Leadership: The 3 Question Interview

At lunch recently, my friend shared a story about how he was “selected” as a construction manager for a large project years ago.

He prepared well for what he thought would be a tough interview. When he arrived, the hiring executive had him wait in the bar. When the executive arrived for the interview, he began with, “What do you want to drink?” My friend said, “What are you having?” Smart answer (they had a beer).

The second question was, “How much do you need to make?” My friend hadn’t prepared for this and shot low.

The third was, “When can you start?”

That’s it. A three-question interview for a significant job: What do you want to drink? How much do you need to make? When can you start?

I laughed so hard I almost passed my kung pao chicken through my nose.

Getting the team right is critical and probably deserved more thought than the three-question interview, even when you’re desperate. But even with the luxury of time, too often executives are hired without clear thought on what’s needed.

If you had to limit yourself to three interview questions to hire a senior executive, what would they be (assuming technical competence, e.g., in my friend’s case, he’d built many buildings)?

Here are mine:

1. What are three situations in your past that exemplify how you’d execute our strategy (better have a clear strategy!)?

2. Given our culture (you need to have a clearly defined culture!), can you tell me about three situations where you acted in concert with our desired behaviors?

3. What has been your most successful experience in building a strong team? Be specific.

Perhaps as a fourth, “What would you like to drink?” (IPAs, Brunello di Montalcino or dry martinis, you’re good to go. White zinfandels, keep looking!)

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