The Most Important Interview Question Ever

Your Dream Job

“Keeping your eyes open for opportunity, even when you’re in a job you love, will put you in a better starting position when it’s truly time to move on.” — Misti Burmeister

Most of us spend more time with our co-workers than with our families, yet few ask the most important question before accepting a job, hiring a new employee, or taking on a business partner.

After nearly 10 years of running my own business, I recently had an epiphany: Working as a solo entrepreneur is not the best, most valuable way to leverage my talent. I enjoy working with others – inspiring one another and collaborating as a team. So I set out to discover my next career move.

While I had some clarity, I had more questions than anything. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do leadership development within a larger company, to partner up with a well-established firm, or to partner with others who have a similar passion but different skill sets. So I set up interviews with dozens of leaders around the globe, trusting that my path would become clearer as I began to move forward.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received so far came from John Smith, chief evangelist officer at SPARC, a company known for its phenomenal culture. He said, “Don’t work with a jerk! Ask yourself, ‘Can I imagine enjoying spending time with this person?’”

The wisdom of his words became clear several nights ago, over dinner with a potential business partner. An hour into our meal, I found myself thinking, Why isn’t the waiter bringing our check? How much longer is this going to last? I remembered John’s words and knew I’d better pay attention.

Naturally, I was giving myself all kinds of pep talks to stay engaged with this talented man. He thinks differently than I do, processes more slowly, has very different life experiences, and has lived a great deal longer. And all of these qualities could be very beneficial in a business partner.

That said, the guy almost never smiles, maintains an incredibly serious look nearly 90 percent of the time, and when I asked what he does for fun that’s not work-related, he responded, “I’ve had enough fun in my life.”

Yikes! Fun is one of my top core values, and work/life balance is also pretty high on the list. So, while this guy would probably make a great business partner for someone else, I just don’t think he’s the right match for me.

I haven’t yet made a decision about my next career move. But I gotta say, the most helpful question I’ve asked myself is, “Can I imagine sharing loads of time with this person (or these people)?” Until I know the answer is “yes,” I’ll continue with my search.

Join the Conversation
What is the most insightful interview question you have either asked or been asked? And what traits or behaviors do you find most attractive in an employee, business partner or colleague?

Keeping it simple,

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across GenerationsHidden Heroes and Power Suck.

Misti on Google+

6 thoughts on “The Most Important Interview Question Ever

  1. Wendy

    Hey Misti, thanks for the great advice. While I don’t spend a great deal of time with my business partner, I have found it extremely important to have the same core values; integrity in customer service, honesty and fair dealings with the public and one another.
    Without a similar moral code, business partnerships will end up in divorce court, just like failed marriages.

    • Misti Burmeister

      Such an excellent analogy, Wendy – business partnerships and marriage. Imagine if we took the time to “date” – test the waters – do more investigating – before accepting any kind of job or partnership. I wonder if ppl think they have “time” for this sort of dating – what if they just need to make money, stop feeling so alone, etc. The time spent upfront to ensure comparability seems shorter than the time in “divorce court” – much less the time spent unhappy, or the time wasted by not giving it your very best.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Dale S. Brown

    The phrase I’ve heard for your question is “the airport test.” Would I be happy to be in an airport for eight hours with this person?

    But be careful. Sometimes this kind of questioning leads to discrimination – against minorities, gender, and age. So question yourself and base your decision on actual behavior not gut feeling alone.

    • Misti Burmeister

      Thank you for your comment, Dale! Great suggestion! How would a person know if they’re discriminating based on disabilities? What questions would you suggest they ask themselves?

  3. Jonathan Kraft

    I think your question is a great one Misti!

    I would add to it a secondary qualifier:

    Can I imagine sharing loads of time with this person (or these people)…
    in the role that I would play in this environment?

    Because in every business there are roles that have to be filled, and someone has to fill those roles, or at least fill the role of finding the people to get things done.

    I often find myself migrating to whatever role I need to be in at the time in order to get things done, but that can be very frustrating for everyone involved.

    I think your question is a great place to start because if you are going to have difficulty spending time with the people you’re working with, then it’s going to break down quickly.

    Then it becomes important to make sure you’re able to work in the role you want to work in, in the partnership, finding team mates whose strengths are your weaknesses, so that you can work in the roles you want to be in.

    Great article Misti!

    • Misti Burmeister

      Excellent addition, Jonathan! I think what you’re referring to is finding a position that plays to your natural strengths – there’s an awesome test out there called the Core Value Index (CVI) – its produces by Taylor Protocols. I’ve never been the strongest fan of personality tests – this one is valuable! Actually, the test itself is great, but what makes it valuable is when a skilled practitioner takes you through it – Bill Clark of Clark Leadership took me through my results … I learned a lot!

      I wonder, Jonathan, how do you ensure you end up in the right position?

      Ty for your comment!


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