New Hire Orientation Blog
Interview Questions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- May 16, 2019
- Posted by: Sherman Morrison
- Category: HR Best Practices
This website normally focuses on what happens once a job offer has been made to a finalist candidate. But That assumes you’ll get a decent number of finalist candidates worth of an offer. What’s surprising is how many perfectly qualified candidates end up being screened out of the finalist pool based on the interview process, not because they did anything poorly but because the interviewer focused on all the wrong things during the interview. In this article I’ll go over some better ways of conducting interviews, including better interview questions.
Masking Bad Interviewing with the “Bad Fit” Excuse
If you’ve ever recommended someone to your company who you know would be great in an open position only to find that they were screened out during the interview process, try to find out what happened from both the candidate and the interviewer. One surprisingly common scenario is for the candidate to report a great interview experience, but when you ask the interviewer, they cite “bad fit” as the reason the candidate was not advanced. The “bad fit” answer is often an excuse used to mask what was really going on.
Sometimes this is the result of a candidate asking lots of questions for which the interviewer doesn’t have good answers. Rather than valuing the candidate’s desire to know more and contribute, the interviewer doesn’t like it when they look like they don’t know the answers and might brush the candidate off for asking too many annoying questions. Far too much great talent ends up being overlooked thanks to scenarios like that, and it’s a shame. Innovation is all about asking questions and tolerating uncertainty when there are no easy answers. Never mind that the whole point of an interview is for both sides to ask questions in order to get to know one another and company better. Asking the right questions is an art, and any candidate who displays it in an interview should be valued for it.
Better Interview Questions
There are many ways to improve the kinds of interview questions you ask during interviews. Here are a few to keep in mind to help you get to the right pool of finalist candidates:
- Experience vs Capabilities: Don’t focus solely on experience. Yes, experience is important, but you need to do more than just verify the candidate has experience in what is included in the job description. This is especially true if you need particular capabilities such as creative problem-solving, the ability to ask great questions, and so on. You need to strike the right balance of experience and capabilities to meet your needs because you need a candidate to have experience in what has been done in the past, but you also need a candidate with the capabilities that will help your company create what’s next. So, while it’s fine to ask “Have you done this or that before?” you should also be asking “How do you approach this or that kind of challenge or situation?” The former covers experience but that latter gets at capabilities. Even though many jobs don’t require much if any independent judgement, decision-making or creativity, a person with those qualities is the kind of person who will naturally identify ways to improve business processes and workflows rather than just doing things the way they’ve always been done.
- Teamwork Contributions: Everyone talks a good game around teamwork these days, but what you really need to know is how well they can identify and course-correct gaps in teams. When a team fails at a particular project, sometimes it’s due to interpersonal conflicts of the members, but more often than not it’s because some key task or capability was missing from the team and it was never addressed. Ask candidates what they would do if they noticed there was a gap on the team. Their responses will reveal a lot about whether or not they’re the kind of team player you really need – the kinds that understands team dynamics and identifying/addressing gaps.
- Motivational Drivers: Asking questions that help you figure out what kinds of things a candidate really loves to do is an important aspect of the interviewing process. When you have the right understanding of where demonstrated strengths intersect with intrinsic motivation, you’ll have much better insight into how well this person will plug into your company’s needs, including relative to the employees already on the team. When a candidate talks about a successful project they worked on, follow it up with a question about what it was about the project they found meaningful and why. In other words, ask questions that help you understand what matters to them.
- Behavior-Based Questions: In general, behavior-based questions are good because they go a bit deeper than many standard interview questions. After all, past behavior is generally recognized as the best predictor of future behavior (though not always). In this approach, you think through what traits or qualities are most important to the job, then come up with questions to get the candidate to talk about how they have behaved (or not) in the past in ways that demonstrate the presence (or absence) of those desired qualities. For example, if managing or leading change is important, ask about what they have done in the past to overcome resistance to change. If they can’t come up with a good example, they probably don’t have either the experience or the capability to manage change.
How your company orients and trains new hires is important, but you also need to pay attention to the preceding step of how you interview candidates to get to the finalists worthy of a job offer. If this is an area where your company struggles, don’t just write it off as an increasingly tight labor market. Take a closer look at the way interviews happen at your company and make a conscious effort to ask better interview questions. While the focus of most hiring interview advice focuses on the interviewee, the task of the interviewer is every bit as important and deserves just as much attention to achieve greater hiring success.