The One Question I Ask In Every Interview

I interview a lot of people — mostly developers, sometimes product managers, and occasionally directors or VPs. I ask this regardless of discipline or level:

Teach me something.
Anything. Something you think is interesting and relevant. Maybe something you’ve learned recently. You don’t have to be an expert on it, but you should know enough to explain it properly. Something you can teach in 10 minutes.

I want to know if I’m able to learn from you. I want to know if your team will be able to learn from you.

That’s essentially the reason I ask this question. It’s a key part of our company culture. There is literally no role at FreshBooks where teaching the people around you is not a part of your job. Whether it be interns or senior execs, I ask and expect this from them everyday.

Here’s a couple of things I’ve asked and learned just in the last few days:

  • I asked Tobi, a dev on my team: I see you’ve used ES6 generators in your code, how does that work exactly?
  • I asked Marcus, an analyst on the Finance team: Explain to me how cohort analysis works. Should I apply it to measure the impact of this feature I’m adding?

Sometimes junior developers say to me “you probably already know …”. Teach me anyways — you’ll be surprised how little I know.

It doesn’t matter if I already know it

In the context of an interview, someone may teach me something I’m already familiar with. That’s totally fine. What I’m really looking for is this:

  • Can you communicate the concept effectively?
  • Do you have more than just a surface level understanding of it?
  • Do you seem genuinely interested in explaining it or does it seem like a drag to you?

Ability to learn is good. Ability to teach what you’ve learned is great.

It’s not just for interviews

Me pretending to point at something

This is not something I only ask in interviews. My team regularly has a “Teach me something” meeting, where anyone can share something they’ve learned during the last sprint. It’s basically an informal lightning talk session on a Friday afternoon over a couple of beers. No prepared presentations (we have lunch and learns for that), just people going up to the whiteboard or sharing something on the projector.

Ask me to teach you something

Lastly, if I ask you to teach me something, surely you can ask the same of me. Interviews are just as much about you evaluating me as it is about me evaluating you.

So please, teach me something and ask me to teach you something.

Speaking of which, here’s something I can teach you right now: How FreshBooks democratizes technical design by applying lean UX principles

If you liked this post or you’re going to use this question in your interviews, I’d appreciate a ♡ below.

If you want me to ask you this question in an interview, apply for a job at FreshBooks ;)

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