Closing The Gap

This Lyft executive asks a go-to interview question about failure at work — how to answer it

Lyft's general counsel Kristin Sverchek.
Photo credit: Lyft

As Lyft's general counsel, Kristin Sverchek is responsible for overseeing all of the company's legal and compliance efforts in the United States and Canada.

Before becoming a full-time employee at the ride-sharing company in 2012, Sverchek worked as an outside counsel for Lyft for a little over two years. Having seen the company grow from five employees to a staff of thousands, Sverchek has played a pivotal role in helping the company hire the right people for its legal team.

To see if someone is a good fit for the job, she tells CNBC Make It that she relies on one simple go-to interview question.

"I like to ask [candidates] what is a really hard situation they've encountered at work and what did they learn from it," she says. "And how did they get out of it?"

The Lyft Driver Hub is seen in Los Angeles, California.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Sverchek explains that she likes this question "because as driven and success-minded as most of us are, we all make mistakes at times." That's why she says she really looks for people to be transparent about how they've handled a situation that didn't work in their favor.

"I'm actually not looking for somebody who has 100% perfection because that's not achievable," she emphasizes. "I'm looking for somebody who knows how to manage a difficult situation under extreme stress."

Similar to Sverchek, Facebook's vice president of product design, Julie Zhuo, also likes to test how well a candidate responds to failure or making a mistake at work. That's why, she says, her favorite interview question is, "Hey, tell me about a hard situation — something really challenging that you went through in the last year or last two years."

After a person describes the situation, Zhuo then asks them, "Well, if you can go back to the very beginning and change anything about how you went through it, what would you do differently?"

Asking this question, Zhuo explains, allows her to "hear a candidate and how they introspect." So when delivering a response, she says a candidate should never be afraid to detail how they've grown and learned from an experience.

"I can easily tell if this is the kind of person who goes [and] approaches new opportunities with a growth mindset," she says. "Are they excited to learn? Are they introspective, and do they take lessons from what's happened in the past?"

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