Here's the 1 Most Important Question In Any Job Interview

If you can only ask one question in an interview, this is it. Well, maybe not specifically about Chick-fil-A—but just bear with me. Plus 7 more things worth reading today.

I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve interviewed a lot of people. I’ve been on both sides of the interview table many times.

If there’s one interview question I didn’t understand until recently, it’s this one:

Tell me: Why do you want to work here?

It always sounded to me like a throwaway question. When the interviewer didn’t have time to prepare and he or she has to ask something.

However, I’ve since learned that this is in fact the important question to ask. In fact, if you get only one question in an interview, it should be: “Why do you want to work here?”

And you should ask it over and over and over.

Hi. I’m Bill Murphy Jr. Welcome to Understandably, my new, daily email newsletter. If you haven’t signed up, I hope you will.

Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A gets the credit. I had an ah-ha moment while interviewing Maureen Donahue, who is the executive director of franchise selection for Chick-fil-A.

Out of all the franchises in the world, Chick-fil-A is probably the hardest to get. It’s much harder to get a Chick-fil-A than it is to get into Harvard:

  • Harvard 2019 admission rate: 4.5 percent

  • Chick-fil-A franchise rate: 1 percent

Why? The main reason is that a Chick-fil-A franchise costs far less than most other franchises: $10,000, including a refundable $5,000 deposit, versus potentially millions for McDonald’s.

Put that against the $4.17 million average gross revenue that an independent analysis says Chick-fil-A stores make each year. No-brainer.

As a result, something like 60,000 people take the first steps in the application process.

And so, Donahue told me that they ask this one question over and over and over during the interview process: "Why do you want to own a Chick-fil-A?”

Bottom of a ladder

It’s not just a filler; it’s not just a test to see if the applicant’s answer changes over time. In fact, Chick-fil-A expects applicants’ answers to evolve as they go through the extensive process.

Instead, it’s a reflection of the fact that the only way somebody can be successful running a Chick-fil-A job — a very challenging position, even if the financial rewards can be substantial — is if they really, really, really want to be there.

Makes sense, right? There’s a quote that people like to give Dave Eggers credit for, but I think it actually originated on the British version of The Office:

“It's better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than halfway up one you don’t.”

I’ve certainly found it to be true in my winding and varied career path.

So if you’re hiring people, the most important thing you can do is figure out if they really, really, really will want to be with you.

  • Do the requirements match their skills and goals?

  • Does the lifestyle match what’s going on in their families and other interests?

  • Does the culture and mission match their values?

The expensive way to learn the answers to these questions is to hire them and see what happens. The easier way is just to ask — and do it over and over and over.

Why do you want to work here? Why do you want to own a Chick-fil-A?

Here are 7 more things worth checking out today:

  1. Meet the once-amateur historian who collected more than 100,000 letters that soldiers sent home from war (and is now trying to preserve them). (Smithsonian Magazine)

  2. The pros behind the Fan Controlled Football League thinks it can change the world—or at least the world of sports. (The Washington Post)

  3. Russia says it’s going to see what would happen if the entire country just disconnected from the global Internet. (Defense One)

  4. Amazon quietly started rolling out 1-day shipping for products priced much less than the actual shipping costs… (Inc.com)

  5. Related? Now Amazon says its profits are being squeezed by faster shipping windows. (The Wall Street Journal)

  6. A senior Trump education official called for canceling most U.S. student debt — and then promptly resigned. (The Wall Street Journal)

  7. If you bet against Tesla, you lost big on Thursday (like, $1.5 billion big). (CBS News)

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