By Gordon Buchanan

How do you hire a great team? What should you look for in people you are interviewing and hiring?

I have hired almost two dozen people in my five years at WRAL Digital Solutions and not all have worked out. I believe there is a single binding factor among the folks that have been most successful here, and I think this factor applies to many successful people around the world. It is not “hard work” or “spending more time at the office” and it is NOT more training, or more resources, or more help from management.

It’s inherent curiosity and subsequent problem-solving.

To help explain why I believe this (and how it influences my hiring technique) we’re going to turn to a real-life scientific experiment that illustrates the relationship between knowledge and success.

In 1930 two behavioral psychologists at UC Berkley developed a truly groundbreaking experiment to prove a theory called “latent learning.” Edward Tolman and C.H. Honzik set out to prove that knowledge can be learned through experience, but it isn’t necessarily exhibited until there is an incentive to display it. (Think of a child learning how to calculate trigonometry but not actually putting the skill into practice until much later in their life.)

To illustrate their point they built a maze and released rats at the entrance, assuming they would eventually find a viable escape. During the experiment they found that the rat would inevitably fail multiple times, but would learn over time the correct path to take and would find the exit. They would not be able to put it all together after a single run through, but only over time as they learned and improved.

Those who are most successful are not rats in a maze.

They are those who stand up on two legs, look over the top of the maze, and wonder how they can charter the path more effectively.

Successful people do not show up at an office every day, sit down at their desk and go through the motions. They question how things work. They thirst for knowledge. They zealously snuff out inefficiency and devise better solutions to the problems plaguing their organizations – without being ordered to do so by their manager. Change happens faster now than ever, and it should not be 100% incumbent on management to dictate an employee’s every move. 

Those who are most successful are NOT rats in a maze. Knowing this, we can apply the findings of the experiment to a job interview.

Each candidate is unique and the questions will always differ depending on the job they’re applying for, the candidate’s background, the personality of the team they would be joining, and the level of responsibility the job will require. I vary each interview to match the person and the opportunity the best I can, with the least amount of bias or emotional sway. But, there is one question I ask every candidate no matter what. It’s one that I feel puts them on the spot, makes them have to think quickly and shows their ability not only to ad lib, but to problem solve and iterate on solutions until they successfully exit the maze:

“Pick a complicated topic you are passionate about and explain it to me in laymen’s terms as if I know absolutely nothing about it.”

There is a lot of power in this question because it forces someone out of their comfort zone. It necessitates them to immediately produce a complicated subject, process how they will explain it, decide which steps are necessary to include/which to leave behind, and verbalize it in a way that is entertaining, comprehensive, and yet still succinct.

I use this question to determine if someone can react quickly and effectively. I need to know that everyone I hire is capable of complex thought. Businesses need people who can step back from their given duties, look at the actual end goal they are being asked to achieve, and decipher whether or not the way it’s done is the best way to meet and surpass those goals.

An organization should improve incrementally and continuously, and this requires smart people at every level to stand up on two legs, look over the top of the maze, and figure out a better way to get to the exit.

If you are interested in being a part of a team that is looking over the top of the maze, check out our current job openings and submit your application.

WRAL Digital Solutions

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