Written by: Adam Lloyd
I don’t know if it’s just me, but there seems to be an influx of news related to “interview questions” as of late. Sure it’s a topic that is often top of mind in my world, so maybe I am just noticing more noise around it recently, but in skimming through business/world topic headlines every morning, I keep picking up on writing pieces highlighting the types of questions CEO’s ask in interviews and they’re impact to the perception of candidates.
From the questions themselves, to the thought process and psychology behind them and what responses they look for in return, there is a lot to read. It is great stuff, in fact, we should be taking note and adopting more of these practices. I saw Inc. put out a piece about Google’s toughest questions, another in Business Insider, a list of top questions from CEO’s…. the list goes on. Again, very helpful and kudos to everyone that contributed to these articles, but there’s a flip side to this…
I read a lot of these pieces and took away insight, but what really got my wheels turning was when I started thinking about the perception of these interview questions by the candidates. Specifically, when they walk away from an interview, what is their impression of the hiring manager as a result of these questions? The organization’s brand? Competition? And how they relate to their current situation, maybe realizing the grass isn’t always greener?
As interviewers, it’s easy to lose sight of the impact that interview questions themselves have on a candidate’s perception, but they always take away something from each of these meetings. Candidates not only assess the overall candidate experience, there’s some judgement specifically related to the tactics [questions] applied. Everyone has an interpretation and immediate impression. Was it stiff? Unorganized? Unoriginal? Off-putting? Engaging? In thinking of all of the feedback I receive from executive level candidates, there are a few categories of interview questions, per candidates, that stand out:
THE TEXTBOOK INTERVIEW
Let’s start with basics, interviewing 101. These are the studied, expected, and common questions that are often presumed as interview requirements by hiring managers. Questions such as “What are your strengths/weaknesses?” are interpreted by candidates as following protocol. It suggests there are policies and procedures in place and that everyone is required to follow them.
There’s not anything wrong with these questions and they are commonly applied for a reason. BUT, if you just stick to the script, candidates view this as robotic and programmed, walking away feeling there is no room for voicing opinions, making change and innovation. Candidates are often considering new opportunities for a new creative outlet, and first impressions will set the tone.
THE INTENDED TO BE CREATIVE, BUT ULTIMATELY UNORIGINAL
With overlap to the textbook interview, this form of questioning aims to identify character traits of individuals.
“Do you prefer the apple or the orange?” or “What type of animal would you be?”
I probably hear most about this type of questioning from candidates. The problem with these questions is that there is a pre-determined correct answer: You pick the orange because it shows your willingness to peel it, therefore you display work ethic.
Again, these are not bad questions, but they can be viewed as lacking authenticity. What if you truly love apples and are allergic to oranges? Do still answer orange?
I understand some hiring managers are looking for an authentic answer, but candidates may perceive these questions, if not accompanied with further dialogue, as contradictory. They may feel the intent of jobs in the company is to simply complete work revolved around task-doing and wonder if anyone really thinks things out and if strategy is lacking.
THE DAZED AND CONFUSED
Wow, what is there to say for these types of questions and interviews? The dazed and confused, not be confused with any movie references, refers to the interviewer that was clearly not informed or prepared for the interview.
Questions that sound something like “So which role again are you here for today?” or “Tell me again what your current position is?” or “Did Gary from HR suggest we talk?”
Simply put, this does not go over well for companies, especially in competitive markets and industries. Believe it or not, I hear this from leadership candidates that have been pushed along a process to someone that gets involved too quickly or too late. Usually the intent is good, it’s just poor, reactive planning and candidates believe there is no real investment or interest in them. Not providing a lot of incentive to jump ship and join the team
THE PEPPERED ASSAULT
This transaction, yes I refer to it as a transaction, is when candidates walk away with the impression that the interviewer is on a power trip accompanied by a massive ego.
Most of us can relate to a situation where we were barraged by questions, feeling like there was an expectation set for us to crumble and fold at any given moment. Usually this is more about the pace, demeanor of the questioner, and lack of interest in allowing a meaningful exchange to unfold.
In a candidate’s eyes, no one wants to work with or for someone that obviously likes to display their power and intimidate. It results in a perception of a leader that leads by fear tactics.
This is what we’re aiming for. A dialogue that is both balanced by thorough and thoughtful questioning, but also information sharing. Questions that spark a conversation result in the best impression, experience, and ultimately excitement to join the organization.
Questions that start with the interviewer opening up about themselves eases the pressure and presents in a more humanistic form.
“When I was in your position, I had a very difficult time transitioning into this…. How would you deal with this scenario?”
This type of question provides the interviewer with insight into the candidate’s ability to transition and articulate how, but it also opens up a conversation and sharing opportunity. This goes far with candidates and is an approach that creates a genuine interest in not only the hiring manager, but who else in the organization may be this open and transparent.
When hiring there’s no denying the need to qualify and learn who candidates are as individuals. It’s why conduct interviews in the first place. But before you do away with important questions, just keep in mind that there are small adjustments that can be made to leave a distinctly positive impression.