This is the best interview question, according to the author of a new book on identifying underrated talent

Finding and hiring top talent is always a challenge. Thanks to a tight labor market, picky workers and ongoing discussions about what knowledge work will look like after the pandemic, it’s a blood sport right now.

That makes now the perfect time for Talent a new book by economist, blogger and noted superreader Tyler Cowen and VC Daniel Gross. The book takes a closer look at how to spot undervalued talent, and his Amazon page is full of glowing blurbs from celebrities like Malcolm Gladwell, Marc Andreessen, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

What do you find in it? In his regular Bloomberg column Cowen shared an excerpt in the form of the co-authors’ pick for the best interview question. It’s weird, but Cowen insists it’s also highly effective.

Painting a portrait from open browser tabs

Given how much time most of us spend in front of our screens these days, Cowen suggests you can learn a tremendous amount about a candidate by carefully watching their online behavior. And what better way to explore that than by asking a candidate, “What are the open tabs in your browser right now?”

Why is this unusual question so effective? First, your browser tabs are a real signal of what you’re really interested in (as opposed to what you think the interviewer wants you to say you’re interested in). It’s revealing, but not invasive or curious. Since you’re asking candidates to talk about their open tabs and not show them to you, just don’t mention anything too personal.

“It’s not just cheap talk,” Cowen claims. “Some applicants may say they’re interested in C++ as a programming language, but if you really have an open page for Reddit and Subreddits on that topic, that’s a proven preference.”

The underlying logic here is similar to the question “What do you like to do on the weekend?” which has been recommended by several other VCs as a way to gauge a candidate’s true passions. But Cowen points out that it’s harder to BS about browser tabs than theoretical leisure activities. “Hardly any applicants are willing to talk about their open browser tabs. So you’re testing for spontaneous and largely truthful responses,” Cowen notes.

What is the correct answer?

If you’re sold on the question, what do you look for in an answer? That depends on the job. Tab abusers (like me) who often have dozens of tabs open at once may worry that confessing their browser chaos will count against them, but Cowen insists the right number of tabs depends on the kind of job you’re applying for.

“I know people who have dozens or hundreds of browser tabs open at once. That’s a sign of curiosity and internet fluency – but also maybe insufficient prioritization and poor organization. Depending on the job in question, it could be either positive or negative,” he writes.

Nor does every job require someone to be ten tabs deep into scientific articles or job-specific technical documents. Personal and unusual topics can give you important information about how a candidate thinks and approaches problems.

“When I asked media personality Megyn Kelly about her open browser tabs on a recent radio show, some of them had to do with family dog ​​problem solving. A problem-solving mindset is a good sign,” Cowen says, adding : “If you’re getting a heated pitch about why a particular website is the best guide to ‘Lord of the Rings’ stories, you may have found a real geek with a penchant for detail.” Whether that is a plus for your open position is up to you.

The bottom line is that there is no right answer to this question. But there are also very few non-revealing answers. Ask about browser tabs and you’ll probably get an unvarnished picture of what really gets a person excited and how they work from day to day. That’s exactly what you want to know when interviewing applicants.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not’s.