The One Question I Ask Every Candidate

By Gary Gerdemann 

It usually comes early in the interview – within the first 15 minutes. I ask a few introductory questions to learn where the candidate sitting across from me is from and how they came to us. As a former reporter, this is interesting because everyone’s journey has dozens of stories. You can learn a lot about a person by how they tell the story of their life. So, I listen very closely to the candidate’s answers.

After that, I lower the boom. Whether we’re meeting about a senior level position or a one semester internship, I ask every single candidate the same question. And how that candidate answers The Question determines, in almost every case, whether they are a viable candidate and may continue through the process.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of different answers to The Question, including a few DNAs (Did Not Answer). Intern candidates who are still in school tend to be very tentative in answering, perhaps believing there must be a trick lurking in the question.

There is no trick.

The worst sin committed by candidates is short-changing the answer in the mistaken belief that this question is part of the warmup to the interview. For me, this question is the interview. I have made a few expections and hired a few candidates who performed poorly on this question, and to this day not a single one of those hires stands out as an exception to this rule. Through the years I have learned, when I follow my rule, I have been rewarded.

Here’s The Question:

Where do you get your news?

That’s it. The complexity of this question lies in what I am trying to solve. Our firm works on some very intricate issues. In order to serve our clients, we must predict the positions, arguments and tactics that various stakeholders may take months (and sometimes years) in advance.

This is the type of strategy work in which we specialize. And it’s not the type of work you can do if you are not actively pursuing knowledge from a wide variety of sources on a daily basis.

I’m not just looking for news junkies.

I’m looking for an intellectual curiosity that drives a person to get their information from ViceThe Wall Street JournalPoliticoBoing BoingKottke, Pinterest, HuffpoSalon, Twitter, Facebook, and a wide collection of blogs, magazines, books, feeds and other sources. The more the better – and the more unusual the source, even better.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m looking for people who can form and defend an argument. Logically. Cogently. Compellingly. Then, drop it, and take the other side and convince me again.

The ability to take a position, form a compelling argument and iterate that argument in a variety of outputs is the foundation of our work in public relations. And I’ve found no surer test of this ability than a person who demonstrates a wide range of data inputs.

Posted on March 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

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