How You Answer This Interview Question Reveals Your True Character

Givers versus takers: How to make sure the givers always win.


In every organization, there are givers and takers.

The givers are generous with their time, often willing to help their colleagues even if it means sacrificing their own success at work. The takers are completely the opposite. They’re self-servers and energy suckers, willing to step on everyone and anyone in the name of their own success.

It’s not difficult to guess who’s better for the health of your company. Have too many takers around, and you’re in trouble. They will squelch the givers. Ultimately the self-serving efforts of the takers will lead the givers to stop helping. They won’t see the point.

Why every organization needs givers

“Givers are often sacrificing themselves, but they make their organizations better,” says Adam Grant. The organizational psychologist, Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author recently gave a TED Talk on this topic. He’s studied organizations far and wide to identify the best path to productivity.

Based on his research, Grant says the more often people help each other, share their knowledge and provide mentorship, the better the organization as a whole does. The results of a culture of helping include higher profits, customer satisfaction, employee retention and lower operating expenses.

And how do you create a culture of helping? You hire the givers, not the takers. That’s where it gets tricky.

It’s tough to spot a taker on first impression

Grant is the first to admit it’s not so easy to identify someone as a giver or taker from the get-go. Everyone’s on their best behavior in the interview process and will do their best to come off as a giver. Grant is against hiring based on someone’s agreeableness. It can be surprisingly deceptive.

Grant believes disagreeable givers are the most undervalued employees in an organization. These are the people who might have a rough exterior, but who genuinely want to help. “Disagreeable givers are the most undervalued people in our organizations, because they’re the ones who give the critical feedback that no one wants to hear but everyone needs to hear,” says Grant.

Just because someone is agreeable doesn’t mean they’re a giver. There are plenty of agreeable takers in this world. Grant calls them fakers. “This is the person who’s nice to your face, and then will stab you right in the back,” he says. (You probably know a few.)

Unfortunately, we often realize until it’s too late that someone is an agreeable taker a.k.a. a faker. Unless we pay close attention to how someone answers this interview question: Can you give me the names of four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?

How the answer reveals someone’s true character

Grant says givers and takers have very different responses to this question. The takers will give you the names of four people who have more influence than they do. Hot shot names you’ll be impressed by. This is because takers excel at kissing up. And they use the people below them as stepping stones. They care more about influence than they do about helping. That’s, of course, why they’re called takers.

The givers, on the other hand, will give you the names of four people you’ve likely never heard of. People who are equal to them or below them on the totem pole of power. That’s because givers aren’t in the business of helping to help themselves succeed. They want to build other people up. “And let’s face it, you all know you can learn a lot about character by watching how someone treats their restaurant server or their Uber driver,” says Grant.

How about you? Are you a giver or a taker? How would you respond to the question?

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