Answering Facebook’s “killer” question

Robey Jenkins, HR Manager for Age UK Gloucestershire, shares his weekly blog ‘Faith, HR and Charity’ with us – This week, he shares a story about Answering Facebook’s “killer” question.

 

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So, according to the Guardian, Facebook’s own global head of recruiting, Miranda Kalinowski, thinks that the most important question they ask candidates is:

“On your very best day at work – the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world – what did you do that day?”

Inevitably, the online world of HR professionals has been all a-twitter with their own answers and I’m going to give you mine… eventually.  Because I actually want to explore what makes this a useful question to ask – as well as what makes it a bad question to ask!

Miranda explains it as being about trying to see if the candidate shares the passions of Facebook.  But – and I hope she’ll forgive me as I only have the Guardian’s report to go on – I think that’s somewhat disingenuous.  The first question it answers is “is this candidate capable of enjoying their job?”

It’s sad, but many people aren’t.  For some people, the only part of their job that’s satisfying is quitting.  Now, it has to be admitted that some jobs are just spectacularly unpleasant.  The worst job I ever had was for a sock importer.  My employer had two companies.  One manufactured socks and the other imported them.  I was the only employee of the importer.  I worked in the same warehouse as the manufacturing staff, but in a separate corner so I didn’t converse with another human being for the entire day.  The job involved removing socks from one box, repackaging them with the importer’s branding and putting them back into another box.  For eight hours a day, five days a week.  Thankfully, it only lasted three months.  But, even in that, there was room to enjoy the work: settling into a Zen-like pattern with Radio 4 on my headphones.

Of course, there are worse jobs than that, and I count myself lucky that socks were as bad as it ever got.  But even for seasonal fruit-pickers and septic-tank cleaners, the capacity to find joy in our work is a vital part of staying sane and healthy.  Asking yourself the Facebook question is a great starting point to understanding what gives you joy – what circumstances, tasks and outcomes give you a sense of work-happiness?  Once you know what they are, whether or not you want a job at Facebook, you can prioritize those things, treasure them when they come, appreciate them while they last, remember them in the past and anticipate them in the future.  And you should find that your “best day at work” becomes a frequent occurrence instead of a red letter day.

That way, when you get asked the question, part of the answer will be immediately apparent.  If you’re asked what makes up your best day at work and your brow creases and your eyes narrow as you try to formulate an answer, even before you open your mouth, the interviewer knows that you are struggling to remember your best day and, even more, struggling to remember what made it good!  If, on the other hand, your face lights up and you smile, the interviewer knows that the memory is fresh and clear in your mind: they’re about to get a great answer.

Which brings us to the other thing that the question does that is good: it makes you quantify what’s good about work.  It’s one thing to have a vague idea that doing something creative contributes to having a good day, but of all the many creative things you do, which specific one lights that happiness fire?  Being explicit – having to say out loud what contributes to a “best” day – is a really great way to understand your work happiness.  By asking you to say it out loud, a Facebook interviewer gets to see immediately not only whether you can be happy at work, but whether you’ve actually thought about how you can be happy at work.

But there are, as I suggested, risks to using a question like this.  It’s a similar risk to asking things like “what’s your greatest weakness?” and “where do you see yourself in five year?”  First, there’s the risk of an honest answer.

“I earned £50,000 for two hours’ work, no one had to take their clothes off and no one got hurt.”

For most people, that would be a terrific day at work.  For most of them it’s never happened.  But it would be a great day if it did!

Second, inevitably, is the risk of the dishonest answer: the answer the candidate thinks you want to hear.  Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, addressed this.  Now, it’s helpful on the one hand to know that the candidate is inclined to tell you what you want to hear or to lie to their own advantage.  But it’s much better to ask questions that don’t positively encourage your candidates to dissemble.  You can spot a dissembling answer from a mile away and it devalues everything else the candidate has said.

Given that the question isn’t directly related to any specific competency or attitude, whatever Miranda may say, it puts managers into a bind if the candidate has shown every other capability they need but then makes up an answer to this one.  Do you ignore this terrible answer and offer him or her a job anyway?  In which case, why ask the question?  Or do you decline to offer them the job despite them fitting the bill in every other respect?  There aren’t many managers – especially in technical fields – that would be prepared to reject a candidate on the basis of a dissembling answer to a wishy-washy question.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good question.  It’s a good question to ask ourselves.  It’s a good question to ask our team members.  It’s a good question to ask our friends and family.  But it’s not a great interview question.

That said, my answer goes like this:

My best day starts early – ideally before anyone else in my floor has arrived at work.  This means I get to read my emails in peace with a cup of tea.  I’ll usually check the headlines at the CIPD and HR News websites in case there’s anything big in the world of HR that didn’t make it onto the Today Programme.  My best day will mean at least one face-to-face meeting and at least one new professional contact.  I will do something creative (like write a blog).  I will completely fix one problem to my satisfaction.  I will take a long lunch.  I will leave on time.

And, of course, I’ll earn £50,000 for two hours’ work.  No one will take their clothes off and no one will get hurt.

Author: Editorial Team

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