Kevin Morell, of the software company Referly, has posted on his blog the main question he asks when interviewing engineering and marketing applicants for his company. It is interesting in that it goes contrary to all of the mental gymnastics question that have been the fashion at other high tech companies and have been the subject of many internet postings.
Here is the question:
I want you to explain something to me. Pick any topic you want: a hobby you have, a book you’ve read, a project you worked on–anything. You’ll have just 5 minutes to explain it. At the beginning of the 5 minutes you shouldn’t assume anything about what I know, and at the end I should understand whatever is most important this topic. During the 5 minutes, I might ask you some questions, and you can ask me questions. Take as much time as you want to think it through, and let me know when you want to start.
As you might guess the content of the subject matter is not what is important to the answer. Here is what Morell explains that he is looking for:
- Does the interviewee use any time to organize their thoughts and decide how to present them?
- Morell then deliberately begins to listen with a completely blank expression and no feedback. He then looks for whether the interviewee picks up on that and asks and confirms that what he is saying is understood. He is looking for empathy and a focus on the success of his communication, not simply his presentation.
- Next, particularly for senior positions Morell will a few minutes in ask a complete non-sequitir question. He then looks to see if the interviewee takes the bait and heads down the side street, ultimately failing in the goal of explaining the subject in 5 minutes, or if they decline the bait and quickly keep the ultimate goal moving ahead.
According to Morell only about two in ten interviewees will succeed in the task: organizing their thoughts, staying sensitive to the listener, not getting sidetracked, and budgeting their time to cover the topic in the five allotted minutes.
I personally found Morell’s must-ask question interesting because it resembled my most successful event in intercollegiate speech competitions during my undergraduate years: Impromptu speaking. Even the five minute speaking time was the same. I guess those old trophies in a box somewhere had more practical value than I imagined.