Use This One Question to Hire Like Warren Buffett

“We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don’t have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you’re going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb. I mean, you don’t want a spark of energy out of them. So it’s that third quality. But everything about that quality is your choice.”

Warren Buffett, Speech to UGA Students

To be hired by Warren Buffett, a candidate must be able to show that they have three traits:

  • Intelligence: Smart enough to figure things out (problem solving ability, creativity, resourcefulness).
  • Energy: Shows initiative; makes things happen (motivated). 
  • Integrity: True to their word; principled, trustworthy, and reliable. 

I fully agree with his advice, but like a lot of advice, it tells you where to aim, but it doesn’t tell you how to get there.

Over the years, I’ve relied on one primary question to see the real person and determine fit. This question reveals their story and their story tells me everything I need to know.

I ask them, “What was your very first job? Not your first “real job,” but your actual first job?” Then I ask them how they got from that first job to applying for this job. I find the whys and hows behind their actions. 

Understanding what motivated their trajectory and how they got themselves to where they are now not only reveals their intelligence, energy, and integrity, it reveals their values, which must align with the values of the company for them to be happy in the job. If they’re not happy in the job, they won’t bring their best work, and eventually they’ll quit, leaving us to start the process all over again. 

Feature image by Ed Dunens