This CEO has one interview question he’d use to hire someone on the spot

By: Mark Abasi November 23, 2017


It’s rare to find a question so predictive of someone’s personality that it could make a CEO want to hire a job candidate on the spot. But New York Times writer Adam Bryant said there’s one that comes to mind, based on interviews he’s done with hundreds of executives for his “Corner Office” column.

The question came from Bob Brennan, an executive director at the software firm CA Technologies who, at the time of his interview with Bryant, was CEO of records-management company Iron Mountain. Brennan said his one-question interview would be: “What are the qualities you like least and most in your parents?”

“I want to know how willing people are to really talk about themselves,” Brennan said, according to Bryant. “So if I ask you, ‘What are the qualities you like least and most in your parents?’ you might bristle at that, or you might be very curious about it, or you’ll just literally open up to me. And obviously if you bristle at that, it’s too vulnerable an environment for you.” Bryant said Brennan’s question stood out among all the other times he’s posed the challenge to CEOs. “I’ll let the human resources professionals debate whether such a question is out of bounds,” Bryant wrote.

“But I’m hard pressed to think of a better crystal ball for predicting how somebody is likely to behave in the weeks, months and years after you hire them. After all, people often adopt the qualities of their parents that they like, and work hard to do the opposite of what they don’t like.” The question is one of many creative ways executives can cut through the uniformity of the typical job interview, Bryant said. After all, “candidates are so trained to anticipate the usual questions — “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?” — that CEOs have to come up with bank-shot questions to get around the polished facades.”