference?”

    Like your “smart” question, the point was the candidate’s reaction. If it was laughter, that was very good. If it was puzzlement, not so much . . .

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