Is there one question we can ask that will help us figure out what we want to do with our lives at work?
It may not be the only question, but asking ‘What was your best day ever?’ serves a variety of situations:
You have an interview tomorrow and you need a question to ask the interviewer to get a deeper sense of their work.
You are an employer and you have a slate of candidates to interview and you need to find someone who will commit to your organization’s goals.
You are meeting with a networking contact and only have a few minutes to gain some understanding of what it takes be successful in their chosen profession.
You are just trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.
In an interview, asking a potential employer about their best work day will tell you quickly whether they enjoy their work and give an indication on how they fit into their organization’s culture. You can then compare the answer to your own priorities. Is this a place where you could be successful?
Lew Cirne, the chief executive of New Relic, a software analytics company based in San Francisco described his process for interviewing candidates in an interview with Adam Bryant for the Corner Office column in The New York Times. “One question I ask more often than others is, “Describe a day where you’ve just had the greatest working day of your life. You’re driving home and you’re on cloud nine. What was it about that working day that made you so happy?” If you’re doing what you love to do and it gives you that tingle down your spine, you’re going to execute at a high level.”
If you are considering a new career or a new organization, talking to people engaged in those careers and organizations is an important source of information in your research. Asking each person about their best work day ever will give you a sense of what they love about their work and the tradeoffs they have made to achieve success. It provides a hint of who they really are and why they do what they do.
Ask yourself the question. Better yet, ask a friend to ask you the question. And after you have answered, ask them to tell you what you said. Where were the smiles in your narrative? What were you describing when the energy changed? What did they hear that told them about your values and priorities?