Hiring Wisdom: The Most Important Interview Question You Need to Ask

Photo by istockphoto.com
Photo by istockphoto.com

If you’ve ever arrived late to a movie, you know figuring out what happened during the time before you took your seat can be extremely frustrating. Without having all the right facts in the right order, what you see and hear after the action begins can lead you down a lot of blind alleys.

The exact same thing happens when you begin an interview by asking applicants about their current or last job.

Most interviewers ask applicants about their last jobs first and most applicants have a canned answer because they know the question is coming. Starting an interview with a question about the last job puts you in the position of trying to move forward by going backward.

Ask this question because…

Any work history makes more sense when viewed from the beginning, which is why the first and most important question every interviewer needs to ask is “Tell me about your very first paying job. What was the first thing you ever did to earn money?” Even first-time workers have done something to earn money; and if their primary job was staying in school, that answer still gives you a lot of information.

The reason to ask this question is to get a good idea of applicants’ values and work ethics. Psychologists tell us most of our values are established early in life. Although, in theory, these can later be changed and adapted with conscious effort, in practice, most people carry the values they learned as children throughout life. As the president of Nordstrom’s said when he was asked who trained his employees, “Their parents did.”

Applicants take these values into their first jobs where they begin to evolve a personal work ethic. First jobs are the boot camps where applicants learned how to deal with money, customers, co-workers and job responsibilities.

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Though values are largely learned at home, at school, and on the first job, strong value ties exist between members of the same generation. Demographers tell us generations are characterized and defined by events that leave a lasting emotional impact.

Studies show regardless of whether they grew up in the suburbs, inner city, or on a farm, Millennials were universally affected by the boom and bust economy in which they grew up, the massacre at Columbine, 9/11, and the war in Iraq. As a result, Gen Y expects to earn money on its own terms because its generational values prioritize respect for individual needs.

This was originally published on Mel Kleiman’s Humetrics blog.

Mel Kleiman, CSP, is an internationally-known authority on recruiting, selecting, and hiring hourly employees. He has been the president of Humetrics since 1976 and has over 30 years of practical experience, research, consulting and professional speaking work to his credit. Contact him at mkleiman@humetrics.com.