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How to Answer an Ex-Pro Football Player Turned Tech CEO's Favorite Job Interview Question

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Though Mike Morini describes his time in the NFL as a "short cup of coffee," he credits the lessons learned during his college and post-graduation sports career as foundational to his leadership style today.

After graduating from Colgate University, he became a Buffalo Bills free agent in the NFL, and later a third-round draft choice of the New Jersey Generals in the now-defunct United States Football League. He transitioned to the corporate world by taking a job at IBM and quickly became a top salesperson. Now, roughly 30 years into his career, he serves as CEO of the HR tech company Workforce Software, which has over 600 employees worldwide.

Mike Morini is the CEO of HR tech company Workforce Software.
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Mike Morini is the CEO of HR tech company Workforce Software.

All throughout, Morini tells CNBC Make It, his success at work has been due to a strong sense of preparation and teamwork.

"In football," he says, "it's a team sport with 11 people on the field. If just 10 out of those 11 people execute flawlessly while one doesn't, the whole team will fail."

As he rose through the ranks and became part of the hiring process, Morini says he wanted to find a way to gauge a candidate's approach to preparation, performance and how they characterize a job well done.

That's how Morini formed his favorite interview question: Do you hate losing more than you love winning, or do you love winning more than you hate losing?

Why he asks it

Morini says his main goals in asking this question are twofold: First, he wants to gauge how well the candidate thinks on their feet.

Second, the CEO wants to get a sense of how the candidate is motivated: Do they get fired up to do well so they can land a big project, or because they really don't want to lose the opportunity to a competitor?

"There's no right or wrong answer," Morini admits, adding that he's heard hundreds of good responses over the years. "But there's a subtle difference and gives you insight into how they're wired."

For example, he's found that a lot of his marketing hires tend to enjoy the praise of a solid advertising campaign more than the disappointment of one that falls flat. Meanwhile, Morini says other salespeople like himself tend to hate losing a bid to another person more than they find joy in landing their own.

Others might share a time they felt the sting of a loss particularly hard, how they used that to reflect on what could have gone better, and how they harnessed that feeling to win in the future — something Morini finds valuable in an employee.

Personally, Morini says his answer is that he hates losing more than he loves winning. "As an athlete, you prepare to win," he says. "When you don't [win] and you lose, it's a bigger disappointment."

Similarly, Morini believes there's more to be learned from losses than from wins. While he adds that a big part of his company's culture is to celebrate successes, as a leader he makes a big effort to take a closer look at past failures and missteps in order to find ways to improve.

"When we don't win a group project, we always ask for feedback," Morini says. "It's a continuous process to stay ahead of the game."

"If we've executed the process well and still lose, we need to understand what's missing," he continues. "Our culture is 'we want to know where we messed up' — we don't want to brush it under the rug.'"

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