Recently, I participated in a series of short interviews with Forbes where tech industry insiders and executives were asked about what to look for when hiring. I told the magazine that it can be difficult to see if the person being interviewed has a “willingness to learn.” One sure fire flag indicating this willingness is if the interviewee admits to not knowing all the answers. I just wanted to clarify what precisely I meant by this, and how it deals with a more macro-sized problem with how the interview process has changed in the past decade or two.
When some think of “job interview questions,” they look at it like a high-school test to cram for, or some sort of swindle pulled on interviewees to “trick” them into revealing something they don’t want to.
The classics—like “What is your biggest weakness” or “Tell me about a time you broke the rules to accomplish your goals”—are those kinds of questions. Meant to be revelatory, interviewees just find rote answers on job-help blogs instead of answering the question honestly. In part, I think, most do this because they feel like “trick” questions meant to entrap a potential employee.
When I say I want to elicit an “I don’t know” answer from interviewees, I don’t mean I am trying to stump them with trivia. I ask genuine questions and hope for genuine answers. A lot of times, I don’t even know the “right” answer to these sorts of inquiries. While saying “I don’t know” might feel like the “wrong” answer, to me it signifies that the potential employee is aware of his or her limits, is willing to be honest with me, and can identify “known unknowns” and wants to solve those problems.
It’s almost a cliché at this point, but working for an innovative and growing company is like being part of a family. A person joins the group and has specific responsibilities, but as the “family” grows and things change, so might those responsibilities evolve.
A willingness to learn about what one doesn’t know is an essential part of what it takes to work for companies like ours. We are an industry-leader offering a vital service to our clients in a competitive space—and that won’t change any time soon. But we are also looking to the future in order to deliver innovations never before thought possible. Living amidst this thick fog of invention demands the dedication of a pliant and curious team.
At Lexalytics, we don’t want to hire people who know the “recommended answer” for interview questions, just as we don’t want to fall into the trap of asking the same-old clichés you see elsewhere. We want to know what our potential colleagues are capable of and understand them as people. It’s a partnership founded in honesty, not deception.
When developing our products and services, we always begin with a question which is answered by “I don’t know.” Because as soon as you realize that you don’t have the answer, you’ve freed yourself to go find it.