“What’s your ultimate dream job?”
If Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, could ask only one question in a job interview, that would be it, he told me in a wide-ranging conversation on how he recruits, manages and motivates a staff of more than 14,000 employees.
“I find it so valuable because it helps me evaluate fit,” Weiner said about the dream-job question. “It also helps me get a sense of who you are by virtue of the specificity of your answer. Once you know what it is you ultimately want, you are that much more capable of manifesting it.”
And what if someone answers the question by saying they want Weiner’s job?
“I love that response,” he said. “Somebody who has that clear sense of what they want to do longer term is the kind of person you want to take the time to coach and potentially mentor, especially when they have the raw materials and the aptitude to do something like that.”
Given Weiner’s role running the professional networking site for the past decade, he’s done his share of interviewing to build his executive team. I asked him about the subtle X-factor that would draw him to one candidate over another, even if they were similar in skills and experience.
“It's connection,” he said. “There are certain people I've had the privilege to not only meet but then ultimately work with who, within a few minutes of our interview, I felt like I had known and worked with them for years. You learn over time that you share a sense of values, a sense of purpose, a sense of humor — all of these things that I think help people forge stronger connections.”
I pressed him about that sense of connection he might feel with someone. What does that look like as the working relationship unfolds over time?
“One thing that can forge that connection is a strong ability to learn from one another,” he said. “Those are some of my favorite and most valuable people I've worked with — people who come from wildly different backgrounds than myself in terms of their upbringing, work experience, domain expertise and education.
“Having awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to surround yourself with people that can fill in those gaps, is an enormously important and valuable part of building a world class team.”
Since Weiner meets so many entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, I was also curious about the advice he gives to start-up founders. What’s his single best tip?
“It would start with focus, and being able to very clearly articulate what it is that the company is ultimately trying to accomplish, and for that mission to be as singular and unique to that company as it can be,” he said. “And focus on fewer things, because with fewer things, you'll be able to do them better, it's easier to communicate, it's easier to internalize, it's easier to execute upon.”
“As companies scale,” he added, “they end up doing more things, and that's the nature of it, but with less focus and greater breadth.
“When you're starting out, understand the one thing that you want to be able to accomplish above all others. If you could only do one thing, what would that one thing be? Then do it better than anyone else.”
Adam Bryant is a CNBC contributor and managing director of Merryck & Co., a senior leadership development and executive mentoring firm. A veteran journalist, Bryant interviewed more than 500 leaders for the "Corner Office" feature he created at the New York Times. Be on the lookout for more Art of Leading interviews in the fall. Parts of this interview were edited for clarity and space.