Warning: Headache-Inducing Hiring Advice Ahead

jim roddy

By Jim Roddy, VP of Marketing, RSPA

When an article is headlined 5 Interview Questions Every Recruiter Should Ask, it’s pretty much a guarantee I’m setting aside the next several minutes to read it. But before you click on this link to read the article I’m referencing, I implore you to not ask these five questions. Do not accept this article as a best practice — unless you want candidates to recreate the scene in the photo that accompanied the article. The candidate looks like she’s thinking, “Are you people kidding me?”

Let’s break this piece down section-by-section, starting at the top.

Article: “Many candidates will have the skills and qualifications you are looking for, but only a few will be the right fit. Discovering whether they are the right fit during the interview process can be difficult. You need to figure out whether a candidate has the abstract qualities that will help him or her succeed in the culture of your organization. One way to do this in the interview process is to focus on your values and develop specific questions to uncover a potential new hire’s values.”

Me: Amen — I couldn’t agree more! Too many hiring managers focus only on hiring for skills and personality, and then they forget all about character. I can’t wait to read these questions!

Article Question #1: “What are three negative personal qualities that someone close to you would say you possess?” We are looking for candidates who not only understand what their true negatives are but also are willing to admit them. There are a number of unacceptable answers here. We don’t allow answers like ‘I’m a perfectionist’ or ‘workaholic’ or other positives-disguised-as-negatives. When we get answers like that, we buzz the candidate (with actual buzzers) and ask them to try again.”

Me: Wait — what? Is this a joke? You actually buzz candidates when they share an answer you deem to be “wrong?” I recommend hiring managers treat candidates with the utmost respect, like they are highly-valued colleagues, but the only way this buzzer tactic could be more condescending is if you sprayed them in the face with seltzer water when they gave a “wrong” answer.

Interviewers should not be seeking “right” answers; they should be seeking the truth. What if the candidate’s number one self-development struggle is being a perfectionist and, to improve the situation, they’re actively working with teammates to delegate effectively and micromanage less? Should a candidate get buzzed for being forthright in the interview process?

Article: Question #2: “We ask them to add two fractions. For example, we might ask, ‘What is ¾ plus ½?’ This question elicits some of the best responses.”

Me: I bet it does. I can think of a few right now ...

Article: “One of our core values is innovation; we need to know that the people we hire are resourceful, capable of thinking outside the box and quick on their feet”.

Me: So how about asking, “Can you please give me an example of you being innovative?”, then listen how the candidate responds. Then, after talking that through, ask for another example to see if the candidate is truly innovative or just a one-hit wonder. You can also pose a real-world innovation situation at your organization to see how the candidate thinks through the problem.

That information will provide you with legitimate insight into whether the candidate is innovative or not. By asking the fraction question, the only information you’ll glean is, “One and a quarter.” That will prove the candidate is decent at basic math, but it won’t show if they are resourceful, capable of thinking outside the box, and quick on their feet.

Article: Question #3: “On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the absolute best in the world at your role, where would you rate yourself? And what keeps you from being a 10?” While they might not rate themselves with 10s across the board (there’s nothing wrong with humble confidence), we want to know why and what they are doing to get there.

Me: If you like buzzers for wrong answers, do you use bells to signal something good? If so, I’d be dinging a chime big time right now. This question gets at meaningful specifics that will be applicable to your culture. Bravo! I’m feeling much better now.

Article: Question #4: “Finish this sentence: Most people I meet are _______. One of our core values is caring deeply, so it is important we understand how a potential new team member views others.”

Question #5: “’Give me the first name of someone with whom you work very closely.’ If a candidate answers this question quickly and is able to answer several of the follow-up questions, we can glean that they are good at building relationships at work.”

Me: Darn it — my headache’s back. Has anyone ever flunked these two questions? What are the alternatives to giving the first name of someone you work with? Only their last name? A nickname? Their serial number? I mean, how could they give an answer that misses your target? I would like to know what the follow-up questions are, because just asking the first name of someone you work with closely seems to be an odd path to start down.

As an alternative to this article (or four-fifths of it to be precise), I encourage you to study and embrace behavior-focused interviewing which centers on the belief past behavior is the best predictor of future conduct. During your interviews, seek to uncover a pattern of recurring behaviors.

Depending on the situation and outcome you are striving to achieve, some theoretical or close-ended interview questions can be appropriate — but you need to recognize their limitations. If you eliminate time-tested, behavior-focused questions in favor of cute questions like some recommended in the article we just discussed, you will never learn what’s in the person.

And you will make bad hiring decisions.