Ace Your Job Interview

This interviewer uses the 'nuclear power' method to test if future leaders are curious

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There are plenty of obscure interview questions out there — from Facebook's time test to Elon Musk's geography riddle.

But for interviewing veteran John Ryan, he prefers to keep things simple. So simple "you could Google a lot of them," he says.

After all, the question is just a small piece of the puzzle: It's really about getting to the answer behind your answer, according to Ryan.

"I usually ask three whys on whatever question I ask," Ryan, who is president and CEO of leadership development body, the Centre for Creative Leadership, told CNBC Make It.

That could range from "what are you reading?" to "what are your hobbies?"

It's a technique inspired by nuclear science, said Ryan, and it's one designed to see if candidates have one of his most highly prized skills: Curiosity.

"That's what they train you to do in nuclear power, and then you have the real answer. If you ask three whys on whatever the question is that you ask, you find out whether they really, truly, have a curiosity," said the former U.S. Navy vice admiral.

Curiosity is key

Curiosity, said Ryan, is a vital workplace skill — one that is becoming increasingly important as leaders attempt to navigate an uncertain business landscape.

So, after asking two or three questions of his own, he leaves it to the interviewee to take the lead.

"By the time candidates interview with me, they've been through several screenings. I know they're incredibly competent and good performers, so I'm looking to see how self-aware they are. What do they ask me?" said Ryan.

"I'll only talk for like 15 or 20 minutes and then just say: 'What's on your mind?' And the curious people will knock it out of the park and they get hired," he said.

Curiosity does not always come easy, however. For some it may have been suppressed by the school system and society, which often discourage so-called stupid questions, Ryan noted.

But it's important to try and regain it by regularly questioning your assumptions, he said. Only then can you tap into your ability to think creatively and uncover new ideas.

"We have to get back that curiosity when we were the youngest of people," Ryan said. "You can't have potential unless you have curiosity, and that's why I ask about it."

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