My Favorite Job Interview Question

Famous business people like to go on record describing a killer interview question they always use. I have my own such question, and I can humbly claim that it’s better than any other I’ve seen so far. The question is very simple: “What would you like to do when you grow up?” Before you keep reading, imagine yourself in an interview setting and try to answer this question. Forget about your childhood answer. Back then you were likely asked what you want to be when you grow up, not what you want to do. So, what would you like to do when you grow up?

Got the answer?

I know that this seemingly trivial question is very powerful for a simple reason: most candidates have a hard time answering it. I typically hear one of the following wrong answers:

  1. “I have no plans, I just play it by ear”.
  2. “I’d like to do pretty much the same stuff I’m doing now”.
  3. “I’m already grown up” (that’s the saddest and “wrongest” one).

I like this question because it gauges the candidate’s ability to articulate abstract ideas about their future self. It forces them to think long-term and tell what is hopefully an engaging and touching story that ties their past, present, and future into a single narrative. It’s fascinating to watch candidates struggle to respond to this deceivingly simple question and try to come up with answers on the spot. Rarely do I see a candidate whose career is well thought of, and who’s on-track with their execution plan. The fact that most people struggle to come up with a clear plan is, more than anything, a testament to their inability to understand the dynamics of the business world, tainted by hubris and fear. I don’t blame them for that, but I do wish more people would have this figured out.

Next time you interview a candidate, ask them this question and witness the magic. It’s important to use it towards the end of the interview after you (hopefully) created some rapport with the interviewee. And if you are being asked this question, remember that it’s likely the most important one because your reply transcends the interview and indeed your tenure at that job. In fact, having a well thought of answer is essential for having a better career and a happier life.