Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Interviewing 202

What is your greatest weakness? Well, I often stay out way too late drinking and come to work late and struggle to be productive.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? I'm hoping to be the benefactor of some crazy lawsuit or come into a huge inheritance so I can be sitting on a beach.

No. This does not sound like your typical interview. But, to be honest, I think I would enjoy hearing these answers from time to time. It would be ... refreshing. Instead candidates give answers that sound good. They can prepare an 'acceptable' answer. So what can you ask to really let you learn more about a candidate?

I've been interviewing quite a bit recently - more often than not, I take a casual approach, generally knowing what information I want to cover. It turns out, most folks follow a similar 'unstructured' interview format. I learned, unfortunately, this format (and typical interview questions) just don't allow you to see the realities of the person. You are judging a book by its cover. Candidates manage their 'cover' closely, acting to create the most favorable impression. The Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, as well as numerous other sources, quote Prof. Allen Huffcutt, who has done some serious examinations of interviewing and the link of interview assessment as a predictor to performance on the job. In the book Sway, he posits that most interview questions provide little value. He recommends focusing instead on job-related hypothetical scenarios, past experiences based on data and verifiable accounts, and/or aptitude tests.

These are some real and helpful points to consider! I still see value in the interview, so with Prof. Huffcutt's comments in mind, here are a couple good things you might add to your interview:
  • What do you know about our company?
A solid starting point. Did they take the time to research your company? Did they find relevant aspects of the business? Were they able to identify what might be core issues? Did they see how their position and possible contributions might fit in?
  • Specific past experiences
Dig in to the resume and ask about their role on the Deloitte project or how they reduced spending by 40%, or whatever! Even asking specifics about how they managed their team, enforced milestone achievement, or stayed in touch with an off-site worker. The process of answering these can be revealing.
  • Job-related hypothetical scenarios
What would you do if you your sales support staff never wanted to follow-up with difficult people, your receptionist always came in late, or your CEO never gave you details needed to accomplish a project? Think of a real scenario in your company the candidate might face ask how they might deal with it. First of all, they can't prepare for that question, and secondly you will have an idea if their answer will work for you.
  • What was the largest personal conflict / power struggle you have seen at work and how was it resolved? Or what do you think people might misunderstand about you?
Perhaps candidates can prepare for these questions, but I still find the answers revealing. I like to just listen and have candidates expose themselves.
  • If talked to someone at Your Past Company, what would they say about you?
Like the last question, this can help draw out characteristics or performance your candidate might not have volunteered. If they have something to hide, you are likely to hear about it now.

Keep in mind, as I imagine Prof. Huffcutt might remind us, the interview may give you nothing of value. So, I say make sure to take the opportunity to prepare the candidate and to sell the company! Give them a realistic picture of the company (yes, the bad stuff) and see how they react? Do they embrace it constructively and have suggestions for improvement? And of course, get them excited about the position, the team, and the company. If they turn out to be the dream candidate, then they need to be intrigued and enticed after talking to you.

What are some of your favorite interview questions?

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