The single best interview question ever—and the best answer

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.

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 references, credentials, or test results, you still won’t know whether the candidate can do the job.

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