How to conduct incisive interviews

Many managers still use interview questions that are way past their use-by date.

Common interview questions and their expected answers are plastered all over the internet. Today, candidates frequently use this information to rehearse interview answers that are largely fake but sound impressive. By using stock interview questions, you risk recruiting candidates who interview well but then fail to perform on the job.

So let’s look at which interview questions to strike off your list, and which ones lead to answers that are difficult or impossible to fake.

Interview questions to avoid

Here’s the rule of thumb: if an interview question leads to an answer that your candidates can easily fake, strike it out.

In practice, this means removing questions such as:

  • Where would you like to be in five years?
  • What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why are you the best candidate?
  • Etc.

Behavioural interview questions have also lost their gloss. These questions challenge candidates to show how they’ve solved problems in the past. Typically, these questions take the form of, “Tell me about a time when you…”. However, solving a problem in one workplace culture does not mean these solutions will work in your workplace culture. Also, with technology and work practices changing very quickly, yesterday’s solutions may be irrelevant or inept today. Furthermore, it’s easy with these historical questions for candidates to exaggerate their role in a particular solution. You end up with a distorted view of your candidates’ capabilities. For assessing candidate performance, research has shown that behavioural interviewing is only marginally better than tossing a coin.

Nevertheless, if you can be reasonably confident a candidate isn’t exaggerating their role solving a problem, you can use behavioural event interviewing to assess a candidate’s emotional intelligence (see Chapter 2, How to Recruit for Emotional Intelligence).

Embrace job content questions

If you were recruiting for an orchestra, you’d ask to hear an audition. Similarly, you can use a “job content” method for your interview questions and challenge candidates to walk-through
how they’d solve current problems in your organisation.

How to assess problem solving

The ability to solve current problems is frequently the most reliable indicator of your candidate’s performance on the job. So pinpoint existing or very recent problems in your organisation that relate to the role you’re interviewing for, and challenge candidates to solve them. For example:

  • Challenge candidates to describe how they’ll pinpoint the challenges and opportunities in their particular role, and how they’ll prioritise and address them during their first weeks on the job
  • Summarise a real problem that candidates could face on their first day and challenge them to outline how they’ll solve that problem. Before interviewing, make a note of the key steps to solve that problem.
  • Give your candidate an outline of an older process that your organisation has improved. Challenge the candidate to pinpoint problems arising from this older process. Before interviewing, make a note of this older process’ flaws.
How to assess flexibility and innovativeness

If a particular role requires a candidate to adapt, learn or innovate, you may need to:

Assess their ability to learn; you can ask, “How do you maintain your skills and keep up-to-date with changes in our industry?”

Assess their agility; you can ask, “Walk-through how you’d respond to a sudden change in customer expectations.”

Assess their ability to innovate; you can ask, “Step through what you’d do to help your team respond to technology changes.”

It’s not easy to get your interview questions right. Plus it’s important to balance what you learn with sound interview questions, with what you learn via other assessment methods. However, to find high-performing candidates, it’s essential to understand how to conduct an incisive interview.

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