The best interview question I’ve ever been asked

In 2005 I was interviewing for a job as Risk Manager with Genworth Financial. I was working a gig up in Armonk, NY so I hopped a car to the GNW office and met with Mark Griffin, at that point the Chief Risk Office (CRO) for GNW. After some small talk, Mark asked me the single most interesting interview question I’ve ever been asked. I don’t recall the exact wording, but the gist was:

If you could go back and work more on one project from your past, what would it be and why?

This immediately struck me as a good question. Like all really good interview questions, there is no right answer, but any answer tells a LOT about the person answering it. I talked about a few projects I had really enjoyed from my past: fuel hedging dashboard for an international airline, data mining government program data, but said that the one thing I wish I could work more on was reinsurance ceding strategies for insurance companies. Naturally he responded, “Why so?” So I explained the challenge and how I felt that if I had a little more time and a little more data I could numerically optimize reinsurance strategies and when I last worked on the problem it was 2001 and now, four years later, the computing power was better and I thought I could really get it right.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t explain very well. Mark was obviously fishing around to see if I got a little OCD about analytical challenges and if I loved digging. I thought about Mark’s question a lot three years later when I left Genworth to go work in reinsurance, optimizing reinsurance strategies.

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