The Most Important Question I Ask When Interviewing Krazy Fish Candidates

We just got done with our first round of hiring in a very long while here at Krazy Fish. As we restructured our tiny agency over the past two years, leaving our first markets behind and entering a much larger and more competitive market, I realized it was going to be tough to find new hires who would work well within this new playing field.

I’ve been an employer much longer and more often than I was ever an employee. As an employee or a candidate, I’ve never been in an interview that I could call good. Mostly because the questions and interview rounds for most jobs in my profession end up telling you nothing about the potential employee they’re looking to hire.

As a rookie employer and interviewer, I made those same mistakes. We’d place an ad on a popular job board or the classifieds, we’d sift through resumes looking for some inkling of originality or dedication, then we’d call a few people in to interview and present them with what we all know are standard questions. Nine times out of ten we didn’t get the right fit, for either side involved.

So I tried making a different mistake – I asked industry peers and my network for recommendations. That too failed miserably. In this case, I opted more for a candidate’s personality and the personal recommendation of someone I knew. Unfortunately, as time would tell, neither had to do with these people being able to fill the requirements of the position we needed them to fill. And, as a small business, you really need these positions filled. We all learned that the hard way, with months of everyone’s time wasted.

The Perfect Ad

One of the reasons it took us months just to conjure up the courage to start a hiring round, even though we were obviously understaffed and in dire need of help, was that I had to think long and hard about how to craft the perfect job ad for the people we were looking for and where to place it. Then I needed to think of ways to figure out if those we called in for interviews were the right fit, lest we fall into a pool of chaos that we couldn’t afford again.

This is the ad and job description we ended up with, the goal being to attract young, energetic individuals who were looking for room to grow and who were meticulous enough to take the time to fulfill two simple requirements – a full LinkedIn profile and an answer to a client-related situation we often find ourselves in.

It worked in more ways than one. Some people didn’t even bother following those simple instructions, instead deciding to reach out to me or someone else at Krazy Fish directly through LinkedIn and email. Those, we decided, were immediately out of the running.

Then there were those who took the time to find my name, address me personally, adding personal design and signatures to their cover letters and responses, and including a completed LinkedIn profile and a well-thought out response to our client-related question. That, in and of itself, was the first round of the interview process and some people nailed it. And I didn’t even have to pick up a phone for it.

Then came the last round of the process, the actual interviews, via Skype. I wanted to get to know these individuals, their plans, their wants, their ambitions – all in the timespan of half an hour tops. After explaining at length that we are not a large, corporate-style agency and never will be, I started out with a standard where-ya-been-and-whatcha-been-doing approach and then listened carefully. I looked for signs of honesty, interrupting deliberately a few times in an attempt to deter them from any planned resposes, then listened again.

I then moved on to the classic, and usually utterly useless, question of the five or ten-year plan. But instead of asking where they “see themselves in 10 years,” I asked where they plan on living and how they picture their lifestyle in 5 years.

Some went straight to the standard, prepared response for the usual version of that question, proving they either weren’t listening or weren’t thinking. I tried again, by reiterating the question and being crystal clear – “Where will you be living? Will you be spending most days outdoors or in an office? Are you living on a beach or in a major city?”

These may seem like silly questions, but we’re a distributed, international boutique agency that often adapts to clients as their in-house team, almost seamlessly. If you’re looking for loads of structure, fancy offices, and a step up the corporate ladder – you’re most certainly not looking to work with us. And yes, that company culture thing everyone has incessantly been talking about is important to us. Not because we’ve up and decided to be picky, but because we need to gel as a team to be able to work efficiently and make a profit in today’s highly competitive and economically volatile markets.

The Question

Then came the kicker and one no one ever expects. The one question that reveals exactly whom you’re interviewing and what their personality, style, and capabilities are. I should note at this point that this is not based on any research, known psychological studies or evidence, other than what I have gathered through my experience in working with people for almost 20 years.

“What was your favorite toy or game as a child of 6 or younger?”

Now listen carefully when you toss this question out at a candidate. First comes an “umm,” or an “oh, wow,” then a giggle or a long pause. Give it time. Because after that nervous laugh or silence comes the answer that will tell you everything you need to know as an employer.

The Four Types of Employee “Kids”

The Nurturer – One favorite toy

If their favorite toy was just one particular doll, toy car, robot or ball – you’ve got yourself a nurturer. Those individuals should work great with teams and in leading teams, but they won’t be great with client relations or managing large teams – because they care about everyone too much. They’ll have a tough time learning to put their foot down. These people, however, are also great with details and will make excellent researchers, copywriters, editors, and office managers. Put their inherent nurturing skills to good use. And make sure you spend enough one-on-one time with these employees. They’ll have lots of feedback for you but will only feel comfortable offering it in private sessions.

The Manager – A life-long sports fan

If their favorite game was a sport, that’s where it gets just a little tricky. It often depends on the position they played and how successful they were at it, but generally speaking, these people make great managers. They’re all about game time, structuring plays ahead of time, and they understand that all the pieces play a part in bringing something together to win. These people may often lack tact, but what they’re missing in interpersonal skills, they make up for in leadership skills. Also, if you’ve hired this type, you’ll want to praise them in front of others and reward them for good work often. 

The Salesperson – A collection of toys or items 

If they were a kid collector of anything – Matchbox cars, Barbie dolls, figurines, stickers, baseball cards – you’ve got yourself an awesome salesperson. These people tend to have broad smiles, know how to talk to people, are great at negotiating, and have enough patience to wait for the next piece in their collection. They work well in managing teams, but they work even better in negotiating with vendors and suppliers or in client relations. And they won’t rest until their collection is complete.

The Strategist – Played well with others

And there’s one more option left – those who liked playing with others most or had a favorite place instead of a favorite toy. Did they forget which toys they even had or preferred a day at the zoo or a slumber party with friends? That there’s a strategist if I ever saw one and, as an employer, you have two options. Put their strategic skills to good use and let them run or develop a part of your business… or watch them go off on their own and build a new business within a few years. Because strategists, if unsatisfied in their current position, inevitably turn into entrepreneurs.

Krazy Fish now employs two new nurturers and one new strategist/entrepreneur. We’ll be looking for a couple of new manager-types come May. We’ll let you know when it’s game time.   

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