His interviews were legendary. Rickover always wanted to cut through glib, rehearsed answers to get a look at the person underneath. He especially wanted to know how candidates would act under stress. On occasion he had them sit in a chair with the front legs sawed off an inch or two shorter than the back, to keep them off-balance.
In his autobiography Why Not the Best?, President Jimmy Carter tells about his Rickover interview. The admiral asked how he had stood in his class at the Naval Academy. “I swelled my chest with pride and answered, Sir, I stood 59th in a class of 820! I sat back to wait for the congratulations.
“Instead came the question: Did you do your best? I started to say, Yes, sir, but I remembered who this was. I gulped and admitted, No, sir, I didnt always do my best. He looked at me for a long time, and then asked one final question, which I have never been able to forgetor to answer. He said, Why not?”