The “Killer” Interview Question

Richard Sloma — who wrote No Nonsense Management way back in 1977, had a cult following among management students who enjoyed his clear, unvarnished way of handling issues. In particular, Mr. Sloma had a knack for distilling complex issues down to one or two key points.

For example, Mr. Sloma had ONE, single job interview question that he used for learning almost everything you need to know about an interviewee’s managerial competence. Are you ready? Here it is …

What was the worst mistake you ever made; and what was the worst damage you did to your employer’s P&L and balance sheet?

According to Mr. Sloma, you immediately learn four critical things about a candidate from his or her answer:

  1. The magnitude of the mistake directly identifies the level that the candidate had in his employer’s hierarchy. Mr. Sloma always reasoned that candidates cannot make big mistakes at low levels.
  2. The magnitude also demonstrates the extent to which leadership was exercised.
  3. Since few people repeat a mistake once made, you learn the depth of experience gained by the interviewee.
  4. Finally, the elaboration in the answer reveals character traits — especially the extent to which the mistake was palmed off as someone else’s fault.
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