A Great Interview Question, from VMWare CEO Paul Maritz


It's becoming obvious that "Where do you see yourself in two/five/10 years?" just isn't cutting it as an interview question.(Yet many interviewers continue to ask it. Or so my job-hunting friends tell me.)


At Google, job candidates are sometimes asked questions like "How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?" so interviewers can observe a candidate's thought process, determine if the he/she can think quickly under pressure, and see how he/she articulates his or her ideas, I wrote in a post about Google's hiring process. In another post, I included some interview questions from Zappos and from hedge fund Watershed Asset Management, two companies that value a close cultural fit in their hires.


I found another interview question I really liked, in a New York Times Q&A with VMWare CEO Paul Maritz. In the last question of the interview, which is mostly about leadership and is well worth a read, Maritz discusses his hiring process. He says he likes to pick anything a candidate has done in the past and ask, "Thinking about it now, what would you have done differently? What did you learn from that?"


That's a great interview question that requires a lot more honest self-analysis than "Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses." I mean, I think we all know the correct answer to the "weaknesses" questions is something along the lines of "I'm just too driven. I care too much about my work," or "I sometimes drive my colleagues crazy with my perfectionism and exacting attention to detail."


Asking someone how they would change their past actions, knowing what he/she knows now, is likely to yield a much more revealing answer, one that will actually help you determine whether a candidate will be a good fit for your company. Says Maritz:

... If they blame everything that happened during that period on somebody else, that tells you that the person is probably not thoughtful or self-aware. If they can talk in length about what was really going on, why they made the decisions they did and how they would perhaps make the decision differently now, that tells you that this person thinks deeply and is honest enough to really be objective, or as objective as they can be about themselves.