The Magic Interview Question

Ok, here it is.  No waiting.  We are all busy, busy, busy this time of year!

“In 18 months, I want you to be on the cover of “HR Magazine” with the tag line … How to Attract and Retain in the High Tech Industry.  Can you do it?”

That was the magic question.  The one that lead me to making a great hire for our head of Human Resources.  Let’s set the stage a bit.

In 1999, I took over as CEO of a company in suburban Washington, DC named CTX.  In my first couple of days on the job I did a lot of listening and asked a bunch of questions.  One person I did not hit it off with was the Director of Human Resources.  During our initial meeting, it became obvious that we were going to butt heads on virtually every cultural and leadership tenant I held dear.  As I began to plan my course of action, she made it easy and quit.  That was my third day on the job.

So we started a search for a new director of HR.  Our search firm narrowed the choices a bit and I ended up interviewing 12 candidates.  On the very first interview, the candidate asked a great question.  “Mr. O’Neill, what are your expectations for this job.”  I thought for a moment and asked if they read any trade rags in their profession.  She said she read “HR Magazine”.  How creative, I thought!  But, as I would find out, “HR Magazine” is a terrific magazine put out by the Society for Human Resources Management.  So my response to her query was that in 18 months, I wanted her to be on the cover of “HR Magazine” with the tag line … How to Attract and Retain in the High Tech Industry!

I was onto something!  I quickly turned that into a question and in 11 of the 12 interviews, I watched each candidate crawl under the desk when asked if they could meet my objective.  One candidate, Chip Paddock, jumped at the opportunity to shape a corporate culture.  He talked about the role of HR going beyond benefits management and being an integral part of the leadership team and the formation of the company’s culture.  We talked for hours and Chip turned out to be a terrific fit for the company.

Find your magic question when interviewing.  There may be two or three, but you must find a way to determine if each of your hires will build business value for your team and your company.  It should be fulfilling and rewarding career move for the candidate and it should simply be obvious.

Remember, the folks that can’t answer the magic question will be found cowering under the table!

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