Monday, January 21, 2008

Looking for Good Questions for Interviewing Job Applicants?

Want to ask good job interview questions?

Traditional questions often fail to get at the most important information when evaluating candidates. Everyone knows what the typical job interview questions are, the two most ridiculous are:

What do you want to do in 5 years?
What are your weaknesses?

Also very unhelpful, any question that could be answered with a yes or no. Do you have much management experience? What does yes or no mean – it is all in the interpretation. How about please describe the management experience you have had.

These questions may have been valuable at one point in time, but they certainly aren’t very useful now.

Can you believe that we are still asking these questions? They haven’t been updated in decades. I have been talking to people about the need to rewrite our interview questions for better hiring, and then I saw an article in the Harvard Business Review about the lack of success in hiring Executives. They focused on the problems with traditional interview processes and how to improve them. I’ll post this in a future blog post. For now, let’s look at these traditional questions again.

Who knows what they want to do in 5 years? How is asking this useful? I have always interpreted the reason for asking this question was that the interviewers wanted to see if what someone wants to do now, (the job they are applying for) makes sense or seems to go toward what they say they want to do in the future (in the next 5 years). Why? To see if there is a higher likelihood that the candidate would stay in the job if they got it.

Maybe when jobs were more stable and predictable that might have been a useful question. Now, all the major changes in the global economy and the workplace have made the future totally unpredictable, and not a linear progression from the past. There are many statistics about how many careers the average adult will have – (the last I heard was 7) and how the changes as a result of the globalization of the world economy have made many jobs obsolete or endangered species. I heard the other day that the jobs kids in kindergarten are being educated for now -- will not exist when they graduate.

What is the usefulness of asking about someone’s weaknesses? This is an example of our culture’s obsession with what isn’t working, a function of the scarcity and deficit paradigm so dominating our culture that it seems to be in the air. What useful information do you get from this question?

Most people know to answer this with a weakness that is actually a strength or a benefit for an employer, i.e. “I work too much” “I am too responsible.” If anyone doesn’t know to do this, does it mean they won’t be a good employee? I don’t think so, it just means no one helped prepare them.

How useful is the information that comes out of these questions in making a hiring decision? Not very, and we see this all around us as so often the hiring process does not result in the best match between candidates and jobs. Most people are not using their strengths in their jobs. Strengthfinders 2.0 describes Gallup’s work developing a tool to help people identify their strengths, and their survey findings that 70% of people are not using their strengths at work. This is the real talent crisis in our country. There is a lot of talk about the leadership gap when the boomers retire. What about all the people who have gifts and talents they aren’t being allowed to use in their jobs?

What questions might be better to ask?

Asking questions that actually provide more useful information to the employer is possible. What might they be? I have listed some. Many of these were told to me by friends and colleagues who actually use them.

Sample Asset Based Job Interview Questions

Question 1. What would your best friend say about you?

(How is this for a great way to start an interview?)

Question 2. Please tell me a story about what you did in your current job that you are most proud of? Follow up questions – What do you most value about yourself and your contribution?

(These will yield rich information about what this person finds meaningful and what their strengths are.)

Question 3.
Describe a situation that the person will be faced with in the job they are applying for. Then ask the person how they would approach this.

(Again, this will yield rich information on how the person thinks. What they tell you in terms of how they will approach something will give you great insight on what they might be like as an employee.)

Question 4. Describe a time that you worked with others on a project that everyone was using their strengths, and people complemented each other. What did you bring, what did the others bring?

(Again, this will allow you to see how they work well in a team, what they bring, and what they find valuable from the contributions of other people.)

Asking these types of questions will provide much more useful information than the typical interview questions.

Asking people what their strengths are as a cold question is often difficult for people to answer. Gallup developed the strengthfinders assessment to help people find the answer this question. They have found that people aren’t often able to identify their strengths.

An easy way to access peoples strengths is by asking them what they are proud of that they have done, and then what they value about their contribution, ( see Question 2.) This gets directly at their strengths in a way that is much more brain friendly than what is commonly done. AND this can be done all the time, not just at a job interview. Asking these types of questions will help uncover hidden assets and strengths that can benefit employees and employers.

For more positive questions see The Encyclopedia of Positive Questions by Diana Whitney, David Cooperrider, Amanda Trosten-Bloom, and Brian Kaplin.

Cassandra O'Neill


Anonymous said...

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