My Questions

August 9, 2008

It’s amazing what you can find out about a person with a couple of simple questions. This can be both fun and important when meeting someone new and a couple of years ago two questions popped into my head that I’ve been asking people ever since. My questions aren’t all that original, but I love them all the same.

Sometimes in interviews you get asked questions like, “if you were a fruit, what fruit would you be”. While it can be fun to watch people squirm over abstract questions like that, I’m not convinced that they tell you much about a person. All you really find out is how comfortable they are with abstractions, maybe it’s useful when interviewing someone for a management role but not useful in getting to know them.

I like questions that can start conversations. If someone tells me that they’d be an apple, what am I going to ask them after that? No matter what the follow-up question is, it would take a very special person to turn that into an interesting conversation. So asking someone what type of fruit they’d be almost feels like you’re setting them up to fail.

In general I don’t think it matters what question(s) you ask a person, as long as those questions can start a conversation. My two favorite questions are, “where would you go if time and money weren’t factors?” and “what would you learn if time and ability wasn’t an issue?”. I love these questions because the answers I get are so insightful.

These questions can tell you so much about a person because there is more to the answer than the answer itself. If someone replies, “I don’t know” to either of these questions you can probably assume that they aren’t dreamers or maybe that they are very shy. I’d suggest ending the conversation if they reply with, “I’ve already been everywhere and know everything”.

You can also get insights on someone’s past with these two questions. If they reply very quickly and with great detail it’s likely that the person really loves to travel and always has ideas for trips. What does it tell you about a person if they answered with the Egyptian pyramids (maybe a history fan), Darfur (could be a caring person), the Moon (trail blazer) or the Jedi Temple from Star Wars (might not be grounded in reality)?

The answers for what you’d learn are especially interesting, simply because time is more of a restriction than ability. However, some people don’t recognize this which makes me wonder how confident they are in themselves. Also, from what I can tell most people would choose to learn something in a totally different area than their day to day life. This is very interesting but not all that surprising when you think about it.

The nice thing about these questions is that there is absolutely no wrong answers, only insightful answers. Maybe we’ll both discover that we have a lot in common, maybe our own dreams will even be expanded or maybe we’ll both realize that we’re not likely to get along. These are all fantastic outcomes in my mind.

So if I haven’t asked you these questions yet, you’ve got time to think up some answers. Even better yet, surprise me with some questions of your own and we’re sure to have a great conversation.