The Best Interview Question


I’m somewhat obsessed with how to find good people to do things.

I’ve been deeply involved in hiring in information security over the last six years, and loosely involved in it for nearly two decades. The number of theories and systems and templates are legion. But I think I’m closing in on the answer.

Anyway, if you can only ask one thing, here’s what you should ask. Interestingly, it’s actually not even a question: it’s an invitation.

Tell me what you’re passionate about. What kind of problems do you like to work on. Tell me, for example, what made you choose your previous projects, and how they went…

That’s it. Prompt them and then sit back and listen. You’re having them talk about the work they’ve done in the past, which is a common thing in interviews, but you’re focusing not on statistics but the curiosity and drive that lead to them.

Why this approach works

This way of “interviewing” is effective for one primary reason: it exposes you to the real person, within a very short time window, in a way that few things can. Through the course of their response you’ll see things like:

  1. What kinds of problems excite them?

  2. Are they hands-on? A leader? A facilitator?

  3. How much do they talk about “I” vs. “we”?

  4. Do they get reminded during your conversation about other things they wish they were working on?

The main thing I look for is whether they care about those projects. Not everyone is bubbly. Not everyone is charismatic. They don’t have to be bouncing off the walls. But when people care, you can tell.

Look for the spark of interest and curiosity they had when working on those projects. Look for a drive to work on interesting problems, how they approach them, how they collaborate (or not) when doing so, and what motivates them.

If they didn’t like their previous projects, and you can tell it’s because they had no creative control over what they were working on, then ask them what problems they find interesting, and what they’d love to work on.

The simple rule is that if you’re looking for an A-player, and you can’t get any passion from them when talking about the interesting problems they’ve faced in the past, or the problems they’d like to take on now, they’re not likely to shine.

Get them talking, look for passion.


  1. Keep in mind that this is assuming that you’re hiring for a position that requires self-direction, energy, and general excellence. If you need someone to quietly do a basic or low-skill job you’ll need a different type of filter.

  2. I have a generally low opinion of interviewing in general, so even this is relatively low fidelity in my mind. People are so bad at being unbiased. All I can say is that this is a better approach than most.

  3. Everyone knows that passion is nothing without a number of supporting skills to augment it, e.g., self-discipline, the ability to work with others, etc. Ideally you’ve already proven that a person doesn’t suck horribly before you are interviewing them. Again, this is for finding exceptional people, not sifting through the masses.

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