In that first restaurant conversation, Steve asked a question that is definitely not the kind of thing people who observe the ordinary social graces would ever ask a complete stranger: “Jay, have you ever been fired?”
I laughed. “No,” I said. “But I once anticipated being fired and quit to avoid it. I had been hired by a radio station as a disc jockey, and it wasn’t a very good match for my talents, clearly not what the station was looking for. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that they weren’t going to keep me around, so I walked into the owner’s office and told him I was quitting. He said, ‘Thanks. You just saved yourself from being fired!’ ”
Steve got a kick out of the story. I would discover later that he didn’t really care whether a person he was interviewing had ever been fired. He asked the question because he wanted to see the reaction: Would the person be embarrassed? Caught off guard? Stumped about whether or not to tell the truth? The reaction told him a lot more about candidates than what they actually said.