If you’re familiar with the phrase “Rube Goldberg” (or you remember the breakfast machine in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure), you know that it refers to a deliberately complicated machine that performs a very simple task. At work, many of us have known people who are the human equivalents of a Rube Goldberg machine: they complicate every assignment or task they touch. They’re known for constantly bottlenecking projects, wasting resources, and an unmistakable allergy to workarounds or timesavers.
On the other end of the spectrum are simplifiers. These folks naturally seek the most efficient path, and are highly receptive to change that leads to better or faster outcomes. Their daily approach to work is uncluttered by minutiae or ego, and their efficiency adds enormous value to their organization. These are also the kind of people with whom I most enjoy working so I’ve learned to identify them during the hiring process. Is it really possible to recognize a simplifier during a first interview? Absolutely—when you’re armed with these 12 hiring questions and a few pro tips for interpreting candidate’s answers.
The 12 interview questions for effective and easy hiring
1. If you could do one thing at your previous or current company to instantly simplify your work, what would it be?
2. Can you share an example when you were frustrated by a company that made things purposefully complicated?
3. Can you share an example of a successful workaround you created to simplify a frustrating process or system? Was it adopted as the new protocol?
4. When you encounter an individual who makes things needlessly complex, how do you respond?
5. How would you measure simplicity in an organization?
6. What circumstances are optimal for achieving simplicity?
7. Would you rather construct a new, simple product/service from scratch or simplify a current product/service that’s plagued with complexity?
8. Can you share a situation—either in your personal or professional life—where you were utterly overwhelmed by complexity and found a way to simplify things?
9. In your opinion, what prevents people with unnecessarily complicated schedules from simplifying and freeing up their time?
10. If you experience resistance to your simplification efforts, how do you respond?
11. From the existing job description for this role, which 3 objectives should we cut and why?
12. If hired, what are a few ways you might make simplification a habit within your group?
During interviews, look for examples of the candidates’ approach to simplification in their answers. True simplifiers can easily and passionately explain their philosophy, and share stories about a process or task that they proudly streamlined or eliminated. They’re honest about the resistance they faced along the way, and can offer detailed, firsthand accounts of their experience.
Conversely, beware of candidates who generalize or toss around business jargon in lieu of specifics. If you hear language about “minimizing bureaucracy” or “getting rid of red tape” without personal examples, you’re likely interviewing a status-quo complicator. If the only anecdotes they can share are business news stories or second-hand descriptions of simplicity in action, that’s also a red flag.
By utilizing the hiring questions above—and eventually adding a few of your own—you’ll increase the chance of hiring your next simplifier, instead of another complicator whose solution to every problem is a Rube Goldberg machine.