The On-Court Interview

Updated: Mar 10

A lot can be learned about a person by playing basketball with them. I am a life-long basketballer. I like to watch and I like to play. Even after my collegiate career ended, I still try to mix it up in pickup games or recreational leagues. As my professional career has progressed and I started playing with people from the office, I noticed something. There is a correlation between how a person operates on a basketball court and how they operate in the office. It got me thinking about how much I could learn about people by playing basketball with them. I thought, wouldn't it be nice if I could ask someone in an interview to play in a game of pickup basketball with me? Admittedly, this assessment is probably somewhat silly but my sample size for this kind of judgment is much larger than most. I have played with thousands of different people over the last 20 years and have known a lot of them personally too.


Here are 6 important interview questions I could get answered by playing in a pickup basketball game with a job candidate:


Do they take responsibility for their mistakes or point fingers? Taking ownership is a key component of any job function in a business. We want people who will find a project, own the project, and take responsibility for the project's success or failure. It is human nature to take responsibility for success and pass the blame for failure. This is known as locus of control. Those with an internal locus of control believe they are directly responsible for outcomes, positive or negative. They can easily make the connection between their effort and their success. Those with an external locus of control tend to blame others or the environment for outcomes. Those who are accountable and take responsibility for their performance are almost always better teammates.


Do they make their teammates better? The most skilled player(s), don't always correlate with the most successful team. Think about this in terms of your office, past or present. We've all worked with someone who is really good at their job but kills the morale of the group the moment they walk through the door. There are certain people who walk onto a basketball court and their teammates are instantly better. Half of this is the confidence they instill in their teammates and the other half is putting their teammates in a position to succeed. Conversely, there are certain people that walk onto a basketball court and their teammates are instantly worse.


Do they have self-awareness? Let's be honest, we've all played with the guy who thinks he's better than he is. In business, just like in basketball, it is extremely important to know what you're good at and what you need to improve on. This goes hand in hand with being a good teammate. If you are really good at rebounding, then rebound. If you don't have the range to shoot a 3-pointer, then don't shoot 3-pointers. You wouldn't have your sales team attempt to develop software, right? It sounds simple but there are lots of people who have grandiose self-illusions about their basketball skill set and I'm absolutely sure that attitude bleeds over into other realms of their life.


Do they only want to play hard on one side of the ball? Unlike most sports, if you are playing basketball it requires you to try to score points and stop the other team from scoring all at the same time. Both are obviously important. The difference is that playing defense is not as fun or glamorous as playing offense. You rarely see defensive plays make the highlight reel. In an office environment, there are plenty of tasks that are monotonous and boring but are absolutely necessary for the success of the business. We all want people who are willing to do the dirty work to achieve the ultimate goal.


Are they competitive? This one is obvious. It's relatively easy to tell if someone cares whether their team wins or not. For me personally, there is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to competitiveness. In general, the more competitive the better. But, if someone is too competitive, then he or she may throw ethics and relationships out the window to ensure a win and may let emotions get in the way of progress.


How do they handle adversity/success? It is important to keep an even keel when dealing with adversity as well as success. You never want to get too high or too low, especially in sales. The same holds true on the court. If you play enough, you're bound to be involved in some runs where one team scores several buckets in a row. Regardless of which side you're on, it is important to stay level headed and stick to the mission. Those who get overconfident when their team goes on a run can lose their edge and those who get down on themselves when their competitor goes on a run can see the lead expand. How someone reacts when his or her team is down several points says a lot about the mental toughness and persistence of that individual.


These are just examples of the characteristics that surface during a simple pick up basketball game in my mind. It's no wonder the basketball games that go on in Silicon Valley are well documented. Aside from the cardiovascular benefits of playing in these games, I completely understand why they are vital to building a valuable and trustworthy network.

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