Before making a job offer to any candidate, I always ask them one question. It’s simple yet wide-ranging, and in my experience it’s the key to building an inclusive, open-minded workforce. The question is: “Are you willing to be wrong about your opinion on the world?”
Why I Ask It
I see this interview question as an invitation. It’s an opportunity for someone to challenge their own assumptions and sense of being knowledgeable, competent, and in tune with their environment. Most job interviews, in contrast, ask candidates to demonstrate those things to recruiters and hiring managers. So asking a question like this may sound counterintuitive, if not flat-out detrimental, to making good hires.
But it isn’t. Cultivating a diverse and inclusive organization means hiring people whose ability to connect with others is as important as their ability to improve themselves. If you wait until the onboarding process to instill these mentalities, it may already be too late. Starting from the hiring process, organizations have an opportunity–even responsibility–to bring in employees who willingly question the parameters of their personal worldviews and examine their own assumptions. That habit isn’t just a company value or an element of your overarching work culture, it’s an individual skill set that you can actually hire for.
And in my experience, most candidates respond in one of two ways:
- “Yes, I am willing to be wrong about my ideas and opinions.”
- “What do you mean by that?”
The goal for hiring managers isn’t to look for a positive response–there’s no “right” answer. Asking this question is simply a way to get candidates to reflect on their own empathy, curiosity, and self-awareness. And it’s a chance for hiring managers to learn whether a prospective seeks to understand as well as to be understood.
What “Yes” Tells Me
People who respond quickly and affirmatively usually cite their willingness to learn. Lifelong learning–the continuous, self-directed pursuit of new knowledge and ideas–is indeed crucial. Every organization needs employees who are capable of changing and adapting, questioning what they thought they knew, and picking up knowledge they hadn’t possessed before. And in the creative process, being willing to be wrong means you are open to improving your existing ideas and opinions; innovation depends on it.
Diversity and inclusivity also depends on it. Being a diverse organization means people will be working alongside people not like them. Inclusivity can only be achieved when the same lifelong learning mind-set is applied to how we approach interaction with others. Anyone who joins an organization that is serious about diversity and inclusivity has to be willing to get to know and understand others and be capable of changing, adapting, and questioning what they thought they knew about different groups of people. It requires asking questions, being genuinely interested in peoples’ perspectives, and accepting differences as equal.
When a candidate answers yes, because it’s what they think the hiring manager wants to hear, ask further questions to explore their opinions and perspective on things currently happening in the world. A conversation like this will provide an opportunity for them to unearth assumptions they hold about groups of people, and consider new ideas and information that would challenge them.
What “I’m Not Sure” And Other Responses Mean
Candidates who consider the question deeply, however, almost always hesitate before answering. It’s an uncomfortable thing to be asked on a job interview, and self-aware candidates will realize that there may be times when they’ll have trouble challenging their own opinions or worldviews.
After all, our personal worlds are often small, yet we shape our most deeply held beliefs from them nonetheless. Our opinions are formed from our personal experiences, and they become fixed because we believe our opinions are accurate. Organizations that are working toward becoming more diverse and inclusive typically know how hard it is to push beyond these basic human biases. So do many job candidates, who might honestly respond with things like:
- “I’ve never thought about that before.”
- “That’s an interesting line question.”
- “I’ll have to think about that.”
For many, it may well be the first time they’ve thought about how fixed their opinions and views might be. Reactions like these create room for dialogue and an opportunity for self-reflection. But no one says, “Sorry, but my views are pretty fixed”–that wouldn’t be very smart, since it would suggest a lack of self-awareness. The answer is only “no” when there’s no interest or desire to examine the world outside of your own personal experiences.
Openness goes beyond the simple acknowledgement that alternative opinions exist. It’s a willingness to acquire information from various sources and seek input from people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. You can’t have inclusivity without curiosity. To cultivate a truly authentic and inclusive organization, open people are essential, and this question can help you find them.
Yewande Ige is a global recruitment strategist at ThoughtWorks, which helps companies invent a new future and bring it to life with technology. In her 13 years at the company, Yewande has helped ThoughtWorks grow from several hundred progressive technologists to a diverse 4,000-person organization. Watch her recent talk at LinkedIn Talent Connect on uprooting bias.