Give better interview

Let me start this piece with a giant caveat – I know I’m not the world’s best interviewer. I get bored, I have a tendency to wander in to areas that interest me and I want to explore and I have (on the very odd occasions) been known to be judgemental – don’t wear Christmas socks to an interview with me in March.

Whilst I’m willing to accept my own foibles are far from ideal, I’m also constantly surprised by the approach taken to interviewing by HR professionals and business leaders alike. Let me put it another way…

If you were making any other £50,000 investment decision, would you turn up to the investment meeting five minutes late, not having read the investment proposals and make a decision based on a variety of criteria and questions that have little if anything to do with the required product or service?

Ultimately each piece of recruitment, each interview is exactly that – a piece of procurement. And as such there are simple steps we can take to make sure we increase our chances of a better outcome.

  • Looking far and wide for the best providers (recruits)
  • Carry out good research and due diligence on the shortlist (application process)
  • Assessing against relevant and comparable criteria (interview questions)
  • Selecting based on moderated assessments (marking and rating of interviewers)

Too often we approach the interview process through the lens of employment law and regulatory requirements. And whilst this is a necessary consideration it shouldn’t be our ultimate focus.

Best practice is about best outcome and delivering real commercial value, perhaps more than anything else.

5 interview questions that you’re asking (but probably shouldn’t)

1) Where would you like to be in five/ten years’ time?

Nothing says, “tell me a bag of lies” like this question. Given the chance to answer honestly, most of us would probably say, “on a beach, having won the lottery, without the need to work for any other sucker, ever again”. Instead we say, “I’d like to think my career would have progressed, that I’ve taken on more responsibility and I’m well respected by my colleagues” or if we think we are uniquely funny, “sat on the other side of this table”. *Groan*

Possible alternative question: How do you see this role fitting in to your overall career? What else would you like to do/achieve in your life?

2) If I were to ask your current colleagues what they thought about you, what would they say?

If you really want to know, why don’t you ask them? Because if you ask me, I’m going to tell you that I’m a good team player, I’m well respected and that I have a good sense of humour. In addition, my mother also loves me – but you don’t need to know that either. I get what we are trying to do with this question, but if you’re a sociopathic lunatic, singularly hated by your peers, you’re not going to say that. Are you?

Possible alternative question: How do you go about getting feedback from others? What have you learnt?

3) What are your weaknesses/areas for development?

The Catch 22 question which begs the obvious answer – “I’m a perfectionist”. Are you? Or have you just rehearsed the most clichéd response to the most cliched question ever? Again we’re just asking for a lot of hot air and nonsense, which will give us very little to differentiate the candidates with. If you’re really interested in finding out, try asking them what they’re currently working to improve and how. Try answering perfectionism to that one….

Possible alternative question: What are you working on improving at the moment? What would you like to be better at?

4) How do you handle conflict in the work place?

Let’s go Pinocchio! Are you the ostrich that buries their head in the sand? Or the sewer rat that likes to undermine colleagues in a silent but deadly manner? You’re going to tell me now that I’ve asked the question, aren’t you? You were just waiting for the opportunity to spill your guts on the darkest aspects of your psyche and here is the moment, right now, in the middle of an interview, in front of people who you want to impress. Where else could be more perfect?

Possible alternative question: When have you experienced a situation where there has been conflict between colleagues at work? How did you feel about it? Why?

5) Why did you apply for this specific role?

I have to admit to being guilty of variations on this one (I’m not perfect, ask my mum), but really what on earth am I expecting to learn that would help me differentiate between two candidates? What evidence could I possibly elicit that would be helpful to me in making a choice on who to recruit? This is a classic example of recruiter vanity – I want you to tell me how wonderful we are, how we are the company for you….tell me you love me.

Possible alternative question: Which aspects of this job are particularly appealing to you? Which elements would be the biggest stretch? Why?