If Brendan Browne’s favorite interview question seems open to interpretation to you, it’s because it’s supposed to.
When someone goes to a job interview with LinkedIn’s head of recruiting, Brendan Browne, one of the first things he’ll do is hand over an erasable marker and direct you to a whiteboard on the wall.
Browne has been at the helm of the professional social network’s recruitment team since 2010, and in building his own team he’s found an unusual exercise to be the best indicator of whether he should hire a candidate, he explained to Business Insider.
He’ll ask the candidate, regardless of position, “What are you most passionate about? Using the whiteboard, explain to me the process of how it works.”
If that seems open to interpretation to you, it’s because it’s supposed to.
“Because it’s a situation that’s a bit ambiguous, they’re going to have to be really spontaneous,” Browne said.
He said, for example, that if a candidate happened to love brewing beer during their free time, he or she would be expected to draw out the brewing process and explain it. The same would be expected of a candidate with a more role-specific passion like product management.
Browne said that he learns four things from this exercise:
1. What do the candidates care about most deeply?
2. How well can they explain themselves?
3. How do they think about process?
4. How do they deal with ambiguity?
Browne subscribes to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner’s belief that the ideal employee should fit into the overlap of three areas: dreaming big, knowing how to have fun, and getting sh– done. Browne’s exercise helps him get a feel for all of these components.
“An interview assessment is hard and hyper-flawed, but really what I want to know is who the heck are you, and what is it going to feel like when you and I are working on a really hard problem and we’re working our asses off?” Browne said.
He explained that candidates are often slightly thrown by the question because they were expecting something more conventional or specific to the job they’re applying to, but their response to this feeling of unease determines whether they can handle what Browne expects of them in the workplace.
“Maybe we decide to scrap a project we’re working on or something changes, like it does all the time in business and definitely in Silicon Valley — I want to see how you deal,” he said. It’s why he thinks the answer to his favorite job interview question is “a decent leading indicator” of success in these types of situations.
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