Pick the Nosy Ones!

When was the last time you remember talking to someone, during a professional conversation, who implicitly piqued your interest and tapped into an unexpected, engaging dialogue?  Just last week, at a hotel in London, I asked the concierge, “how to best kill two hours before my next meeting.” While his job is to make recommendations, the questions he asked carried a certain comfortable nosiness. I felt his enthusiasm even before he made his suggestions. I shared a bit about my interests, where I was from, what kind of meeting I was going to (relevant to my buttoned-up suit) and with a few strategic inquiries, he narrowed down my options to just the right thing.  This kind of experience happens all of the time when you are dealing with passionate and curious professionals. 

Recently, I was asked by one of the CEO’s I work with, what is the most important “skill” I look for when recruiting new team members. While my answer is consistent, it took me years to learn this. The first thing I look for is natural curiosity.  I underscored that it is not something one can learn; I feel you either have it or don't.  

He then asked me how to interview for natural curiosity. My answer: "you don’t.” You find out quite automatically if you encounter people who are naturally curious, as the conversation is less about how they respond to your questions, but more about the questions they ask you. The conversation feels more interesting, balanced and valuable for both sides. They ask the questions, not just you; as a result, you talk about as much as they do during the interview! 

When someone in front of you is indeed naturally curious about how they (or their solutions - yes, this is just as crucial in sales as during job interviews) add true value to you, they are purposeful.  Their interest is authentic as they like the topic, company, industry and/or person they are talking with. As a result, they ask better questions and thus automatically tailor their conversation and value proposition to your needs. They draw you in, make you comfortable and show you clearly how they can help, collaboratively, to improve your situation and company.

Of course, there is a fine line between nosy and healthy curiosity.  You know when you see/hear it.  Most importantly, a professional conversation should stay on point.  There is a relevant informational exchange of business topics to hone down how they will help you and be successful. If the questions feel weird, they probably are and crossed the line: perhaps too personal or irrelevant. However, questions that make you somewhat uncomfortable is not always bad. Creating some healthy friction to challenge each party’s thinking is very good and builds rapport.  Nobody wants employees who don’t think for themselves. Don’t be afraid to answer questions about your challenges or assumptions (nor ask them). 

Let’s take the point of view of the job applicant.  As an applicant, are you there to get a job by sharing how great you are? Or, might you be there to learn more about their company and how your skills & passions can help make that hiring manager be more successful. In the first scenario, you’ll do most of the talking. In the second, it will be balanced. In the first, they will be checking a list (features) and comparing you with others. While in the second, you show how your experience applies and how you will help them (solution). To truly find a best fit, its critical for both sides to be curious. 

Look for natural curiosity in addition to the essential attributes such as cultural fit, relevant skills, meaningful experiences, academic background and historic success.  Naturally, skills plus curiosity matter, but the balance is easily overlooked before hiring. And, when it is overlooked, it is often so obvious that you can’t believe you missed it. You will probably find out in less than 2 weeks after a new hire starts that they don’t ask questions, do not collaborate nor learn from others, care little about the bigger picture or just don’t seem to care about your business like you do.  My advice - pick the nosy one! 

What do you think? I would like you learn what you look for as your number one candidate attribute. We would love to hear from you.