There's one question I try to ask every professional athlete I interview: "Which drives you more: Loving to win or hating to lose?"
The answer requires a little self-reflection. A little thought. Even, sometimes, a little harmless self-disclosure.
For people used to answering the same questions so frequently, often almost robotically, it often sparks a genuine conversation.
So, yeah: I've always felt kind of smart for asking it.
Then I found out that Mike Morini, an ex-professional athlete and the CEO of WorkForce Software, has a much better use for that question: He uses it to break the ice when he interviews job candidates.
"Candidates are naturally nervous at the beginning of a job interview," Morini says. "Asking, 'Do you love winning more than you hate losing, or do you hate losing more than you love winning?' brings a smile to people's faces. They visibly relax. They realize this interview will be a little different. And it gives me the opportunity to see how well they think on their feet ... especially about a question where there is no right or wrong answer."
Granted, the answers do tend to fall into buckets. For example, salespeople hate to lose. Marketing professionals tend to love to win. (As for professional athletes? The vast majority hate to lose a lot more than they love to win.)
Regardless, the answer lends itself to natural, conversational follow-up questions. A time you turned a sure defeat into a victory. A time you lost, and what you did to make sure you wouldn't lose next time.
Strategies employed, lessons learned ... If, as an interviewer, you're listening, you may never need to reach for your list of prepared questions -- because the best interviews are conversations, not question-and-answer sessions.
As for Mike? He hates to lose more than he loves to win.
"If you prepare, and do your homework, and put in the work ... you should expect to win. And when you don't, it pisses you off," Mike says, laughing. "But sometimes, especially when you're trying to seize an opportunity, you don't have time to prepare. In that case, you may even assume you'll lose -- which is when a love for winning can really drive you."
Again, there is no right or wrong answer. Results matter; how you get there -- at least in terms of the motivation you gain from gaining victory or avoiding defeat -- doesn't.
Try it. If you want to help job candidates relax and ease their way into an interview, don't ask the standard interview icebreaker, "Tell me about yourself." Most candidates have workshopped that question to death.
Instead, ask, "Do you love winning more than you hate losing, or do you hate losing more than you love winning?"
And then actually listen to the candidate's answer. Think about what he or she said, not the next question on your list.
Just think about what you hear, and then ask a question you would ask if you were having a conversation.
Because it will feel a lot more natural, you will enjoy the interview a lot more -- and so will great candidates, since they will be able to relax, get into a conversational flow, and give you their best.
Which is exactly what you, as an interviewer, really want.