An Effective Guide For Interviewers

Much of our society structures itself around perceptions of intelligence. This is why, for example, students around the world are required to take numerous standardized tests. Indeed, the role of intelligence in society is the premise behind academic and job performance grading at large. As Stephen Cave of Aeon puts it, “to say that someone is or is not intelligent has never been merely a comment on their mental faculties. It is always also a judgment on what they are permitted to do. Intelligence, in other words, is political.”

For this reason, many people try to inflate others’ perceptions of their intelligence. The UK’s Daily Mail conducted a poll to measure this. Results showed that 80% of people lie to seem cleverer and more attractive than they really are. Over 50% of those surveyed admitted to changing their appearance to try and come across as smart- including wearing glasses even if they are not needed. 66% of respondents even admitted to pretending they have read classic books such as War and Peace. You can see a list of common ways people try to seem smart pictured right.

People do things like this because of the high import society places on intelligence. But the huge groups of people who try to ‘seem smart’ make it much harder  to find the people who really ‘are smart.’ There’s a big difference between seeming and being. So how do you find the best people who are right for the opportunity?

Having interviewed countless people for Georgetown admissions, analyst and intern recruiting at Fahrenheit 212, and employment at Trendify, I think I have a sense of how to determine whether someone is a great candidate.


  1. Previous experience doesn’t matter beyond a certain point — as long as people know enough, you should consider them. Studies show that unfiltered leaders (outsiders with little experience) were the most effective—and also the least effective—while highly filtered leaders (insiders with lots of experience) landed in the middle of the pack. So it becomes a question of ROI: do you want the “high risk, high reward” candidate or the average return? Venture capitalist Hunter Walk advocates the former: “Often I don’t want to bet on someone who has done the job before, but someone with the headroom and capacity to do this job and beyond.”
  2. The best employees are necessarily self-driven, intellectually curious, and hungry for success. This is self-explanatory. If a candidate can’t learn and consume knowledge, they will never bridge the experience gap. Without the qualities listed, they can’t effectively grow into the bigger and better roles.
  3. Loyalty is the greatest good. If you’re asking it of them, they better be getting it from you, and vice-versa. This is the ethical, humanistic thing to do. Your employees are human beings, not just fungible labor. Jason Fried puts it thusly: “Something I always keep in mind: Behind these people are family trees. Husbands, wives, partners, children. As a business owner I feel a responsibility to these other people too — I don’t want to create tired, anxious, resentful employees who bring those emotions home with them.”

Here are some of the questions I like to ask during job interviews:

  1. What are the four days of the week that start with the letter T? — Indicates how well the candidate can shift their perspective out of the box. For the record, the answer is Tuesday, Thursday, today, and tomorrow.
  2. Tell us about an amazing app or website we’ve never seen before. — If someone says Yik Yak or Snapchat or, worst of all, Yo, they’re not getting the job. We’re looking for deep insights into the nexus of tech, consumer behavior, and futurism. It also gives a glimpse into whether the candidate is well-read, knowledgeable about our industry, and intellectually curious.
  3. What’s the most interesting thing you did last night? — Is the candidate fun to be around? Would I go to a party with him/her? No one likes a rain cloud.
  4. Who is your greatest mentor and how did they shape your way of thinking? — Is the candidate teachable? Are they aware of how others contribute to their growth? Do they want to learn?
  5. Take your favorite classic novel and relate it to a contemporary social issue. — Can the applicant think on their feet? Are they able to connect completely disparate elements into a cohesive whole?
  6. I’m having a problem with [designing research, modifying human behavior, building a model, etc]. How would you solve that issue?—This is a case question that could be anything from designing a research study to creating a restaurant experience. This shows me how people think. Interviews should be difficult, at least as difficult as the day to day work.
  7. Teach us something in 2 minutes. — Is the applicant creative? Do they have interesting skills that others don’t have? Can they solve problems quickly but thoughtfully? This becomes very relevant with iterative methodologies.
Alright, go out and find a superhero to work with!




  1. “There’s a big difference between being and seeming.” Glad to see you making allusions to Martin Heidegger’s 1935 summer lecture series “Introduction to Metaphysics!” Of course, that exclamation is mine, not Heidegger’s.

    2 questions: 1) I’m curious to hear one or two people you’ve found to be really provocative or otherwise impressive interviewers. 2) Generally, is there any kind of gap between resumes you’ve seen and the quality of interview by the owner of the same resume? Are you ever surprised, after having seen someone’s resume, by his or her interview, or do you have any level of confidence once you’ve seen a resume that it is a good indicator of how the applicant will prove to be in person?

    1. Hi Duncan,

      Great to hear from you! Answers in order:

      1) I’ve found this exercise to be pretty solid as an interview guide. I also have a colleague at work who does great interviews; always this formula: resume review, case questions, brain teasers. Very good at stripping away polish to see whether the gears underneath work properly.

      2) I think opportunities, in many cases, accrue to those who are good at communicating their story and their value proposition. Thus, people with phenomenal resumes are often phenomenal candidates. It’s rare to see someone with an awful resume be astoundingly good; even the highly introverted can articulate interesting achievements. On the other hand, there are a number of people who have beautifully crafted resumes who are just flash with no substance. The best way to filter those out is in-person. A resume is a monologue of sorts; by creating a challenging dialogue, you can really see whether polished communication is a product of polished thinking or not.

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