The One Interview Question You Should Ask

The One Interview Question You Should Ask

This question is guaranteed to reveal the most organized, analytical, and efficient candidates.

Interview Chairs


"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 five minutes to explain it. At the beginning of the five minutes you shouldn't assume anything about what I know, and at the end I should understand whatever is most important about this topic. During the five 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."

-- Kevin Morrill, CTO and co-founder of Referly, a San Francisco-based start-up. He has used this question more than 200 times.

"It is amazing how many candidates will not premeditate before diving into this interview question," adds Morrill on the Referly blog. "What's most incredible about this is how accurately it predicts disorganized and non-goal directed behavior on the job. I’ve been overruled a few times by my manager on a hiring decision, and this question was a harbinger of things to come. Conversely, the people who think it through and have a few crystal clear points are amongst the best people I’ve worked with."

Before using the question, consider these pointers:

"As they start explaining, I make sure to have the most vacant look on my face possible," writes Morrill. "I do not give any ‘uh huh’ or ‘I see’ kind of interjections that underlie most conversations. A star candidate will pick up on this and ask if I understand so far.

"Explaining by analogy is a shortcut some of the best candidates use. One example I heard while someone was teaching me the basics of poker was to take advantage of the fact I had played backgammon even though I hadn’t played poker. He talked about how in backgammon all the pieces on the board are exposed information that both players can see, but in poker you have hidden information. These types of explanations go a long way towards quickly communicating an idea with all kinds of implications very succinctly.”

Morrill notes that "only one or two out of every 10 candidates will do well on all these points." But those numbers should improve: At press time, Referly was hiring for engineering and marketing positions. We’re guessing the new candidates will be a little more prepared.